The inspirational bakery helping refugees earn a crust.

At St Catherine’s Church in Stoke Aldermoor, a training scheme for bakers is helping Syrian refugees use their skills to find work.

In St Catherine’s Church kitchen in Stoke Aldermoor, balls of gleaming dough are rolled flat and topped with onion relish, za’atar and tomato purée by a trio of keen bakers.

They are expertly transforming dough into small fresh pizzas, soon to be sold in cafés across Coventry.

In a corner of the little kitchen, while the business of pizza baking goes on, the slower process of sourdough proofing continues.

Sourdough use a natural baker’s yeast and longer proofing time to make a healthy bread much more intense in flavour than a white loaf.

With vivid pizzas, the mouthwatering smell of fresh baked bread and lemon syrup cakes next in line to be baked, it’s clear this small bakery is a bit special. Added into the mix is that it is training and employing refugee women from Syria.

Proof Bakery was set up by former Warwick University student Chernise Neo.

She has a passion for food, specifically sourdough baking and started teaching baking techniques at the Coventry Refugee and Migrant Centre. Before long, the germ of inspiration had taken hold and she decided to turn her passion into a social enterprise.

Proof Bakery founder Chernise Neo (second from right). Image: instagram.com/proofbakeryuk

Chernise said: “Each of the women that we are aiming to employ at the end of training is a single mum, they are war widows from Syria, so they need hours around their children.

Our shift runs from half past nine til half past two, so we think quite carefully about what products we can make in that time. With the bread we have it proving overnight which works really well for us, fortunately.

Turning a baking hobby into employment

For five years Chernise has been developing her own hobby in sourdough baking, and is now using it to support the refugee women to find jobs in baking.

She said: “Sourdough is a combination of yeast and bacteria that is naturally grown. In a commercial setting you can buy bakers yeast, which is very fast acting.

But with sourdough, because we grow the yeast and bacteria ourselves, it is a much more slow growing yeast. That gives the bread time to ferment very slowly. Our sourdough loaves are fermented overnight which means the taste of them is really incomparable.

Chernise came to study at Warwick Uni aged 19, starting a fundraising consultancy after graduating, but after a while decided to focus on her baking passion for her ‘bread and butter‘.

She says she inherited her love of great food from her family, who have run various restaurants and cafés in Singapore. The move into baking was new for her though: “When I started at the migrant centre, it was quite a good way of engaging with women who don’t have any English, as they can understand the moves to prepare dough, but then they can show you how they do it in Syria, so nobody is starting from zero. They feel that they are contributing.

New training scheme

A new training scheme is starting next month, open to women looking to join the baking team.

Image: instagram.com/proofbakeryuk

Ruth Miller, Proof’s business development manager, said: “It’s encouraging to see how excited different funding enterprises are about it. We have had great support from the Cinnamon Network which funds Christian social action projects, who have nominated us for an award.

Ruth is now working to supply city centre cafés and branch out into new areas around the country.

She said: “Coventry has a lot of refugees from Syria, and it is important that they can use their skills to contribuite to the city. The main block for them is language, as their English is patchy for many of them. We have everything written on labels for them. This helps them after they have settled into life here, to move on and use their right to work.”

Chernise added: “Starting out, it looked to me like there were lots of support services for refugees newly arrived in the country, I think Coventry does a great job of welcoming refugees to help them get set up, so people get the minimum level of provision, but it is a question of what happens to these women and their children a year or two down the line.

I think around 64 per cent of refugees have the right to work are unemployed, which is a shame because they are so highly motivated.”

How to buy the bread?

Bread from Proof Bakery is available on weekly subscription. Collections are from: Arabian Bites, Saturday 4pm – 8.30pm; Coventry Vineyard Church, Sunday 10.10 – 10.30am; St Laurence’s Foleshill, Sunday 12.15-12.45pm; Christ Church Cheylesmore, Sunday 11.40am – 12.10pm; St Catherine’s Stoke Aldermoor, Sunday 12.15pm – 12.45pm; Westwood Church, Sunday 12.15pm – 12.45pm; Mocha Lounge, Saturday 9am – 5pm.

What bread does Proof bake?

Breads available are basic sourdough (half white/ half wholemeal); multiseed loaf; rye and hazlenut and red chia loaf (free from gluten ingredients). Those unsure of their favourite can opt for a variety subscription. To subscribe to the loaf plan, click here …

The above article by John Carlon first published on coventrytelegraph.net in Oct, 2018.

Proof Bakery was last modified: October 17th, 2018 by thisisgoodwork