What is a social enterprise?
Social enterprises exist to benefit society; but they are not necessarily charities. There are two sides to a social enterprise – the “social” bit and the “enterprise” bit. Social enterprises need to make money because they need to spend to help benefit society and because the people who run them have to earn a living. The emotional contract that the heads of social enterprises have with their supporters is that they will limit their own financial benefits and will invest a great deal of the enterprise’s profits into activities that benefit society. The more the enterpise earns, the more people it can employ and the more activities they can undertake to benefit society. To that end, a social enterprise is made of two broad parts: the commercial part and the social part. Ideally, the one funds the other so that the social enterprise is self-sustaining. Commercial enterprises, on the other hand, exist to make money in order to deliver maximum return to shareholders. That is their remit and that is the contract we have with them. Fair enough.
Virtuous Bread is a social enterprise. We change the world through bread. We eat, bake, and teach. We hold courses for which people pay and we volunteer. We agitate for social change through bread. We talk about it, tweet about it and retweet about it. Critically, we teach others to eat, bake, and teach – spreading good bread around the country and around the world and in so doing, spreading better health, building happier and more harmonious families and communities, and enabling people to make a contribution to society. Paddy Ashdown asked me once if it all wasn’t a bit middle class and my answer to him was a categorical no.
Everybody can learn to bake, share, and enjoy good bread: bread that is the end product of a good process that involves responsible farming and milling, proper baking (no additives, a long fermentation time, and an element of hand baking) and local delivery with minimal packaging. What is more, good bread is cheap. Sure it is more expensive than bad bread but it is a lot cheaper than many things including not only booze and fags, but also coffee shop coffee, and most ready meals and take aways. Two or even three pounds or more is not a lot to spend on a top quality product that feeds several people for days. Good quality bread made with good quality flour is packed with vital nutrients and gets you a long way without making you bloated, sluggish, or fat. Although everybody can afford to bake good bread, not everybody can afford to learn to bake good bread, nor take the Bread Angels course and set up a home baking business – earning them a small living, getting them out of the house, building their local communities, and earning them praise and admiration wherever they go.
This is why we have set up a scholarship fund and this is why we ask people to support us.
The scholarship fund is kept relatively private because we want to use it for people in genuine need. The relationship we have with Everards Brewery in Leicester, however, is something we really want to publicise. Everards Brewery launched “Project Artisan” about six months ago – an initiative dedicated to welcoming groups of people back into pubs and giving over the space to them to do their thing – knitting, whittling, morris dancing, book clubs – whatever. Everards wanted to make a formal, public, and deliberate invitation to people to let them know that their local pub is a welcoming space in which they can build relationships, develop skills and interests and bind their communities. Rosie Clark, our Bread Angel in Leicester approached Everards and suggested that they work together with Community Action Leicester and Virtuous Bread to sponsor people to do the Bread Angels course who otherwise could not afford it. Thanks to the interest and enthusiasm of all parties (and a critical “can do” attitude that does not see a million obstacles) Everards has agreed to do a pilot in two pubs in Leicester. One is in Blaby (the home of the oldest bread oven and so a natural fit) and one is in Leicester itself – a pub that has never really been successful and has now been taken over by two new publicans who are delighted with the pilot. This could mean 10 new Bread Angels in the Leicester area making money by baking bread at home and delivering it to the local community – and that includes the pub! Everards are not only donating the space (and the cost of renting space to do classes is a killer) they are also paying the majority of the course fees of the participants (we strongly feel that participants need to pay something so that they are invested too and take it seriously). Now, that is generous indeed and we thank Everards most sincerely.
The hunt is on for 10 fantastic new Bread Angels – people who are serious about baking, running their own businesses, and building their communities. If you know of anyone in the Leicester/Blaby areas who would like to be a Bread Angel but who cannot afford the course fees, contact us! If you would like to sponsor us in a similar fashion (ie you have space AND can pay the fees of the participants) contact us! If you would like to make a donation to the scholarship fund, contact us! We would love to hear from you so that we can all participate in changing the world through bread.