How bread making helps One Mile Bakery Exeter owner Boudicca Woodland’s mental wellbeing.
I have lived with anxiety and depression for as long as I can remember. As with all mental health issues, they can present in many ways, so periods of my life have been dominated variously by bulimia, panic attacks and more. I found various ways to help me cope – medication at times, talking therapies at others. During my twenties I managed to control a lot of my symptoms and food slowly became a joy once again, rather than a burden or to be used as punishment.
I have always baked; my mother insisted that my brother and I would at least leave home being able to make staple foods, so our introduction to baking and other cooking started quite early. I still remember the joy of standing on a chair in kitchen with a too-long apron dangling while we ‘magicked’ up pleasing smells and tastes.
During my often-penniless teens and twenties my kitchen churned out baked gifts for friends. Just the act of having a degree of control, through weighing out ingredients and having to focus on the steps, gave me a sense of satisfaction and calm. These bakes also encouraged me to be sociable in those moments that I haven’t always wanted to be. When I knew that I would be making something for a friend, I’d be much more likely to turn up to birthday parties and picnics.
In 2006, grief forced me into what I now know to be a breakdown. It was difficult to process at the time because I felt so numb. In an attempt to change things, my then boyfriend (now husband) and I made a list of our requirements – a theatre, a cinema, a selection of decent Sunday lunch pubs, excellent coffee shops and access to good food. This led to moving from London to Exeter.
The slower pace of life gave me more time and space to process my thoughts and feelings. Slowly baking returned and as children arrived, my maternity leave time was taken up with delicious bakes, cakes, and bread making. When I returned to work, my weekends were spent with the children on chairs in the kitchen and licking bowls and spoons. Bread making really made a return at this time as I wanted to cut down on processed food in my home.
I was working as an agent for outdoor performers; a job I loved but I’d found balancing my full-time, office-based job with motherhood a really difficult tightrope to walk. I could feel my anxiety and depression creeping back and knew that something needed to change.
While reading a magazine I saw a small piece about One Mile Bakery founder Elisabeth Mahoney. She described making bread, soup and jam and delivering to subscribers and teaching others to bake. This sounded wonderful to me and I kept coming back to the idea. I found out that she was interested in developing the idea of small franchises throughout the UK, so I got in touch with her. We immediately hit it off and just a few months later I made the decision to set up One Mile Bakery Exeter as a home-based bread microbaker and teacher.
My depression and anxiety are always still in the background, so I was determined to ensure that looking after myself was built into my new routine. Self-care can be a bit of buzzword, but I’ve found it’s really about making positive choices for my own long-term wellness. Being a Real Bread baker, I have natural breaks throughout my day. I was using these moments to take regular self-care breaks – for a dance in the kitchen, a walk, meeting friends for a coffee, or spending time making myself a delicious and nutritious lunch.
Of course, the global pandemic has meant that some of these self-care moments have not been possible. Add to that the stress being self-employed in our ‘new normal’ and having my children at home for over six months! However, baking alone has offered so much and I have been focusing on this. Bread increases my creativity as I offer my subscribers a different loaf each week. Bread gives me sensory pleasure – kneading and shaping takes me out of your mind and into the physical act. Bread gives me joy – I put the radio on and immerse myself in the music as I bake. Sharing my bread brings me joy.
I’m hoping to be able to resume hosting baking classes as soon as the children return to school, even if I can only teach one family or bubble at a time. I really believe that baking boosts creativity and happiness. Being guided through recipes makes people feel more confident and capable. Small creative tasks offer you space to be mindful and there is nothing like the satisfaction of pulling a freshly-baked loaf from an oven.
Originally published in True Loaf magazine issue 44, October 2020.