The Freedom Bakery story began in 2015. Our 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. 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 we expect the same high standards from every staff member. (That’s why our bread is so good, though we say it ourselves!)
‘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 (we have never sought public money), the Freedom Bakery watched its first sourdoughs rise at HMP Low Moss in the north of Glasgow. With our head baker and our professional ovens, we started training our first cohort of bakers on site. We learned a lot – not least that we’d set ourselves a big challenge!
As the operation grew, we raised funding for a bespoke bakery unit where we could create a permanent home with all the right kit. So we said farewell to Low Moss and headed out to the Royston area of Glasgow, where our 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), we’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 our staff in 2017), we’re joined through the week by our trainees from HMP Barlinnie. As one of them recently said, ‘Freedom Bakery gives you hope’. This is the best we could ask for – and, loaf by loaf, we’re hopeful for resilient futures, in Glasgow and beyond.