A commercial bakery that will train and employ young people with severe autism has opened for business.
Bread & Beyond has been developed by autism charity Prior’s Court with support from master baker and confectioner Steve Fudge, who helped ensure the business was set up to be commercially viable and met industry standards
Products made at the bakery are already on-shelf in local farm shops and at Budgens in Newbury, and Bread & Beyond also supplies all the baked goods for the Prior’s Court site, catering for around 90 young people and 500 staff members.
The charity described baking as an activity that suited the strength and skills of people with autism as it was process-driven, practical and offered an end-product that was rewarding and motivating.
Seven training sessions are taking place each week, and 12 young people have already been involved. The ambition of Prior’s Court is to have 10 bakeries across the country.
“Our aim is to develop and bake the finest hand-crafted goods, using the highest-quality ingredients, free from additives and preservatives, and, at the same time, provide vocational training and employment opportunities for young people with severe autism,” said Prior’s Court CEO Mike Robinson.
He added that only 32% of autistic adults in the UK were in paid employment and, for people with severe autism, the current expectation was that they would never work.
“This significantly reduces their independence, increasing the risk of social exclusion and mental and physical ill-health. We want to change the outlook for young people with autism, building on our existing work placement programme, and give real opportunities for paid work in a commercial environment, both here and out in the community.”
One of the inspirations behind the project – which was announced in 2017 – is 24-year-old Reuben. He began taking food tech sessions at Prior’s Court in 2015 and, along with another student, started baking and selling muffins to staff. He is now one of the most skilled trainee bakers.
The bakery is managed by Dylan Needham, who oversees day-to-day production, quality control, and training the young people and staff members. With a background in production and new product development, he has worked for businesses including Hovis and Warburtons.
“For me the most exciting bit is getting the young people involved, and that sense of achievement for them,” said Needham. “It’s giving them more meaning after they leave Prior’s Court; they can go on and get a job, which is incredible.”
The Great British Bake Off semi-finalist Briony Williams was invited along to cut the ribbon for the opening of the bakery last week.
She was also part of a judging panel – alongside Steve Fudge and bakery trainer Henry Jeffries – that tasted some new speciality breads. They selected an olive bread as their favourite, and this will now be added to the bakery’s product list.