Loaf is the first of our stops today and the first thing you notice walking in is the smell – it’s delicious. The smell of bread breaking coupled with the warmth ovens and the mismatched furniture welcomes us and the 11 guest from Holland. .
They are in the UK to explore the emergence of civic economy, what it means to individuals and communities. It is a diverse mix of , writers, civil servants and researchers – It is also some of the groups first visit to Birmingham and we greeted them in typical British style….with a cup of builders tea.
Tom started today introducing the story of loaf, talking about its birth from his house – that you can read about in his chapter:
But in short Tom used a model for starting Loaf called Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) – Loaf is the second bakery in the country to use this approach.
The “new” home of Loaf – 1421 Pershore Road, was formally a butchers shop, and the changing face of the High Street can be seen by walking down this section of the Pershore Road. A third of the shops are closed, or only open on short term leases which only open for 6 months.
Tom was determined to try and change this so opened his shop in the community that had supported him to start the regeneration of his High Street. The shop was renovated with the help of a small brewery that was looking to invest in small food and drinks shops and the purchase of the equipment was funded by the sale of bonds in the community, the 6% interest on the bond is paid out in bread!
From the shop Tom runs his cookery school. As well as the original bread courses, there are also classes on pasta making, butchery, knife skills, foraging etc and the classes on offer keeps on diversifying.
Next door to Loaf is a retail space that he’s given over as an incubation space for another local business – the local food cooperative. Stirchley Stores. They are totally reliant on volunteers to run the shop so Tom doesn’t charge them rent, in exchange for the use of the shop they sell Loaf’s bread.
The original members of the bread club (read the chapter to find out about this) and the investors collecting the interest on their bonds drop by the store for their bread and maybe do a bit of shopping , it’s also open to the public with the bread available for anyone to buy.
The shops opening hours are different to other conventional stores, adapting so that the bakers don’t need to work through the night and to the needs of the community. Stirchley is quiet during the day but often busy with commuters in the evening, the community soon got used to this change and the store is busy during the week. The only exception to this is Fridays and Saturdays, The bakers work through the night on Fridays so that the store can open on Saturday morning.
Loaf’s mission is to promote good food and healthy living in communities and build community through foods. They’re already reaching these goals, and have lots of other ideas for the future.
In the 3 years Tom has been running Loaf the small bakery movement has exploded , he loves being part of this and keeps in touch with other bakers across the country using social media.
(Paraphrased from the questions and answers with the visitors)
Did you have any problems with the government helping you start?
A. Yes, it was a slow process getting through planning, and they could do a lot more to help support local businesses anyway. We’ve created jobs and inward investment. If they were a little more forward thinking about working with grassroots business we could make a larger impact to the High Street than the big supermarkets can.
Did the council change their opinion when they saw the business?
A. Yes, individual officers have recognized the success and I’ve been invited to talk to their planning department.
Can you tell me something about the influence this has on the wider community?
A. A lot of people now say that when they are in the street or in the park they will recognise people because they see them here. People are making friends with their neighbours who have volunteered in the shop with them. Although there is still a split between the younger and older sides of the community.
It’s hard to know how we are perceived but we try and be as inclusive as possible and we’ve just made links with a local school to invite students and their parents into the shop once a year to see what we’re all about.
What are your plans to grow across Birmingham?
A. I’m not interested in the rest of Birmingham – this is very much a local project for me, My business, my home and my community are all tied into one and getting more important by the day.
We are looking to expand locally and are looking a business plan for a coffee shop on the High Street and my dream is to own a small holding, a farm to reconnect to the land and supply the shop.