Andy Haddon from Big River Bakery and Jonathan Armitage from NEL Fund Managers

Source: NEL Fund Managers/Big River Bakery

L to r: Andy Haddon from Big River Bakery and Jonathan Armitage from NEL Fund Managers

Newcastle-based social enterprise Big River Bakery has received a five-figure investment from the North East Small Loan Fund.

The bakery, which specialises in slow ferment, handmade breads, worked with regional firm NEL Fund Managers to secure £25,000. The funding has been used to purchase additional baking equipment for its new premises enabling it to expand its retail and training operations.

It crowdfunded at the end of last year to support its relocation to a new base on Wretham Place in Shieldfield, which combines a production facility, café, retail space and training hub.

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

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

It also launched a new training programme for people living in the city who face a range of barriers to employment. This 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.

Big River Bakery was founded eight years ago by Andy Haddon as a volunteer run bakery. Loaves were sold on Saturday mornings in the library of Haddon’s hometown of Wylam, Northumberland. As operations grew, the products went on sale at several local markets, while community kitchens around the region were used to run baking courses for people of all ages.

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

It 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.

Bringing communities together

“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,” Haddon said.

“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.”

Jonathan Armitage, investment executive at NEL Fund Managers, added: “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.”

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.