On March 10th 2017, Homebaked Co-operative Bakery won five awards at the British Pie Awards, including a Gold for its Scouse Pie. Not bad for a bakery that launched less than five years ago and almost didn’t launch at all.
The building where the bakery and café now sits, had been a local institution since it opened in 1903, and later became famous with fans visiting Anfield who called it, ‘the Pie Shop’. It had closed as a local residents, and local customers, were forced out of the area during the Housing Market Renewal Initiative (HMRI). Like much of the area, the building had been designated to be demolished along with 1,800 other homes and shops. It was the biggest loss of housing and commercial properties in the country as a result of HMRI.
HMRI was a New Labour Initiative, which was launched by then Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott in 2002 as a way to clear swatches of what the market considered low value housing, and replace it with new houses which would in turn increase the appeal of areas and the values of houses. Anfield and Everton were the two areas where HMRI would wreck it’s wrecking ball in the city. HMRI, along with a series of failed master plans for the area and a football unsure of whether they will move ground or not, had a devastating effect on the areas. Many houses – large terraces and family homes – ended up ‘tinned-up’. One-by-one on historic streets, sending the area into a slow decline. The threat of CPO’s forced families, some of whom had owned their homes for generations to remortgage and take out new loans to buy new homes elsewhere – away from the place they call home. The area lost many of its people, and with it, large parts of its identity.
Like many local residents Angela McKay, who would go on to become the founding member of Homebaked CLT, felt the effects of this kneel. “The local community has had its hopes repeatedly raised and then dashed by promises of ‘neighbourhood regeneration’, which has been slow to materialise. After 15 years of living under these circumstances, many people have lost trust in any government schemes. We are sick of waiting for something to be delivered ,” she says.
Homebaked began its life as an art project in 2010, called 2up2down, in an old bakery called Mitchell’s in the shadow of Anfield Stadium, home to Liverpool Football Club. It sits on the boundary of two working class north Liverpool wards, Anfield and Everton which today have around 15,000 residents.
The project was initiated by Jeanne van Hesswijk, who was commissioned by Liverpool Biennial, and chose to work in Anfield. The project focused on using a contemporary art festival to engage local people and support them and figuring out how to take matters into their own hands regarding the future of their neighbourhood. It started by bringing together local young people as a design team, working around the central question: ‘What does it mean to live well?’
“It was the first time since we lost our house that I felt it would be nice to stop being angry. That it would be nice to do something positive and put your energy into something that was not a fight,” said locally born artist Jayne Lawless, who would become part of the early Homebaked team and whose family have been displaced during HMRI.
2Up2Down took on the rent for the bakery from Mitchell’s and used it as the project base – for practical reasons as it was a) empty but b) had large glass windows on to the street which made it easy for people to find and interact with. The building became a place for people to gather for public discussion and to plan. In its first year, 20 local young people worked with a local architects practice, URBED, on a design process to retrofit the bakery and the flats that sit above it.
As these meeting developed, other local people got involved and then something very interesting happened. In increasing numbers, local residents began knocking on the door asking when the bakery was re-opening so they could come back in to buy bread. And the idea for the bakery took hold of the team. A crowdfunding campaign was launched on Kickstarter, called ‘An oven at the heart of Anfield’, which raised £18,750 from 494 backers.
The groups that met in these early days became Homebaked: a community-led housing and enterprise scheme and a way of collectively confronting the issues facing the stagnated development of the neighbourhood. Homebaked has established itself as two organisations: in April 2012 they formed a Community Land Trust (CLT), whilst Homebaked Bakery co-operative was incorporated two months later, in June 2012.
The two organisations have separate membership models; it costs £1 to join as a member of the CLT and £5 per year to join the co-operative bakery. There are crossovers between the two, not least in the fact that the co-operative bakery is essentially acting as proof that the concept of Homebaked and what it aims to bring to the area – is realistic.
Sally-Anne Watkiss joined the bakery team after seeing a tweet sent out by Homebaked asking for accounting assistance. Sally-Anne had previously managed accounting departments and teams for large blue-chip organisations but has been a fixture of the cafe since responding to that tweet – serving customers pies on match-days and helping to shape the business in addition to managing the finances for the team.
“We’re a stalking horse to a certain extent,” says Sally-Anne, “we’re the beginning of a proving that actually you can create a community business here that is sustainable.”
“In the very beginning of Homebaked our initial business plan was that we would sell bread to local people at a decent price and that we would have a cafe that local people used and would be come a meeting space and that we would sell bread wholesale and the money from that would help us subsidise prices in the shop.
“A group of volunteers made pies for the match days and it became apparent that our pies were the thing that made us special. We’d developed a wholesale business for bread but realised that the margin on it was so small that we were losing money on it rather than making money to subsidise the cafe. Match days became more important for us too. We sold pies and tea and coffee and out of that our business strategy evolved.”
Today the award winning pies are what Homebaked is famous for and it is the money-maker for the business. The cafe is open 6 days a week, which is a rarity on this High Street, as for many years it had been more viable for businesses open on match days only. The cafe had a changing menu of freshly-made hot and cold food. Being open regularly means that it employs and trains local people, another of the aims of the business, and it pays them a living wage. It still is a high-street bakery and sells home-made bread to locals. The new business model sees locally sold bread at an affordable price as one of the social outcomes of the business, subsidised by pie production.
In 2013 after receiving a grant from Power to Change to expand the kitchen and buy new equipment the organisation also employed Luke Pilkington-Jones as a new operations manager. He has overseen a growing wholesale pie business, increased takings in the cafe from an average of £200 to £400 per day on non match days, and regular attendance at markets around the region.
