A delicious way to make a difference

As the Bake the Difference programme returns for its second year at Friends House, we reflect on the highs and lows of Year 1 of the programme. The trainees and the staff involved tell us how this baking project changed their lives and what to expect for Year 2.

Ingredients to a new life

In September 2018 a group of men stepped into the restaurant kitchen at Friends House for the first time. They had two things in common: a history of breaking the law or antisocial behaviour and a diagnosis of personality disorder.

People in circumstances like these can often find themselves excluded by society, finding it difficult to get a job or even secure accommodation due to their pasts. Too often a lack of stability in their lives can result in a return to prison. But these men also had something else uniting them: they were all here to learn to bake.

This was the beginning of Bake the Difference, a new project taking place at Friends House thanks to a collaboration between Quiet Company (the new name for the Friends House hospitality company) and the organisation London Pathways Partnership. It aims to help ex-offenders like these reintegrate into society by teaching them practical and theoretical cooking and baking skills.

Bake the Difference: a life-changing experience

Over the year-long programme, trainees spent nine hours a week (the maximum allowed without affecting their benefits) at Friends House and were paid over the London Living Wage (£11.96 an hour). Baked goods produced on the course were regularly sold on-site in the café and restaurant. Trainees even prepared a buffet of desserts for the food fair at Yearly Meeting, the annual gathering of Quakers, where more than 400 Friends could taste their handiwork.

Of course, it wasn’t always easy, particularly due to the many challenges the trainees faced in their lives outside Friends House. Several trainees were recalled to prison during the course (though none of them re-offended). As Paul Grey, CEO of Quiet Company, explained, it made for an “inspiring and challenging journey both for our trainees and our dedicated staff who support this programme”.

Mauro Calheiros, Development Chef at Friends House, taught the trainees the fundamentals of baking and followed their progress. Here’s his reflection on the programme: “As the weeks progressed, we explored and broadened the trainees’ capacities. Production became easier, and questions and ideas started flowing. We were able to produce tasty cakes and sell them in the café. A project to make Christmas stollen cake beat all our expectations. But the trainees still faced many challenges. They had to overcome chaotic lifestyles and a past that still haunts them. Adapting to life outside of prison is hard, which is why some of them were recalled. However, the remaining trainees on the programme grew their confidence and now have a strong desire to gain employment. They feel a greater sense of inclusion into society. In comparison to where they were when they started, this is a great change.”

Trainees were presented with their Bake the Difference certificates of achievement in a formal ceremony in July.

Knead for change

For its second year, there are going to be a few changes to better suit the needs of the trainees. Participants will learn baking, front of house, barista and kitchen porter skills, in the newly opened Seed Kitchen restaurant. Every day, they will prepare the desserts on the menu:

  • Dark Chocolate Brownie with Turmeric Poached Pears
  • Pistachio, Lemon and Ricotta Cheesecake with Cherry Compote
  • Coconut Crème Brûlée with Chocolate Shortbread

This will broaden their range of skills to put on CVs etc. and break the routine of only baking. Bake the Difference will also only be 6 months this time, following the trainees’ feedback.

We are currently working with the Shaw Trust to find durable employment for the trainees after the completion of the programme. A number of high street companies have been approached and showed an interest.

The trainees started their placement on October 2nd. All the team at Friends House welcome them and wish them luck on their new journey.

Bake the Difference, in their own words

Here are some reflections from project participants, covering the highs and lows of what’s ultimately been an amazing year.

Amy Wollny, LPP Social Inclusion Lead:

“Being part of this project has been incredibly uplifting and hopeful. I saw our trainees come into the project feeling that they are not part of society, that they have low confidence and have little hope for the future. The experience of working in such a loving environment, where they are not held up for judgement and they are allowed to be the best versions of themselves, has had the most incredible impact. It has been a joy to see the most marginalised group in our society realise their own potential, nurture the best parts of their personalities and skill-sets and be so much more than the worst thing they have done. Everyone who has been involved speaks so highly of their time with the Quakers – many have brought family, probation or NHS staff along to meet for lunch and see their achievements.”

Trainee A:

“It has been amazing, really. To be honest, before I started I didn’t really have much hope for it. I was quite grumpy and didn’t have much trust or faith in any doors opening for me. But when it began, we were straight into the work. I have not stopped learning from that day to this. I love the cooking and have learnt so much from Mauro – my family can see how much I have changed. Previously I was really isolated and had no structure to my day and was pretty depressed. This has given me purpose. I know I have to leave, but I believe I can get a job now. I would happily carry on working voluntarily if I can. I really, really appreciate everything from this year.”

Trainee B:

“Bake the Difference has done so much for my self-esteem, and respect in my household. My daughter’s respect most importantly. As soon as I am back out, I’ll bring all my family to Friends House to meet everyone. Although I am in hell being back here [in prison], I am glad I have managed to leave a good impression and reputation at Friends House. I have not had that experience before and it means a lot to me.”

Trainee C:

“I have loved every minute of it. I was just going to retire, but now my family and I can see more for me than that. We are looking at doing a market or a pop-up stall somewhere. I love cooking and seeing people eat what I have made. I was too embarrassed about the long gap in my CV to ever put myself out there, but now I feel like I can really do something with this. I can’t fault any of it.”