Veteran's Artisan Bakery, Catterick - turning soldier to baker
Ex-servicemen are rising up the ranks of bread-making, as Jo Haywood discovers at a North Yorkshire bakery with a difference
You don’t necessarily associate soldiers with aprons and oven-timers, but that is all set to change with the rise of a new bakery that has ex-servicemen leading the charge.
The Veterans’ Artisan Bakery next to Catterick Garrison is a specialist training centre designed to give vulnerable former soldiers enhanced employment skills while using the therapeutic nature of bread-making to deal with their diverse issues.
It is based at The Beacon, a flagship accommodation, training and social enterprise centre run by Riverside Housing Association, which helps ex-service personnel suffering from combat stress or who are at risk of homelessness.
‘When people leave the armed forces they often find that while they have lots of very useful team and project management skills, they need to develop trades that will find them jobs in civilian life,’ said Trevor Morris, an ex-serviceman, who now works as Riverside’s area manager.
‘We have developed support for more than 9,000 veterans in the last 10 years and we consulted a lot of our ex-servicemen and women about what trades would interest them. Active trades like bakery came out very high.’As well as providing former soldiers with a real sense of achievement, the bakery is also working towards becoming a viable business enterprise selling quality bread and baked goods across the Catterick and Richmond areas.
The fledging bakers have been given a huge boost in their endeavours by two great Yorkshire chefs, Marco Pierre White and Rosemary Shrager, who are backing them all the way and sharing some of their own kitchen secrets.
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‘I’ve flown to Iraq and Afghanistan to cook for the troops and it’s always a privilege,’ said Marco, who grew up on an East Leeds council estate and trained at the St George Hotel in Harrogate and The Box Tree in Ilkley.
‘I strongly believe we all have a duty to support our soldiers and that duty of care shouldn’t stop on their return home. In the past, I’ve done projects working with troubled youths who want to turn their lives around. I feel passionately about the morality and value of working hard and the stabiliser of routine to help ground people.
‘And, let’s be honest, there’s nothing more beautiful than making a decent loaf of bread. Which is why I feel this bakery is a way to bring people together to work for a common, honest cause.’
The cause has been helped considerably by Clervaux Trust, which runs a similar enterprise in Darlington and has stepped in as an active partner in the Veterans’ Artisan Bakery; by Cause UK, which launched the initial fundraising push and by the Hesco Bastion Fund, a Leeds-based charity set up by West Yorkshire businessman Jimi Heselden before his untimely death in 2010.
His wife, Julie, said this was a project that would have greatly appealed to him and added: ‘Much of our business is linked with making and supplying protective equipment to support our armed forces in areas like Afghanistan. Jimi was always very keen to support charities that helped army personnel when they returned from active duty, so this project is an ideal link, especially as it’s based in Yorkshire.’
Her enthusiasm is echoed by Rosemary Shrager, who was on hand to help bake up a fresh batch of bread buns at the Catterick bakery’s official launch.‘This shows how something as simple but valuable as baking can transform vulnerable lives,’ she said. ‘The alternative is wasted lives at risk of abusive behaviour or a desperate life on the streets. We owe them so much more.’
Rosemary believes the simple act of baking will provide the former soldiers with an invaluable sense of achievement, while equipping them with a useful practical skill that should help them progress into work and a successful life away from the frontline.
According to Marco, this is the very least we can do to reward them for their courage and determination.
‘The veterans deserve this opportunity,’ he said. ‘I know how tough it is; my visits to the frontline have been truly life-changing experiences. I have nothing but respect for the soldiers who served there and I’m honoured to support a valuable project like this. So let’s break bread and salute these great people.