The Freedom Bakery story began in 2015. Founder Matt Fountain had little more to his name than a phone bill. He’d studied art history, tried different careers – but he couldn’t shake a desire to do something bigger. Something that would help other people. If it involved his love of food somehow, then so much the better.
As a teenager, Matt had seen first-hand the complex social damage that follows a criminal conviction.
‘When someone comes out of prison, they can quite quickly get entrenched and stuck in a reality that’s made for them; their lives are structured by social services. It doesn’t give them liberty,’ says Matt.
‘Having a record is a tough thing, but though it’s easy to feel sorry for people, that itself is another problem. Feeling sorry for someone doesn’t lead them anywhere – it’s not going to help.’
Enter Freedom Bakery. Taking notes from progressive prisoner rehabilitation schemes in places such as Italy, Matt wanted to see if a food business could create opportunities for people serving time. By teaching new skills, from baking to logistics, Freedom Bakery rebuilds confidence and hopefulness before prisoners are released.
This isn’t about forgiveness, redemption or even sympathy. Dignity returns when you have work to do, and at Freedom Bakery the same high standards are expected from every staff member. That’s one reason why their bread is so good.
‘Sometimes, in an old-fashioned way, to get over stuff, to feel better, you need to do something,’ Matt says. ‘The thing about bread is that it’s an occupation and a vocation. It’s social and creative. It’s often just what people need.’
Funded independently by charitable grants and enlightened investors (they have never sought public money), the Freedom Bakery watched its first sourdoughs rise at HMP Low Moss in the north of Glasgow. With their head baker and professional ovens, they started training their first cohort of bakers on site. They learned a lot – not least that they’d set themselves a big challenge.
As the operation grew, they raised funding for a bespoke bakery unit where they could create a permanent home with all the right kit. So they said farewell to Low Moss and headed out to the Royston area of Glasgow, where their business has since bloomed. Though it’s hard to forget the thrill of Freedom’s first sales (week 1 – £14.90, week 2 – £22.70), they’re all the prouder now the bakery supplies some of the best restaurants and delis across the Greater Glasgow area, with exciting expansion plans afoot for 2019.
With 13 employees at the bakery (almost double the number of staff in 2017), they’re joined through the week by their trainees from HMP Barlinnie. As one of them recently said, ‘Freedom Bakery gives you hope’.
This is the best they could ask for – and, loaf by loaf, they’re hopeful for resilient futures, in Glasgow and beyond.