A unique community bakery is on the rise after winning a five-figure investment from the North East Small Loan Fund Supported by The European Regional Development Fund.

Newcastle-based Big River Bakery is a social enterprise which specialises in slow ferment, handmade breads, savoury goods and sweet treats made with British flours and local ingredients, and aims to contribute to the well-being of its community by sharing the skills of its bakery team.

Having successfully completed a crowdfunding campaign at the end of last year to support a move into larger premises, Big River Bakery relocated to a new base on Wretham Place in Shieldfield, which combines a production facility, café, retail space and training hub.

The Bakery worked with regional fund management firm NEL Fund Managers to secure a £25,000 investment to purchase additional baking equipment for its new premises which will enable it to expand its retail and training operations.

The new equipment was originally due to be installed in the week after lockdown began and was stuck in a factory in Manchester for over three months, during which time the team refocused activities on supporting its community by delivering food parcels and baking kits to local homes.

The Big River bakers recently came back on site for installation and training on the new equipment, with production ramping up through September.

The bakery launched a new training programme last month for people living in the city who face a range of barriers to employment, which will run for two years and is part of the Community Led Local Development programme funded through the European Social Investment Fund and Life Chances Fund.

It focuses on helping adults from Newcastle’s most deprived postcodes through hands-on training in developing baking, barista and shop skills, with the participants’ delicious products being sold through a ‘pay what you feel’ shop every Monday and Tuesday.

Big River Bakery was founded over eight years ago by Andy Haddon while he was working as a senior researcher at Newcastle University’s Sustainability Institute, and began life as a volunteer run bakery, with its loaves sold on Saturday mornings in the library in Andy’s home town of Wylam in Northumberland.

As operations began to grow, its products went on sale at a number of different markets around the region, while community kitchens around the region were used to run baking courses for people aged from two to 102 years old.

The bakery is part of the North East LEP’s Scaleup Programme and has created several new jobs within its growing core team as its operations have expanded. It now has a team of eight, including two staff who are on the autistic spectrum.

Andy Haddon says: “The overall idea behind the project is to make healthy local food affordable for everyone, to use baking as a means of bringing diverse communities together and to help create pathways to employment.

“Moving into the new premises was a huge step for us, and we believe we are unique in the region and possibly in the UK in having all our different facilities together in a single location.

“While the delays caused by the pandemic have been frustrating, we’re excited to have things back up and running, and by the many new opportunities that lie ahead.

“Scaling up our operations in these bigger premises meant we needed more equipment to meet the customer demand we’re expecting, and NEL’s support was critical in this respect.

“Going through the application process was challenging, but it enabled us to review our development strategy with the NEL team’s help and we came out with a stronger business plan as a result.”

Part of the £120m North East Fund and aimed predominantly at smaller SMEs, the £9m North East Small Loan Fund typically offers loans of between £10,000 and £100,000 to businesses in Tyne & Wear, Durham and Northumberland.

It is designed to assist with the creation of over 1,200 new regional jobs in more than 320 SMEs over the life of the fund.

Jonathan Armitage, investment executive at NEL Fund Managers, adds: “Big River Bakery is a fantastic business that has a big local impact in several different ways and their ambitions to build on what’s already been achieved are extremely admirable.”

Colin Bell, Business Growth Director at the North East LEP, says: “The Scaleup North East programme works with businesses with the hunger and potential to achieve high levels of growth.

“Big River Bakery has just that and it is fantastic to watch its upwards trajectory as the company moves forward with its ambitious plans.”

The overarching £120m North East Fund will provide financial support for more than 600 businesses, creating around 3,500 jobs and delivering a legacy of up to £80m for further investment into the region.

For more information on NEL’s investment criteria, visit www.nel.co.uk or contact the investment team on 0345 369 7007.