Suzy van Rooyen is CEO of The Good Loaf, an artisan bakery and three community cafés in Northamptonshire, which provides training and employment opportunities to vulnerable women.

Photo © The Good Loaf

Photo © The Good Loaf

I was part of setting up The Good Loaf in 2015, building on my extensive experience of working with female offenders. We now have a staff of 30 people who are all committed to improving the lives of people who have not had an easy time. Every night our master bakers hand craft a range of award-winning artisan loaves and pastries, which are the backbone of everything we do in the cafés during the day. 

Changing lives

Our work focuses on helping vulnerable women break the cycle of unemployment, poverty or offending. We provide training to more than 100 women each year through our work program, while offering additional domestic abuse and mental health support.

Perhaps the best people to describe the positive impact of our work are the women we have helped. As part of an evaluation of our work, The Institute for Public Safety, Crime and Justice is collecting feedback.

One person, a self-proclaimed prolific offender, said that her experience with The Good Loaf “has changed my life around. Every day I was out shoplifting, just finding anything to fund my drug habit and when I came out of prison this is what filled my days up, so I didn’t go back into that lifestyle. I have got a lot to thank them for.”

Another, a recovering addict, said: “To be honest if I weren’t here I would dread to think what I would be doing.” This is echoed by Clare (not her real name) who said if she hadn’t come to us “I think I would have been - it scares me actually – I think I would have been dealing with [my nervous breakdown] again.”

Clare went on to say that: “When I first started coming here I was in tears all the time, ‘cause that’s my coping mechanism. I can now look at people and speak. I don’t cry anymore.” This is also a common theme: “My confidence was right down there and now I am way up here. I can speak to people without stuttering, that was my main problem, I used to stutter big time and I only spoke when I was spoken to.”

Some women find sense of belonging with us. One described how she has “…no close family, not at all. No loving mum or dad, even though I am nearly fifty, but like I say this is the first time in my life that I feel, and I know, and I can see that people care for me.” Another said simply: “This is the most harmonious oasis I have ever been in. I love it here.”

What we do

All of our Real Bread is baked in the traditional manner, without the use of so-called improvers or other additives. It takes time and needs the best quality ingredients to get it just right. We are committed to using local ingredients and suppliers wherever possible.

Our training program focuses helping on vulnerable women wanting to break the cycle of unemployment, poverty or offending.

Our work includes:

  • Employability course: A six-week programme, at the end of which successful participants acquire three accredited certificates: AIM Award Level 1 in Employability, Aim Award Level 1 in Customer Service and Food Safety Level 2.
  • Domestic abuse support group: This addresses issues of abuse between intimate partners, peers and family members. Six reflective sessions help victims identify what has happened, acknowledge their experiences and reflect on their achievements.
  • Volunteering: We offer opportunities for around 30 people to volunteer alongside our service users in the classroom and on placement in our three community cafés. Volunteering provides tangible work experience, structure, routine and a sense of belonging, as well as helping to increase community cohesion.
  • Employment: Around a third of our paid staff team are women who have completed our program, and another third are young people who are working to gain experience or complement their studies.
  • Apprenticeships: We offer a twelve-month level 2 hospitality apprenticeship. There is entry criteria and an assessment process for this project.
  • Out-of-court disposal scheme: Helping young women who are low-level (often first time) offenders to address the problem(s) that have contributed to their offending, as a more appropriate resolution than court prosecution. Delivered on behalf The Chief Constable of Northamptonshire Police.

People power

I believe that we have the very best skilled, qualified and experienced staff, who each take ownership for their individual roles and for the sustainability of the organisation. The importance of professional staff producing a quality, consistent product has been vital for our reputation and, five years on, we are fortunate to have our original three bakers still working for us. 

Our three community cafés gross an income of £300,000 per year and our wholesale bakery has a gross income of £168,000 per year. Our Operations Manager has over thirty years’ experience of managing commercial bakeries throughout the region. He has secured over twenty-five trade customers, including the Northampton General Hospital. Our Community Impact Manager has over twenty years of experience working with vulnerable adults with mental health needs within a social care setting. These key personnel lead the way within the organisation in terms of professionalism and good practice.

We work closely with key stakeholders to recognise the gaps in the local landscape and its expansion would not have been possible without the support of The Police, Fire and Crime commissioner, Northamptonshire Police, The National Probation Service, BeNCH CRC (private probation company), Northampton Healthcare Foundation Trust and other third sector colleagues.

The dough to do it

In 2015, we received a three-year grant of £385,000 from National Lottery to get established, which was then extended by another three years with an additional £220,000. This was followed in November 2018 by a Ministry of Justice Grant (from The Female Offender Strategy) of £250,000 to strengthen our work in Northampton and to replicate it in Kettering. A month later, we received a further Ministry of Justice Grant of £65,000 to purchase a town centre café to provide follow-on employment opportunities for vulnerable women. More recently, in December 2019, we received another Ministry of Justice Grant of £20,000 to set up an apprenticeship scheme.

Despite our success in securing funding for specific projects, ongoing funding for the support services we offer continues to be a challenge. Diversifying what we do has helped secure further income to run domestic abuse support groups and we are exploring the provision of mental health services with local GPs. We have also expanded our catering department, delivering lunches for events at offices, schools and other community organisations. 

Another significant thing we learned was the importance of debt collecting. In recent years we have been a lot firmer with account holders, which unfortunately, sometimes, means withholding supply when bills are overdue.


The Good Loaf has been widely recognised for our success. In 2016 we were proud to win The National Howard League Award for helping women to keep out of the criminal justice system by providing alternative, proportionate, effective and targeted interventions that reduced the risk of re-offending. We were celebrated for best practice in diversionary work and championed for challenging people to change for the better! 

More recently, we won an ICPA Award for Offender Management and Reintegration, which was presented in Montreal. We were celebrated for ‘providing effective community interventions whilst believing that individuals can change for the better; enhanced integrity, professionalism and excellence; partnership working and excellent humanitarian approaches showing respect and dignity to all individuals with a duty of care to protect their rights.’

Locally we have won The Local Food Hero Award, The High Sheriff Award for Peer Mentoring, The Best Community Business Award for Northamptonshire, and The Great Food Club Community Award 2018/19.

Going forward

We would love to branch out to other parts of the county and then who knows!


You can find out more about The Good Loaf, including their volunteer scheme and where to buy their Real Bread at:

Published in Real Bread Week 2020 as part of the Real Bread Campaign’s Together We Rise initiative.

Please support the Campaign’s work helping people to bake a better future, one loaf at a time:

Published Tuesday 25 February 2020

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