The Barker Baker: from probation to baking bread

Date published: 30 November 2015

Francesca Barker, who was given an 18 month suspended sentence for fraud, turned her life around through making bread and has now opened her own bakery in Littleborough.

In March 2013, Virtuous Bread received funding from Ex Cell and the Hope Foundation to teach six ex offenders the essentials of setting up a micro bakery.

Francesca, 28, was one of the six and following the course she began selling her bread at markets all over Greater Manchester.

Now she has set up her first shop, The Barker Baker, on the corner of Winton Street and Church Street, Littleoborough, which welcomed its first customers last Wednesday (25 November).

Francesca aid: “We had the most incredible start to the business last week, selling out daily and being welcomed by the local community of Littleborough.

“We had everyone in the shop; from people who had lived in Littleborough for 70 years, to young couples wanting something to go with their evening meal together, it was everything I wanted it to be.

"On day one, Wednesday 25 November, we offered everything we had for free, with the offer, that customers could make a donation to charity. We raised a great little sum of money, which will be donated to a charity I am particularly passionate about, Mind.

"Whilst on probation and serving my suspended sentence, the hardest part of my rehabilitation was understanding and learning to manage my mental health issues. Going forward, I became very aware that this was something I wanted to change within society, and that unlike a lot of illness, mental health is something that needs managing, supporting and understanding.

"The Barker Baker isn't just about bread, the baking is therapeutic and was the stepping stone that allowed me to feel normal, to feel free, to feel good at something.

"When baking my first loaves of bread, I felt a sense of pride. A sense of purpose."

"With a crowdfunding page that raised £467 from people all over the UK, I began my baking business. Buying mixing bowls, flour, a folding table and a gazebo, a nice table cloth and a clapped out vintage suitcase, I booked onto my first market. I sold out. Everyone loved the bread, loved the story, and appreciated the hard work I was putting in to get back on my feet.

"I was booked back to back for months on end. It was incredible.

"From market, came wholesale orders, came internet orders through our website, and of course, the primary purpose of my business, came change.

"I have taught my baking workshops across the country, with youth offending teams, probation services, women's groups and prisons. It is what I was meant to do. To share my story and my passion for real bread, and help people shape their own futures.

"This time three years ago I was on police bail awaiting my court date to find out what would happen to me.

"This time two years ago, I was baking loaves for my first ever Christmas markets.

This time last year, I moved to Littleborough and fell in love with this beautiful village.

Today, I am sat in my shop, my bakery, doing paperwork, ordering stock, organising staff rotas having employed some lovely local people last week."

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