In 2014 we were approached by the Refugee Council to host the Just Bread course; a 10-week training programme designed to support the training and confidence of refugee women within the fun and supportive environment of a bakery.
We were delighted to get involved, and soon began our first cohort with a small group of women. Each weekly session covered a range of bread making skills as well as pastry, butter making, jam making, milling and coffee skills.
At the end of the training it seemed too soon to bid farewell to the group. Fortunately the Secret Cinema crew – a team that run “live cinema” experiences around London – offered us a three-month residency to set up as a food trader for their production of Star Wars.
Several of the graduates from the first Just Bread course produced flatbread and mezze dishes for the many hundreds of visitors to the Tatooine Canteen.
On the back of this success we hosted another course, and again set up catering operations at another of Secret Cinema’s events.
After subsequent courses some of the graduates ran supper clubs at e5 Bakehouse, and we began a bread subscription programme so that customers could help support the course directly.
After several years and more than 50 participants on the Just Bread programme, we decided it was time to create something more permanent.
We found a great location in Poplar, Tower Hamlets; a new cafe space owned by the social housing landlord Poplar Harca with a fantastic events space built in, as well as an enormous pizza oven in the kitchen.
We began making flatbreads here every week to supply to local wholesale customers and have since opened a daily cafe serving international food alongside great coffee, which we roast on site in a beautiful 6kg Giesen coffee roaster.
The e5 Roasthouse, as the cafe is called, is now open seven days a week and employs a handful of graduates from the Just Bread programme, alongside refugees and other vulnerable adults who were put in contact with us from other networks.
Alongside training and employment, the aim is to contribute 30% of our profits to refugee organisations.
The atmosphere and quality of the team at the Roasthouse is second to none, and we are so happy to be working with such a global team.
On Thursdays, our chef cooks up Eritrean food served with Injera flatbreads; on Friday nights we have pizza and live music every week; while every day fresh coffee beans imported from small ethical producers are hand-roasted in small batches.
The main challenge is that employees from our Just Bread programme are often in vulnerable and insecure positions in this country.
They have often experienced significant hardship and trauma, and are facing many challenges themselves in settling here and, therefore, can have fairly specific support needs.
While we want to provide as many jobs as possible to people who ordinarily might not succeed on the grounds of age, ethnicity, language and general experience, we have also had to find the right balance with ensuring we can still offer a good level of service in the cafe, alongside a supportive training environment for employees.
Our collaboration with the Refugee Council has given us such a brilliant opportunity to continue running Just Bread.
The Refugee Council are wonderful and do all the hard work in terms of recruitment of trainees. They have a huge amount of experience supporting refugees, and can offer advice and support when needed.
Poplar Harca have also given us a huge opportunity by approaching us to open a cafe in their arts and community space.
The permanent cafe means we have genuine employment opportunities for graduates of Just Bread, plus it’s an excellent space to run more classes, to develop and produce flatbreads, and to roast coffee.
The cafe has allowed us to continue to support refugees and community events, and to establish a new business in an area of London that is changing and growing.
We are definitely still learning, but one thing that has helped is being open to new ideas and innovations, and remaining flexible enough to adapt plans when needed.