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Earning a crust

It’s not the Real Bread sold by Breadwinners that makes this social enterprise unique, says Zoe Allen.

Hassan Abdullahi © Zoe W-A Photography for London Food Link / The Jellied Eel

Hassan Abdullahi © Zoe W-A Photography for London Food Link / The Jellied Eel

An organic, artisan sourdough loaf from a local bakery is not an uncommon sight at many of London’s food markets. When you buy from Breadwinners’ stalls or our online shop, however, you’re not just supporting a small business but also a grassroots charity. We are a non-profit organisation that helps young refugees and asylum seekers to gain work experience – or even their first job - in the UK.

In 2016, our founders John Lister and Marika Chaplais launched Breadwinners with the vision to use bread, the most essential household staple, to create extraordinary change. Through selling bread crafted by some of London’s best independent bakeries, we provide mentoring, training and a friendly community to welcome people to their new home.


With the unemployment rate among refugees in the UK estimated at around 70%, our work is vital. Without work experience here, knowledge of our job markets, or networks to draw upon it can be extremely difficult to access work. And that’s before factoring in the employer bias that refugees face. Even with the right to remain and work in the UK, on average refugees search for 21 months to find a job.

The situation for refugees who arrive seeking asylum is even harder as they often have to wait for years before their case is decided. During this period, they are not allowed to work and only receive £5.39 a day from the government on which to live. Isolated in a foreign country and unable to provide for their families, use their skills or create networks through employment, people seeking asylum also often suffer from prolonged mental health issues.

What we do

We run three programmes: Risers, Breadwinners and Proofers. Through Risers we support young people seeking asylum by providing expenses-paid volunteer placements, mentoring and training. This means that when refugee status is finally granted, our trainees are able to create a CV and have UK work experience to put on it. Time and again we’ve seen just how valuable this can be. Dagim from Eritrea, who was referred to us by the British Red Cross, said: “I’ve learnt so much about customer service and talking to new people, and now I have two certificates that will help me in the future. It’s been a life changing experience for me and now I have a job.”

Our core programme is called Breadwinners, which supports people who have already been granted refugee status. Our Breadwinners are recruited as managers for our award-winning farmers’ market stalls, working on their customer service skills and developing their English language abilities. Proofers is a new extension of this programme, which we created in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. As everyone else moved online in 2020, we had to do so too! We developed our delivery service, and our stall managers adapted to working as online sales representatives.

In the last two years, these programmes have allowed us to support 94 refugees and young people seeking asylum, 90% of whom have gone on into further employment. Out alumni include Hassan Abdullahi who, having graduated from both our Risers and Breadwinners programmes, is now our Operations Coordinator. Our main aim, however, is to improve wellbeing, and 93% of our Risers say that their wellbeing has improved significantly whilst taking part in the programme.

Our companions

It hasn’t been easy, of course. As for most businesses and charities, adapting to Covid-19 was a huge challenge. Lack of face to face contact has been hard on our young people, many of whom felt isolated even before lockdown. Thanks to our funders, however, we were able to provide laptops for our beneficiaries. This allows people on our programmes at least to continue engaging with the rest of the Breadwinners community virtually through online training and events, as well as gaining new skills on the Proofers programme.

Our biggest help in adapting and growing has been learning from other fantastic charities working with refugees in London. We are constantly inspired by our friends at  the Bike Project and Migrateful and it’s exciting to see the London charity community grow together to meet these new challenges.

Looking ahead

In 2020, we were named Super Social Enterprise in the Urban Food Awards, run by the Mayor of London and London Food Link. We want to continue growing, supporting more young people, building our thriving community and getting great Real Bread to the people of London. We’ve already supported people into areas as diverse as fashion, tourism and healthcare, and are working to help more young people transition to their dream jobs or start their own businesses. Ahmed Osman, who previously managed our stall at Primrose Hill Market, is now a food entrepreneur. He said: “Breadwinners accepted me and supported me. I learnt from Breadwinners how I can start my business again. I’ve left Breadwinners now to run my own business, but I am Breadwinner in my heart.”

That’s what we hope for people in our community - that they grow and thrive, while always remembering the friends they made during their time with us, and remaining Breadwinners at heart.

15% off online orders!
Fresh bread and other goodies delivered to your door in London zones 1-4 with 15% off for Real Bread Campaign supporters: Find the discount code in your copy of True Loaf issue 45.

Offer valid online only (not at stalls) until 30 April 2021. Discount applies to unlimited separate orders, or the first payment of a subscription. See Breadwinners’ site for delivery service details and FAQs.

Originally published in True Loaf magazine issue 45, January 2021

Published Monday 11 January 2021

Real Bread Campaign: The Real Bread Campaign finds and shares ways to make bread better for us, better for our communities and better for the planet. Whether your interest is local food, community-focussed small enterprises, honest labelling, therapeutic baking, or simply tasty toast, everyone is invited to become a Campaign supporter.

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