It began in February 2011 when Paul Allam, co-founder of the wildly successful Bourke Street Bakery, and his wife Jessica, travelled to Mae Sot on the Thai-Burmese border. They were there to help an orphanage with an initiative to teach local women to bake in order to support their families.
After 10 days the pair had taught a variety of baking styles to the women and identified an unmet demand for Western-style bread from local cafes and hotels (for tourists who prefer grainer, denser breads over the fluffier local bread). It was the beginning of a bakery-based social enterprise. The seeds of The Bread & Butter Project had been planted.
“The trip was really inspiring but we realised that to have the greatest possible impact we’d have to work on a project in our ‘own backyard,’” says Allam. A year ago, at the end of April 2013, The Bread & Butter Project began working with refugees from the Sydney region, training them to become bona fide bakers. Now their loaves are sold all over Sydney, through markets, cafes and grocers. After a year, the first alumni are coming through. Ma Du, one of the new graduates, will return to work for The Bread & Butter Project upon finishing her traineeship. She claims mixing and shaping bread were some of the most valuable skills she learned and she intends to keep learning; “I would like to learn lots of new things in the industry in the future,” she says.
“Every milestone is precious at the moment because they are all firsts. Seeing our first two trainees Ma and Somprasong [Srisungnern] go off to work experience was very special,” says Allam. “Being at Ma and Somprasong's graduation and [The Bread & Butter Project’s] first birthday will be the highlight of all highlights.”
It’s an intensive and intimate course, with up to 12 candidates selected a year. While the scale of the project is relatively small, the influence on the livelihoods and prospects of these trainees is huge. Bakers-in-waiting are offered paid training, accreditation, a sustainable career path and the opportunity to provide for themselves and their families.
The project is a thorough one; it considers the real needs and backgrounds of the people who enter the course. Kayleigh Ellis is employed as the trainee support manager. She ensures the success of the trainees by doing anything from setting up ESL tutoring, to finding work placements for trainees. But above all, she checks in on trainees to ensure they’re satisfied and supported in their experience.
“We can never forget that for each of our trainees there are unique experiences and challenges that come from being a refugee or from having a refugee background,” says Ellis. “When the team is working across a 24/7 operation with real production and customer expectations, it is important to find the balance.”
This 24/7 operation means that trainees get a genuine insight into how their burgeoning skills translate to product and profit. While the latter seems like a dirty word in the scheme of goods deeds, it’s essential to the running of the project. All profits are re-invested back into training, supporting and paying trainees. Board members and founders have always worked on a volunteer basis.
One year might be over, but there will be many more to come: “We hope The Bread & Butter Project will become a household synonymous with good bread in every sense of the word,” says Allam. “It’s really simple – the more bread we sell, the more people we can help.”
Find a full list of where to buy The Bread & Butter Project bread at thebreadandbutterproject.com