Baking Bad: Ex-Cons Are Mentored as Bakers and Now Their Bread is in the Best Restaurants

Baking Bad: Ex-Cons Are Mentored as Bakers and Now Their Bread is in the Best Restaurants

A bakery run by a Cambridge graduate is teaching ex-cons new skills, including providing bread to some of Scotland’s fanciest restaurants.

Freedom Bakery, in Glasgow’s East End, provides well-known eateries including Ubiquitous Chip with bread rolls.

The social enterprise was set up by Matt Fountain who grew up watching his stepfather struggle to establish a life after being released from jail in Kent—and who he had visited in prison, aged 12, and begged never to go again.

Matt enrolled in university courses in Manchester, studied History of Art in London, spent a year in Glasgow, and attended Cambridge.

He returned to Glasgow and had the chance to do a PhD at Oxford, but opted not to.

Instead he decided to invest his time and energy into helping people, including convicted murderers, reintegrate into society.

In 2014, he was granted permission to use a small kitchen in HMP Low Moss, Glasgow.

Matt planned to make and sell bread and at the same time put those prisoners through a recognized qualification for the baking industry, SVQ Level 2 in Craft Baking.

By 2017 he was working with prisoners in notorious Barlinnie, and pairing them with qualified bakers in order to help them obtain a qualification.

Trainee bakers have a broad variety of backgrounds, and Matt’s employees are given training in self-defence due to working with prisoners.

There are currently 16 employees and a third were recruited from jails.

Matt said: “It’s a mixture of long term and short term sentences including drugs-related offences, fraud, and I’m afraid to say manslaughter and murder.”

Matt felt out of place in Cambridge and failed to find enjoyment in it. “By the end of it I was pretty worn out and because of my background, I felt like I was living a bit of a fake life.

After struggling to get a job after graduating from Cambridge, he felt at a loose end. “I thought if I had an Oxbridge degree it would help me in life,” he said. “I didn’t really know what to do.

“I came to the conclusion that I should be doing something useful and I set upon this idea to raise money for the charity Shelter by cycling around the UK.”

That led to the idea of starting Freedom Bakery.

Matt said: “The only ideal was to make sure it was really good so it would leave a lasting impression on the person eating it, so they would understand where it came from and maybe think more positively about who made that bread.

“It is important our bread tastes great and for us to be really successful, our people need to be cared for and paid fairly and if those things combine it means the bread we make is really doing good.”

He described prisons as “a microcosm of humanity with both good and evil.”

Matt said: “For some, the odds have been stacked against them from the beginning, so they never had a chance. An individual contacted us who has been in institutions from childhood.

“He is completely institutionalized but he wants to get out and can imagine a life he can have that will be healthy and rewarding so that is what we are about.”

In October the bakery will move to a larger premises.

And it saw its sales increase by 12 per cent last year, despite lockdowns.

Matt added: “I really feel that it is important to help people, but at the end of the day they have to want to help themselves. In terms of the help we can offer, that goes quite far with us.”

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