Jones Village Bakery founder Alan Jones and former Dickinson & Morris MD Stephen Hallam have had their services to the UK baking industry recognised with MBEs.
The pair received the royal appointments as part of King Charles III’s first Birthday Honours List, which was officially unveiled on Saturday (17 June).
Alan Jones previously won the Outstanding Contribution to the Baking Industry Award in 2018. The 79-year-old was instrumental in transforming a small Welsh backstreet bakery with five staff into the multi-award winning Jones Village Bakery business that currently employs 800 people and has a turnover of more than £80 million.
Jones revealed it was particularly special to be recognised in King Charles III’s first birthday honours list, having fond memories of meeting the monarch in person eight years ago. Charles and Camilla, then Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall, came to officially open the company’s new £4m Baking Academy and Innovation Centre in 2015 at the Wrexham Industrial Estate. According to Jones, they had showed a real deftness of touch in flipping some traditional Welsh Cakes on a griddle. Charles told journalists at the time that he had a “slight predilection for crumpets” and had waited 67 years to find out how they were made.
“It was a wonderful day and the royal couple were absolutely delightful and full of fun,” recalled Jones. “Fast forward a few years and I couldn’t really believe it when I opened the letter informing me about the MBE. I am delighted obviously but really surprised.”
Now retired, two of Jones’ three sons are at the helm of the family firm going from strength to strength – Robin as managing director and Christien as project director.
“In the early days, I would never have dreamed that we would have reached where we are today, with five bakeries in Minera and on Wrexham Industrial Estate,” added Jones. “It’s not just about me because the staff are fantastic and I have three sons who have worked in the business. As well as Robin and Christien, Tim was with us for 25 years but he’s changed direction and now has a successful career in the property industry.”
Jones also paid tribute to his wife Wendy, who came from a family of bakers herself, and “without whom none of this would have been possible”.
A life in bakery
After leaving school at the age of 15, Alan Jones took an apprenticeship at Scott’s Bakery in Netherton, Liverpool, where he gained a City and Guilds qualification and then a National Diploma in baking and confectionery. He collected a North West Area Technical College award for baking the best Hovis loaf during this time.
Jones completed his apprenticeship in 1963 and did stints at Cookson’s Bakery in Lytham and back at Scott’s before joining Country Maid in Saltney as bread production manager.
In 1964, Alan and his father Harry bought a 30-year-old bakery in Coedpoeth, near Wrexham, from the Edwards Brothers. Under Alan’s leadership, the Jones Village Bakery won an array of industry awards including a trio of Fast Growth 50 awards for its rapid expansion.
Disaster struck in 2019 when a fire destroyed the company’s flagship bakery but it bounced back quickly and built a new 140,000 sq ft bakery, baking academy and headquarters that was four times the size of the building it replaced.
Last year, it invested £16m in a production line to produce sourdough loaves for M&S, and earlier this year a further £2m was spent opening one of the world’s biggest pancake lines. Most recently, the bakery announced it was recruiting 30 night workers to keep up with a 20% sales increase of its own-brand bread.
‘Growing our own’
Jones highlighted the company’s impressive staff retention and internal development programme success. “Quite few of the staff there now have been with us for more than 30 years and the vast majority of our bakery managers and supervisors are homegrown. In this day and age that is something special,” he said.
“The policy of growing our own has been fundamental to the success of the Village Bakery because they have bought into the culture. Without them we wouldn’t be where we are today.”
The founder also noted that quality of product was more important to them than profit. “Quality has been at the core of our philosophy from day one,” he added.
“We need profit of course but if you have quality everything else falls into place. It’s easier to sell quality products. We have a lot of loyal customers and we wouldn’t have made the progress that we have unless the quality was there. My sons are carrying on with those same principles and I am very proud of them.”
Humbled pie man
Joining Jones as an MBE recipient was Stephen Hallam, the long-serving former managing director of pork pie specialist Dickinson & Morris. The 170-year-old company operates Ye Olde Pork Pie Shoppe, the oldest bakery outlet in the Leicestershire town of Melton Mowbray, and also supplies its award-winning pork pies to retailers nationwide.
Hallam’s baking career included working as a chief pâtissier aboard the QE2 when it was requisitioned as a troop carrier during the Falklands War in 1982. He also did a stint at Catlin’s in Grantham, Lincolnshire, home of the Gratham gingerbread.
Hallam took over at Dickinson & Morris in 1992, shortly after the bakery had been gutted by fire. He ensured great care was taken to refurbish the Grade II listed building, which has since become one of the county’s top tourism attractions, receiving around 250,000 visitors per year. Hallam stepped back from running the business in 2020, but continues as a consultant and ambassador for the brand.
Hallam has been a key promoter of authentic British pies for years, co-founding the Melton Mowbray Pork Pie Association and helping the product gain protected geographical indication status. The 67-year-old also co-founded the British Pie Awards, an annual competition he still helps to judge.
He previously served as president of the British Confectioners’ Association and earned the freedom of the Worshipful Company of Bakers.
“I feel very humble, gobsmacked, surprised and it’s all still sinking in to be honest,” Hallam told the Melton Times. “When I go to the palace I will be taking a Melton pork pie along with me to give to the king – it would be rude not to.”
British Pie Awards chairman Dr. Matthew O’Callaghan OBE said Hallam really deserved the recognition not just as a baker and confectioner but for all that he has done for food in Melton and Leicestershire.
“He has had a key role in the campaign to protect our famous pie, in the British Pie Awards and other events and was often on TV in connection with these,” O’Callaghan told British Baker. “His efforts along with others has meant that food-related tourism contributes over £100m a year to the economy of the Borough of Melton.”