The Craft Bakers’ Association promised a conference that would be business orientated, relevant to today’s business needs and which would create an ideal forum for bakery owners to meet and network with like-minded people. And that’s exactly what it did.

The annual general meeting is an arena to ask questions of the directors, and to ensure that last year’s manifesto was achieved. This year we could answer and say: yes it was.

Let’s reminisce for just one moment, this time last year we were haemorrhaging members at an uncontrolled rate, and last year’s accounts were very unimpressive with a loss recorded. A more up to date, business-like and in-touch association was demanded, so changes were made to the board and its direction.

Like all great journeys, everyone starts with the first step. Guidance in the early days is crucial, and with executive director Mike Holling  and head of operations Karen Dear the Association is in good hands. Changes at head office and within the board were made to reduce costs and improve efficiencies to ensure our Association is fit for purpose in the years ahead.

Membership is up by 10%, and our healthier accounts were ready for inspection.

Share business knowledge

The informal meal on the Friday evening was an ideal opportunity to network with all our colleagues and trade influencers. Is it a coincidence that many of the challenges we face day to day are exactly the same challenges which face our colleagues? I think not! However, what is interesting is the myriad of ways those challenges are met with success, and that’s worth knowing.

Networking isn`t just making new friends, it is about learning as much information as you can to bring back and take your business forward. Chaperoned by Jean Greaves, six students from the National Bakery College attended the conference, and all left with promises of employment. That is networking in action.

The day in action

With a very impressive line-up of speakers ready to enthral the record attending delegates, the day commenced with Clare Rayner, retail expert and founder of the Shop Local Campaign. Her presentation on how to make your retail business more effective on the high street was a classic. I am sure we all took some great points away back for our own businesses.

After lunch, Andre Sarafilovic from Stephens Bakery, from Dunfermline, restarted the conference from lunch with a very enthusiastic paper on maintaining innovation within his business. It was an excellent report with plenty of new and innovative ideas that proved very successful for his business. Where else could you find all this valuable information – that could have a major positive effect on your business under one roof, over one weekend?

Keith Houliston, sales director at Bakels, also promoted Craft Bakers Week (29 September to 5 October ( and Make-A-Wish, the charity it will be supporting. Pleasingly, all delegates at the conference signed up to the forthcoming promotional week, which was a great start for the charity and also for highlighting our craft business on the high streets. So if you haven`t already signed up to participate in the week, please do it soon and help raise lots of money in helping those poorly young children fulfil a life’s ambition before it’s too late.

Saturday evening was certainly a night to remember with a smile. Tradition quite rightly dictates formal attire for such a grand occasion as this. We wined and dined the evening away overlooking the River Thames with the Houses of Parliament as a back drop to the whole evening.

This year’s conference, as promised, was more business orientated, with less pomp and ceremony, more topical papers and more networking opportunities. This is the members’ association, run for you to take the advantage of and make your businesses prosper.

As for me, your president for the next two years, it’s going to be an interesting ride.

Focus on upcoming talent

My father once commented to me: “Youths are the only future we have: teach them well.”

My presidency will be targeted on getting youth more involved within our trade, from school, college or university alike, such as the use of interns for short experienced-based positions. Sons and daughters of current members who are in the business but have no voice, one day they will have, but we need to hear it now, they shall be heard within a new association.

Plans are already being drawn together for their first visits to members’ businesses. There is still a lot to do and little time to do it in - so let’s get to it.