I was lucky enough to got to a Mental Health and Wellbeing Conference the other day. One of the speakers was a poet, Dean Atta, who read his fabulous heartfelt poems on mental health issues. We got talking, and he told me about the performance poet Simon Mole, and his poem Making Bread.
Simon loves making bread, it means a lot to him.
Making bread allows me to do nothing at all for large chunks of time when the dough is resting or rising, but for once this lack of activity doesn’t worry me. I am doing something vital and necessary. I am making bread.
Bread means a lot to me too. Making it has been one way I’ve worked out can help me to manage my own depression and anxiety. Bread (and making it) nourishes us in so many different ways. It means many things to many different people. What does it mean to you?
A weekend or two ago, we had a stall at The Hive’s Christmas Market. Like our stalls at the Farmers’ Market, we had a great selection of bread on offer; bread made by our volunteer workforce. One difference to stalls in the past was the fact that we had some new, young, volunteers to help sell our wares. Along with their support officer from Brighton & Hove YOS, two young people were working as part of a reparative project. As a community business and social enterprose, this kind of project very much fits our ethos. Through giving these people a chance to interact with the community in a positive way, we’re helping to promote integration.
As the Bakehouse develops we want to involve more people like this. We should be nourishing our community; not just through the bread you buy, with the processes involved in its production and sale.
On Monday last week, I was interviewed by the guys at People’s Republic of Brighton & Hove Radio. Their radio station has been set up to share, and make people aware of, the plethora of amazing community events and organisations across our city. It’s always great to get our message on air; the message of baking bread with members of your community being good for our own and the community’s wellbeing. Whether you’re anxious, lonely, or just a bit low, bread can help.
You can listen to the interview here (around about the 44 minute point); I’m told I sounded enthusiastic and confident, and I hope I manage to convey the fact that Stoneham Bakehouse is different from a standard bakery. Yes, we bake good Real Bread, but we do so in order to support the wellbeing of the bakers and the community. What was unsaid in the interview, or at least only eluded to, was my anxiety on the day. It’s amazing how you can act calm and relaxed (or at least a reasonable impression of it); yet just before, inside, you’re worried and doubting your abilities to do the job. I’ve had to do a growing amount of this kind of interview recently, but I still get anxious about it. It’s silly as I know the story, it’s my story, but I nonetheless get worried and doubt that I’ll be able to say sensible things. I’ve managed to get better at it, and acting confident helps. As they say “fake it til you make it“. However, the funny feeling in the tummy, the racing heart, is still evident on occasions. Luckily, baking bread can help me to reset the system, to redress the balance; the calming nature of working with the dough allowing me to return to a normal state.
Stoneham Bakehouse is a Community Supported Bakery, a social enterprise, a Community Interest Company. The whole idea was started by me, Simon, to (in part) help me improve my mental health. But, it’s about so much more than that now. It’s the community’s bakery, it’s helping to support the community’s wellbeing by giving the chance for people to make connections.
One of NEF’s five ways to wellbeing is connect. There’s a lot to be said for having connections with people. When I was feeling at my lowest, being on the school run was a place I feared, because I may have to speak to someone. But, as I made small connections over the days and weeks, that very thing helped me to feel better.
We’re excited to start the next cohort of children on the PlayDough programme this week. Over the last year or so we’ve provided a chance for over 40 children at the local Junior school to make connections and benefit from the therapeutic nature of working with dough. Children, who may find making friends or working with others tricky, have been brought together to bake bread. Being able to make connections with others, to know other people like what you do, is really important to ones self-esteem. If you feel appreciated by others its easier to appreciate yourself.
So, I’d like to say thank you to all those people who do great things in our community. The refuse men who empty the park bins, the guy who helps kids cross the road to school each day, the teachers and TAs at the local schools, Caroline and the team who run Hove Luncheon Club, the Friends groups in our parks, the countless other people who offer something to the community. It’s connections with the folk around us that makes us a community, and in connecting we’re helping the community’s wellbeing too.
We’ve got an exciting range of breadmaking workshops on offer this Autumn. Whether it’s learning the basics of bread in our Everyday Bread workshop, discovering how to make bagels or festive breads, or tackling sourdough, we’ve got it covered. Visit our workshops page for more information.
Unfortunately, due to the predicted weather on Saturday, the Farmers’ Market in Stoneham Park has been cancelled. We don’t want to leave you with nowhere to get bread this weekend, so we’ll be doing a special Friday bake on the 19th August. Get your orders in before lunchtime tomorrow (Thursday), then collect from The Hive between 2-3pm.
Stoneham Bakehouse has continued to grow over the last few months, with more places to buy our bread, and a series of successful workshops for those who want to learn how to bake their own loaves. We have also been lucky over the last few months to receive funding for a number of projects, and some of these will be starting in the autumn. Read more about how you can get involved in this update.
