A few weeks ago we have the pleasure of welcoming Tom Baker of LOAF down to the Discovery Incubator in Sidcup to talk about his bakery and cookery school in Stirchley, Birmingham.
I first met Tom at the launch of Community Lover’s Guide to Birmingham and was really inspired by how he as developed his ideas. Below is the chapter he wrote for Community Lover’s Guide, but in a nutshell Tom:
- Started baking at home.
- Developed a base of customers who collected bread from his home.
- He create £1000 investment bonds – with 6% dividends p.a. to be paid in bread.
- Over 30 of his customers applied for a bond.
- Tom didn’t take up all the offers – but moved his business into a shop where he continues to grow, build relationships with fellow shopkeepers and customers.
Tom’s business is fully integrated with his own customers and the local community – but as he states – it is a business and he keeps a very firm eye on this.
During our research in Sidcup, and also in other places such as West Norwood, it has become increasingly obvious that once a high street has started to lose its shops there are very few opportunities for local residents to support its revival. They can be attracted back to buy things that remain – but once the goods and shops are lost there are no routes to bringing them back.
In frustration residents often focus on areas that they feel that they can influence – such as planning decisions, legislation and council arrangements such as parking. But we know that high street revival is very complex, involving landlord rents, rates set by central government, competing local high streets, the internet.
In the post on Trading Spaces we described ideas for connecting shops and local business with residents more strategically – integrating different forms of trading, participatory cultural and social experiences and designing new hybrid spaces to encourage collaboration and cross fertilisation. Social investment has to be part of that strategy – there is a real role here for crowdsourcing financial support for both existing and potential shops, experiences and spaces.
The other example, which also involves food and cooking, is Cook with Me in Rotterdam. The restaurant gives cooking lessons (with ipads no less) to local children. At the end of the courses the children cook a big communal meal for their families.
Both LOAF and Cook with Me are lovely in every way …But they are not charity. They are very smart strategies … for their businesses, but also for their streets – creating ways for local residents to invest in a more interesting and exciting high street, and innovative pathways for them to make investing in the local community part of everything they do. They make it possible for us to have a real influence on our high street ... and we want that - ask anyone.....