Proof Bakery were making sourdough bread long before the lockdown trend. Over the past six months, the church-based initiative which supports refugee women into work, has gone from strength to strength.
Proof Bakery was a joint winner of our Cinnamon Project Lab competition in 2018. Back then, it was just a start up project in Coventry – a glimmer of an idea dreamt up by founder Chernise Neo, who felt moved to support refugees struggling to adjust to life in the UK.
“There is a lot to welcome people seeking sanctuary in Coventry, but I was very interested in what happens 18 or 24 months down the line. I wanted to help people to get into work and that is how the first plans for this training programme came about,” she says.
At the time, the model was quite simple. Refugee women joined the bakery’s training programme where they learnt how to bake delicious bread, while improving their English, gaining employability skills, and building connections within the community.
The bakery then sold the bread via a subscription service to churches in Coventry – dropping off loaves for collection at Sunday services.
Then lockdown came in. Churches shut their doors. And the subscription model was redundant. The scheme, which had been steadily developing as part of Cinnamon’s Incubator Programme, now faced difficult decisions.
But furlough and redundancy weren’t an option for Chernise. The project had come too far and meant too much to the women to simply fold. Closure would not only mean the loss of vital income and training for the women, but also the essential support and connections to the community provided by the bakery.
Leap of faith
So Chernise took a leap of faith. Out went the subscription model and in came home deliveries. They set up a system on their website for customers to order and even gave people the option to donate bread to local foodbanks.
The response was incredible. Coventry embraced the idea and the bakery has never been busier. For the first time since their inception, they’ve been able to break even financially.
“I’m most proud that we are still here,” says Chernise with a smile.” All sorts has happened. The team has changed almost entirely. But we’ve made it through start-up with a more stable financial base to grow from. We’ve not given up.”
Cinnamon UK has been proud to journey with Chernise and the bakery over the last few years, helping her put in place strong foundations that have enabled the bakery to adapt to the immense challenges of COVID-19.
So, what’s next? The new model is certainly here to stay and Chernise is looking to hand over the reins of the operation in Coventry to pursue replicating the initiative in Sheffield, Derby and London.
“I would not still be doing the bakery if it wasn’t for the [Cinnamon] Incubator Programme. It’s been such a growing experience and I’m hugely grateful that they took a leap of faith in the bakery. It changed my life and also the lives of women in Coventry.”
To find out more about Proof Bakery visit www.proofbakery.co.uk