A regular visit to an artisan coffee shop and bakery might sound like an extravagance in these straitened times, but it’s worth so much more than a one-off treat.
It’s a step into your community.
The independent cafés and bakeries around our county are often doing much behind the scenes to help people, well beyond the joy of a thick-cut bacon butty on local hand-made bread, from flour and oil grown and distributed on our own Northants doorstep.
They’re late to bed and up with the lark to supply us with really good food, just around the corner; as well as giving employment, opportunities, and even second chances.
We’re conditioned in this country to feel we should chase those supermarket deals; the bogofs and the bargains. To collect those loyalty points and rewards for sticking with big business.
But it feels like there’s a change in our collective consciousness. Maybe it would be better to spend our cash with the little guys than feed the coffers of corporations.
Over the past few years in Northamptonshire the growth of artisan bakers and coffee brewers has been notable. Independent entrepreneurs have been quietly setting up shop and feeding people’s bellies and their minds. It’s not unusual to see queues outside the small cafes of a weekend, or have to wait for a table, but people seems to mind less than if waiting at a big multi-national, branded place.
From those independent, award-winning breads, brews and sticky buns has come community. The people who support the cafes with their custom and return visits are also the ones who grow the business, who spread the message through word-of-mouth and social media and indeed, through hyperlocal media voices like The Nenequirer. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard great things about great little enterprises across the county since we launched the magazine last year. Places offering something different, something passionate. Somewhere to go and genuinely enjoy a bite to eat or a coffee where it feels, well, a nice place to be.
And in one notable case, the customers have come together to make sure the good work of their café continues by raising over £12,000 of a £7,000 target through a crowd-funding scheme in less than a month. (Figures are lower in our printed magazine that went to press earlier!)
On the upstairs floor of an unassuming Northampton street corner, The Good Loaf has been helping provide more than just amazing sourdough loaves and a great place to meet for almost three years.
The artisan bakery and coffee shop, on the corner of Clare Street and Overstone Road, also provides employment and training opportunities for vulnerable women, striving to break the cycle of poverty, unemployment or offending. And over the last three years they have helped hundreds of people.
The bakery and café project is a social enterprise run as part of C2C Social action, which supports both women and men at any stage of the Criminal Justice System, by inspiring and motivating them to take personal responsibility for their behaviour, in order to reduce re-offending.
Women may be offered the chance to complete training placements at the Good Loaf, where they can secure accreditation certificates, experience, references and on-going volunteering opportunities. Many have gone on to paid work and all have access to on-site support around substance misuse, domestic abuse, sexual exploitation, parenting, debt and benefits, as well as mental health issues.
The project began almost three years ago and was supported by a grant from the Big Lottery Fund, as well as council and charitable donations. It has paid staff as well as an army of local volunteers who aren’t from the justice system, but who want to help out in their community.
The team at the Good Loaf work together, whatever their circumstances, to produce great bread, and lunches, whilst improving the lives of those who have not had an easy time.
They have been presented with The National Howard League Award for helping women to keep out of the criminal justice system, as well as numerous food, community and business awards.
The Good Loaf has to continue to apply for grant funding each year to sustain its good work, and their CEO Suzy Van Rooyen launched a Crowdfunder project in late December to raise £7,000 towards keeping it sustainable. Supporters can pledge as little as £2, and for anything from a fiver to five-hundred quid, could be rewarded with coffees, tote bags or mugs, through to lunch for ten and free bread for a year. See here
Many supporters have pledged, giving as much as they can afford to help, with the added bonus of being able to pick up a treat too. The target was smashed in just a couple of weeks and is still raising funds to expand the project to help with bus passes and work-wear to support those women being helped even more.
But as nice as it is to get awards, it feels the cafe thrives most on the visitors through the door, whether they be customers or people needing a new start. Those of us who support our local cafés and stores can see the benefit not just for the businesses and their staff, but for the wider community and their own well-being too.
It’s NICE to get a coffee that’s been locally ground, or a sarnie that’s been made with local ingredients, or to sit and work somewhere away from your home office or kitchen table. We shouldn’t be burdened with some pseudo-hipster guilt for eating well and locally, we should be getting a good loaf and a decent coffee, regularly. It’s good for us all.