Big River Bakery’s Big Social Innovation
Living North catches up with entrepreneur and baker Andy Haddon. A finalist in the Food and Drink Heroes Innovation Award, Andy continues to lead the way in word-class stotties that fill the hearts of the North East with pride
For years Andy has proved that anyone or any business can make a difference, engineering a multi-disciplined approach to innovative social change — hiring impaired and long-term unemployed staff through their employability programme ‘One Loaf at a Time’, working with local charities to support the local community in Shieldfeld, baking healthy affordable produce, and creating a sustainable food eco-system for deprived communities.
These bold ambitions in sustainability have not gone unnoticed, with Big River Bakery now being nominated for the Food and Drink Heroes Innovation Award thanks to their multi-disciplined approach to tackling social inequality.
‘I want the North East to be globally recognised as a place where a sustainable, local and affordable food eco-system is happening,’ says Andy. ‘Especially when you look at food in lower income communities. It’s so important for these places have access to good high-quality food. “Levelling up” is not just about food poverty – it's a multi-dimensional and very wicked problem,’ explains Andy. ‘Wicked problems are very complex, they may require lots of different attempts at solving them. It's not straightforward. I think we're trying to demonstrate that you can make food healthy and affordable for everyone, but the whole system has to be thought about and operate differently to achieve that.’
Andy and his team at Big River Bakery are ambitious, but they’re determined to prove that change doesn’t have to begin with industry leaders or government action; it can come from the grassroots in our local communities.
‘You can demonstrate big system change on quite a small scale – physically, not just with words. That's quite powerful because people can come and see it and start to get their head around it,’ explains Andy. ‘If you don't create equality and fairness in the food system, you won't have a sustainable way of life. We've done things like grown our own wheat, and we could grow wheat at scale in the North East and mill with it, bake with it and sell it. If you shorten that supply chain it will benefit the environment and people, and that applies to projects bigger than a bakery,’ he continues. ‘Certainly, in terms of social impact, it also ensures local jobs are kept local and that creates a positive economic impact in our communities too.’
Innovation, both socially, economically, and business-wise has been a gradual process of self-improvement for Big River Bakery – diversifying their streams of income in a way which sets them apart from standard bakeries that only sell over the counter.
‘We've got to fit our business model around our social enterprise, and we’ve come up with an innovative model that generates income streams across multiple dimensions – income from over the counter sales, we've got online trade, digital trade, we even deliver homemade stottie kits to people’s houses!’ says Andy. ‘We launched a digital sales platform for our stottie kits, and we even sold one all the way to Oregon in America! Anytime we put another set of kits up on the website, they sell out straight away – we need a new building just to handle the mail distribution.’
It’s not just the Food and Drink Heroes Awards that sing from Andy’s hymn sheet either, celebrities including the Hairy Bikers and Carol Vorderman are fans of Big River Bakery.
‘You know what, the harder you work the luckier you get!’ Andy exclaims. ‘The Bikers joined us for a day baking for a television programme featuring local businesses, and we wanted to celebrate North East culture so we made ham and cheese stottie sarnies. They were lovely lads, so friendly and relaxed. They said hello to everyone in the bakery and spent the whole day with us. It was great fun! He even said our stotties were the best ever – get in!’ Andy laughs.
‘Also, Starling Bank were having a campaign to help fund starter businesses in less affluent areas across the country; particularly in the North East there’s very few start up successes in these communities,’ Andy explains. ‘We were seen as a showcase business that had achieved just that, so Carol [Vorderman], working with Starling Bank and this campaign, came to see us. She was lovely, she took her stottie away with her on the train and she was very happy!’
Coming in early April, Big River Bakery is adding another string to its community oriented bow – The Adventures of Scotty the Shieldfield Stotty. This charming children’s novel will be raising money to run free baking lessons for children in the local area, written by Gail Lawler and wonderfully illustrated by Jane Burn.
As Big River Bakery continue to expand their innovative vision for quality baked goods that make a difference, we wish them all the best in their mission to make good food accessible to our communities, and take home the Food and Drink Heroes Award for Innovation.