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We knead to talk

Malcolm Heaven runs Knead to Chat, just the sort of project we’re celebrating in particular in our work to see more people benefit from baking.

Photo © Malcolm Heaven

Photo © Malcolm Heaven

Every baker has a story about how they got hooked, and mine started a few years ago with a birthday present. I’m one of those difficult people who no one knows what to buy, so having given my wife no help whatsoever in the form of suggestions, she signed me up for a bread making course.

Fast forward to 2018 and I attended a course at The School of Artisan Food, with the aim of taking my skills to the next level, and getting inspiration from other bakers. I spent five days learning advanced techniques from Wayne Caddy, one of the UK’s top bakers and a Real Bread Campaign ambassador. The week also confirmed that my real passion wasn’t in the commercial side, but more in creating opportunity for others. I started to realise how baking bread could bring people together. Trying something different, learning new skills, creating a fabulous loaf, chilling and sharing stories - all those things can be so beneficial.

Sense of wellbeing

It was around this time that I heard Leicestershire Partnership NHS Trust (LPT) were looking to bake with patients. I attended a workshop where other volunteers and I shared our baking skills and ideas on how we could use therapeutic bread making activities to improve health and wellbeing. The initial idea was a bread club but we decided that this wasn’t the best fit, and so the concept of Knead To Chat emerged. The activity is aimed at people who have mental health challenges and people simply looking to deal with the stress and strains of living in today’s world and bring a sense of wellbeing into their lives.

We aligned ourselves with the five ways to wellbeing to create a safe, relaxed space for people to meet. We help people develop a social network, to both support and enrich their lives and give each person time to reflect on what matters to them. Through conversation we encourage the sharing of stories, experiences, and challenges. It’s also an opportunity to engage the senses - particularly touch and taste. For some people, baking bread is new, for others it’s rediscovering an enjoyable activity and using dormant skills. Either way it’s a fun way to learn and build confidence, and homemade bread is a wonderful gift to share with family and friends.

Time for yourself

With a major emphasis on the chat part of the initiative, time is given to both individual and group conversations. The workshops are specifically designed so that once the dough has been kneaded, there is a short proving time of 45-60 minutes during which people are encouraged to talk. Sometimes conversations are prompted by volunteers, while on other occasions they develop naturally. Although they vary, themes do emerge - social isolation, living with stress/anxiety, building self-confidence, and simply creating time for yourself.

The three broad groups of people Knead To Chat welcomes to our bread workshops are:

  • LPT patients, as well as hospital staff as part of the LPT staff wellbeing initiative
  • People supported by wellbeing groups, including Age UK, Carpenters Arms (which works with with recovering addicts), Home Start (young mums), Loughborough Wellbeing Café Project (young people facing mental ill health), Menphys (disabled young people), and the No5 centre (homeless people)
  • Local people who have struggled to make and take time for themselves

We bake anywhere we can find a kitchen, which in itself brings a massive challenge, particularly when it comes to workspace and ovens. Our most valued piece of equipment is an oven thermometer, but even with that consistency of temperature can be an issue. The worst we’ve seen was an oven where the top was 30°C hotter than the middle, so knowing when a loaf is baked has become an art form!

Being flexible

It is fair to say that we sometimes have to compromise the bread making process a little to meet the needs of an individual or group of people, who aren’t always able to complete all of the tasks. We pride ourselves on being flexible to ensure that everyone produces something that both tastes delicious and that they can be very proud of. With that in mind, we run everything from a whole day session making a variety of breads, down to much shorter sessions making flatbreads or pizza.   We even have our own online baking community, in which members make regular contributions showing how they have taken the skills learnt into their own kitchens.

To help monitor and evaluate the benefits of our work, after each workshop we collect numbers of people involved, the hours given and the amount of bread baked. We also collect stories of how the activity made people feel, and anecdotal comments which bring the feeling of wellbeing to life.

Here are just a handful:

“I quite enjoyed taking out my day-to-day frustrations while kneading the dough. There were lots of smiles at the end, and some very tasty cobs.”

“I’m amazed at how my confidence grew and never thought I could make bread that looked and tasted that good.”

“I wasn’t sure I would be able to complete this, but I’ve surprised myself and it is a really nice feeling. I can’t believe I made such delicious bread.”

“A fantastic afternoon talking to people with live experiences about their mental health problems in a safe environment without being judged by others people.”

“I feel hopeful for myself and for humanity.”

Looking ahead

The future looks bright. We have funding from Time To Change and Leicester City Council that will take us into 2020, and have more requests than ever to run workshops. Beyond that, our vision is that one day doctors will socially prescribe community initiatives such as Knead To Chat, and in doing so help patients to improve their health, wellbeing and social welfare.

Originally developed in 2010 by the New Economics Foundation for the Mental Capital and Wellbeing Project run by the organisation Foresight.

Originally published in True Loaf magazine issue 42, January 2020

Published Monday 9 March 2020

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