As you know Stoneham Bakehouse has the wellbeing of the community as a central ethos, and that includes the bakers who produce our great community baked bread. With this in mind we will be taking our summer break at the start of August (1-14 August). The break will give the team time to recharge the batteries, and prepare for the hard work ahead of us.
Plot 22 is a fabulous community allotment on the Weald Allotment site north of Old Shoreham Road. We’ve recently run a couple of workshops there (funded by a Good Food Grant from the Brighton & Hove Food Partnership), baking in their wood fired oven. In September we will be running a couple more workshops focussing on the way baking and gardening can be beneficial to wellbeing. If you’re interested, please check out Plot 22’s website for details.
We’re in the process of drawing up a menu of workshops for the autumn months, and this will be published as soon as the last details are confirmed. Do let us know if there are workshops you’d be interested in seeing us offer.
Finally, as Stoneham Bakehouse gets bigger, with more of the community wanting to be involved (whether as bakers or bread buyers), and as our work in the community using breadmaking to support wellbeing is increasingly becoming recongnised by others, we’re looking to expand. Our current ‘itinerant bakers’ status, baking in my home, Pizzaface, and The Hive, has been a great way to get started, but as we look to the future we need our own space. Somewhere where we can bring a bread oven to the heart of our community.
We’ve been keeping our eyes open and ears to the ground, but so far we haven’t found the right thing. So, we’re looking for a helping hand from our community. Do you know of a space you can see us pop up in? Have you a link to someone who works in commercial property? We’d love to hear from you with your ideas.
Over the last couple of weeks I’ve been baking at Plot 22, the local community allotment. It’s great to combine two things which have been very important to me in the last couple of years. The allotment and breadmaking have been very influential in my managing of depression and anxiety. Both offer the chance to be mindful and appreciative of the smaller things. Both allow me to be creative. Both have enabled me to get outside and talk to people and feel part of a community.
The sessions this, and last week, were for volunteers at Plot 22. People who work so hard to keep this allotment looking brilliant; and like me enjoy the peace and tranquility of sowing, digging and weeding. Using their brick wood-fired oven, we baked some great olive oil based breads; enjoying them with delicious salads made from produce from Plot 22. Funded by a Brighton & Hove Food Partnership Good Food Grant, we will be working with Plot 22 again in September, offering more baking for wellbeing sessions for different community groups.
The internet and social media particularly is awash with special days and weeks with hashtags promoting them. Not a week goes by that there isn’t some kind of ‘week’ popping into my, and everyone else’s, newsstream. There are so many of these awareness days that they even have their own website to collate them all. Usually their existence washes over me, but this week is different. This week is both Real Bread Week and Mental Health Awareness Week. I don’t know who schedules these things, but for me it’s no coincidence the two awareness weeks that Stoneham Bakehouse is most aligned with are the same week.
It is through my own struggles with depression and anxiety that I found real bread, and it’s baking real bread that helps me to manage my mental health. From the dark moments when, quite frankly, I was not sure how I could carry on, to today when the black dog of depression is sighted less frequently, working with dough is therapy for me. Not to say it’s the only thing; I’d still be a wreck without the amazing support of my family and friends. The thing is, baking has led to meeting amazing people who really care. Really care about me, but also really care about the community, and about giving people the chance to enjoy real honest bread. Yes, the act of baking is a mindful one. You can be in the moment and take notice of the way the dough changes as you knead, take time as it rises and becomes a silken pillow ready for shaping. But here’s the difference with Stoneham Bakehouse, whilst that happens we are connecting with others, forming bonds, making something to collectively be proud of. It really does make a difference. It makes me happy.
Domino, one of our bakers, puts it like this:
Everything about Stoneham Bakehouse makes me feel better. The actual breadmaking – creating something delicious from a few ingredients, the process of mixing and kneading, the waiting. But also the companionship of other volunteers, meeting the public when we sell bread, doing something with the community. And I love feeding my kids something I have baked – both of them pounce on a Stoneham Bakehouse loaf the minute they see it.
So, coincidence or not, I want to celebrate the fact that these two weeks are raising awareness of two such fundamental things in my, and others’, lives.
It’s Real Bread Week from today until the 22nd May. Organise by the Real Bread Campaign, the week celebrates and promotes real bread made from the simplest of ingredients (namely flour, salt, yeast and water).
During the week we’ll be baking with some of the children of Hove Junior School; using work with dough to support wellbeing. Stoneham Bakehouse will also have a stall at the Hove Farmers’ Market on Saturday 21st May. So grab yourself some Real Bread from your local community supported bakery.