As we all know, securing a job with a criminal record can be extremely difficult and those thinking about self-employment can often be held back by a lack of funding and sometimes the confidence to go it alone. Having recently come across The Barker Baker, I was amazed to discover that the company came about as a result of a course run by the Probation Service together with the passion and motivation of somebody who wanted to bring about social change and reduce the stigma of having a criminal record. Here’s The Barker Baker’s story.

Approximately 5 years ago Francesca received an 18 month suspended sentence for a fraud offence and began her supervision sessions with her probation officer. She attended the various courses she was expected to do but, unlike a lot of the usual courses offered by probation, Francesca was introduced to a course being run by Virtuous Bread.

Virtuous had received funding from Ex Cell and the Hope Foundation to teach six individuals, being supervised by probation the essentials of setting up a micro bakery. Francesca was one of six selected to go on the course.

After completing the course, Francesca knew that baking was her future. After setting up a crowdfunding page she managed to raise £467 from people all over the UK and so began her baking business. She bought mixing bowls, flour, a folding table, a gazebo, a table cloth and a clapped out vintage suitcase. Once fully kitted out she booked a space at her first market and very quickly sold out of all the items she’d taken. Francesca explained:

“Everyone loved the bread, loved my story and appreciated the hard work I was putting in to get back on my feet. Baking my first loaves of bread gave me a sense of pride and a sense of purpose”.

Francesca began selling her bread at markets all over Greater Manchester and began taking orders from customers. She soon had back to back bookings for months on end and from the markets, came wholesale and internet orders through her website.

The next major step came with opening of her first shop, The Barker Baker. Talking about the opening, Francesca said:

“We had the most incredible start to the business, selling out daily and being welcomed by the local community. We had everyone in the shop, from people who’d lived in the village for 70 years, to young couples wanting something to go with their evening meal. It was everything I wanted it to be.

One day we offered everything we had for free, asking customers to make a donation to charity. We raised a great sum of money which we were able to give to Mind.”

In addition to the shop, Francesca now teaches baking workshops across the country with youth offending teams, probation services, women’s groups and prisons. She’s determined to share her story and her passion and help people to shape their own futures. For Francesca, The Barker Baker isn’t just about bread, the baking is therapeutic and was the stepping stone that allowed her to feel normal, to feel free and to feel good at something.

“This time five years ago I was on police bail awaiting my court date to find out what would happen to me. Today I’m sat in my shop, my bakery, doing paperwork, ordering stock, organising staff rota’s.”

The focus of The Barker Baker has always been about bringing social change and reducing the stigma of a criminal record and Francesca is as determined as ever to give others a second chance.

Since setting up the business, Francesca has won several national business awards including the coveted Best Female Entrepreneur Award 2014 and Business Newcomer of the Year Award 2015.

You can read more about Francesca and her business in the Manchester Evening News or by watching an interview she gave to National Prison Radio.

 

 

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