Pie production has also increased; the team are making around 1,200 pies per week at present, up from 500 before the new kit arrived, and the business has had first year of profit in 2016. The increase in business has meant that the team has grown from 1 chef at 14 hrs a week to two full time chefs and 2 additional counter staff have been employed.
The bakery also holds regular training events, called ‘more than a loaf’, where bakers teach local people how to bake bread. In addition to the practical skills, it offers locals a chance to interact with the team and each other and is a gateway for future participation in the different strands of Homebaked CLT’s neighbourhood development process.
It is perhaps in its relationship with the football club where the most interesting evolution has taken place. Negotiations with the club in relation to Homebaked supplying them pies for match days has been led by John Carden, who chairs the board of Homebaked Bakery.
“Negotiations with the club took two long years, and we navigated changing staff and team members there. But it also took them a long time to understand what doing business with us meant. At first they saw the relationship as one of charity and they couldn’t get their head around the fact that we were serious about doing business with them but they had to pay a price that meant we could afford to do it. This season they are buying pies from us to serve to their corporate visitors and VIP’s for the first time.”
When Sally-Anne joined the bakery, there was still a compulsory purchase order hanging over the building and the adjoining houses. The group had been negotiating with the council to purchase the building from Mitchell’s and sell it back to Homebaked which would preserve the bakery, the flats above it and the row of houses to the right of it. Money had been secured to refurbish the bakery and the flats, and the bakery was ready to open after refurbishment. Just a couple of months before opening, word landed that jeopardised all the work done by the group; in the most recent area master plan, the building would be torn down.
“The board decided to seize the moment and just go ahead and open. We could have lost everything and we could have opened and we would have been knocked down.” says Sally-Anne, Homebaked decided to manifest regardless of the precarious situation it was in. They pulled together and did a simple refurbishment by hand and opened their doors as a functioning bakery in October 2013.
That proved to be a shrewd move and laid the basis for further negotiation with the council. It is harder to refuse a living and working example than an idea on a piece of paper. One day a new master plan was posted into the bakery door with a red line around the bakery building, saving it from demolition. The houses next to the bakery couldn’t be saved however and so the CLT gathered again to work out a new plan.
In the weeks following the decision to knock down the houses the CLT started on a process of designing and planning a project called ‘Build your own High Street’ with the community. This project has grown from the model of the bakery, and proposes a larger scheme of community-led development and regeneration of the land adjacent to the building, providing workspace for social enterprise and ‘proper local high street shops’, long-term affordable housing, and communal outdoor space.
“We want the buzz back! Oakfield Road used to be a place where people liked to live, shop and meet, very self-sustaining, it should be a place that makes people want to move (back) to Anfield,” it read in the design brief made in one of the early planning workshops..
The design process for the new high-street was open to everyone from the community and was led by a group of local people who form the core design team. Together they would appoint a new architect to work with the team to develop the design for the new scheme.
“We are famous for our pies. If your company were a pie, what would you be?” The group asked each of the architects who was bidding to work with them on developing our high-street.
“Chicken and Chorizo. A meaty number that is both steady and reliable, but also slightly unusual and tasty.” Came the answer from local architect Architectural Emporium. The CLT were sold.
Fifteen workshops were carried out in just over a year to develop a scheme for planning. Each of workshops asked a different question about elements like public life, homes, work, community, high-streets. The ideas generated by the team then became models, sketches and diagrams, which then ended up as polaroid snapshots on a wall of the bakery and then each stage was reviewed until a final scheme was finally decided on which would sit on the land where the houses were to be demolished.
The proposed scheme offers 26 new flats, a high-street with different sized units for a multitude of work, retail, trades, a market square and open green-space. The team imagine that, for example, a new local post office might exist here, subsidised by a shop to sell ‘made in North Liverpool’ products, down to earth shopping opportunities for people locally and, maybe, an actual Restaurant. The CLT is learning from and with the bakery trying to develop models which allow them to use the immense footfall in the area, offering the fan community ways of investing into the neighbourhood and cross-funding local trade and jobs.
Before the work can start on the new high-street, Homebaked CLT are now beginning work on the flats above the bakery, with the first people moving in in January 2018. The group sees this as the first step of proving that housing in the scheme will work as they navigate planning and finance raising for the larger build, in the same way as the bakery proves that sustainable community business can grow there. Both will be used to evidence the viability of the scheme overall.
Artists Britt Jurgensen and Samantha Jones have been involved in Homebaked since its early days, from the launch of the bakery to the activation of the green space behind Homebaked and the designing of the new high-street. She has also watched the team and members evolve and change over that period.
“One of the main characteristics of Homebaked is that it has constantly evolved.” says Britt.
“We dare over and over again in the most uncertain situations to ground ourselves by putting our ideas out there in physical form. Creative improvised approaches to spotting and grabbing opportunities – like re-opening the bakery – have been more important than rigid systems or processes. At times, this has led to confusion and tension. We are not a community of like-minded people, we are neighbours with an urgency and some sort of a dream in common. Finding ways of working together, giving people the space to do what they are good at and learn and be able to make mistakes, whilst succeeding to operate as a financially viable business is probably our biggest challenge, she says.
“The step from being a protest and a dream to becoming a functioning community business was and is sometimes painful, but as a result Homebaked has become an actual lived space that people can interact with and react to and where we teach each other what it needs to take responsibility for ourselves, and the place we live and work in.”
Home and Pies is a feature from our special edition newspaper; People Power.