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Story 61 - The Wren Bakery

Revive and Chapel A Baptist, Leeds
Written by Suzie Abramian in conversation with Clare Sanderson and Emma Flint - 27/11/2020

After several minutes into our interview, it came as quite a surprise to find that The Wren Bakery, a social enterprise based in Leeds using baking and barista training as tools to help vulnerable women build self-confidence and employment skills, had in fact only started in February 2020. Founded and run by Clare Sanderson and Emma Flint, there is a strong focus, a clear professionalism, and already a large following on social media, which all belies the fact this enterprise is relatively new, let alone that it began at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic
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As Clare explains though, the preparation for The Wren Bakery had been brewing for over a year before its launch and what started as simple seeds of an idea took time to shape and grow. Coming from two different churches in Leeds, Emma at Revive Baptist and Clare at Chapel A Baptist, there were initially ‘conversations of dreaming’ which developed further as they started to look at how to join their own different skills and experience together. Emma notes how in her previous work at the Joanna Project, a Christian project working with street sex workers in Leeds, she would look around the city for educational or employment opportunities for the women to move into but there was nowhere really set up for taking or welcoming them, stating, ‘there wasn’t the understanding of their backgrounds, and there wasn’t relational support in place…. so the women would end up feeling worse about themselves than they did at the start.’
However, instead of looking to establish something based on giving handouts, Clare and Emma describe how they wanted to meet these needs by creating something that goes beyond offering charity but instead gets alongside people, ‘helping them to see their potential, offering skills and employability so they can make a future for themselves.’  Looking at the skills they had themselves; Clare as a former mental health social worker, retrained as a patisserie chef and Emma with her previous work at the Joanna project, the ideas for a programme which now delivers weekly training in baking and barista skills as well regular practical therapy sessions for developing general well-being started to emerge.
Before they started this year, Clare speaks of how a visit to Luminary bakery in London (https://luminarybakery.com) was instrumental in showing them how a similar vision to theirs could be fulfilled. At Luminary they were not only able to appreciate the business model used but also see how a similar ethos could be developed and put into practice. Alongside this there have also been other key supporters in the form of another local coffee shop social enterprise, who have provided barista training and coffee beans, and also wider cross agency support required for the referrals of the women themselves.

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Although this may not be one church’s “outreach” ministry, and because of the nature of the work not necessarily appropriate to be explicit in their faith, Clare and Emma’s faith clearly underpins what they do, sometimes sharing what they believe in a more natural way as they build genuine relationships with the women on the programme. Furthermore, they speak of the support they have received across churches, including a commissioning evening, gathering supporters who wanted to pray for their launch at the beginning of the year and consequently by the relationships that are being naturally built between their church members and some of the women. A further key component in The Wren Bakery is the emphasis on practicing employment skills from the earliest stages of their training programmes. Rather than a tag on at the end of the programme, Clare and Emma describe how they wanted to facilitate opportunities for practicing barista skills and other social interaction from the start, something of great importance when so many of the needs for the women are based on growing self-confidence. For Clare and Emma this also meant investing in a 1964 vintage Citroen van converted into a coffee shop on wheels! A miraculous provision financially speaking and in how it has been so timely during a year when so much of the hospitality sector has been restricted to outside venues. Not only practical during a worldwide pandemic the van has also been converted beautifully, demonstrating to the women on the programmes in a very tangible way their value and worth as well.
MA Story61Picture3Although certain practical elements to the running of The Wren Bakery have obviously had to be altered throughout this year, moving their weekly baking classes normally held in a local church’s community centre to online classes, their quick adaptations appear to have born much fruit. The benefits of the van have meant that whatever has been baked on Friday can then be sold the next day which has developed into the Bakery gaining a permit to trade regularly at Moortown Park. Emma describes how the van has become ‘a symbol of hope’ during a really difficult time, not only for the women who are on the training programme but to those in the community they are serving, clearly seen by the popularity and number of customers.

 
Whilst Clare and Emma humbly state that The Wren Bakery is not the complete answer to an enormous problem, their approach and how they arrived where they are now is of huge encouragement. Emma says that they simply ‘wanted to do something!’ and both ladies echo the importance of simply stepping out, ‘pushing doors’ to see where God was leading. For them this meant trusting in ideas that excited them, looking at the skills they already had between themselves and faithfully following wherever God led them.
No doubt we look forward to hearing more in the future of this missional adventure but let’s also praise God for all that he has already started!
For more details see The Wren Bakery 

 
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