Five questions with... Tom Baker
Anna Louise Batchelor - 18 June 2013
I met Tom at the first Soil Association conference I ever attended, in Tom’s home town of Birmingham. Tom was one of the producers catering for the event and even as a ‘rookie’ baker I was blown away by Tom’s Rye bread. Since then Tom has gone onto establish ‘Loaf’ more than just a bakery, Loaf is a social enterprise with community building objectives which I will let Tom explain in his own words.
Q - Being a graduate of Psychology what led you to study, and gain an MSc, in Human Nutrition?
I did a module in ‘Nutrition & Behaviour’ as part of my psychology degree – studying this and being a keen amateur cook, really opened my mind to how powerful food was, having an effect not only on the body, the mind, and on society too. I wanted to know more so went to do the masters at Brookes.
Q - You then went on to work as a NHS Nutritionist what were the key public health issues that you faced?
I was a specialist in under 5’s nutrition and did a lot of training with other health and education professionals, so as well as general healthy eating and 5-a-day type stuff, I trained on nutrition during pregnancy, breastfeeding, weaning, and early childhood. During my time at the NHS I helped set up a city-wide campaign about vitamin D as there has been a worrying and steady rise in cases of rickets in big cities like Birmingham.
Q - Was ‘Loaf’ established as a reaction to or a solution for your experiences of working as a Nutritionist?
It was a continuation of what I was doing there really. I still see myself as working in the ‘health’ arena. I have a much broader view and approach to ‘health’ now though than was possible to practice in the NHS. Working across the whole range of communities in Birmingham for the NHS definitely influenced the fact that I set up Loaf as a social enterprise though, not just as a straightforward profit-driven business.
Q - One of 'Loaf's aims is 'building communities through food' can you tell us more about your work and the newly established Stirchley Stores?
We’ve tried to build community into everything we’ve done – I think food and community should go hand in hand (unfortunately they often don’t). Whether it be establishing a weekly ‘bread club’ of 20 local households that subscribed to our bread, or creating new connections with people on our cookery courses. We also helped set up a community food and arts market in Stirchley back in 2010. It’s still going strong now. When we moved to our new premises in September 2012 we offered the retail space to our local food co-operative to expand their business into. They now run the shop as Stirchley Stores. It sells our bread, but also loads of wholefoods and store cupboard essentials.
Q - In the last year you’ve developed the cookery school side of Loaf, where next?
Well we’ve moved the whole operation out of my house and down to our local high street, and now run a fulltime real bread bakery and cookery school. Now we’re growing into our premises and trying to work out how to make the most of the great resources we have here for other local food production. There are one or two other projects in the pipeline too, but I can’t say too much!
Anna Louise Batchelor is an environmental scientist who has worked in academia, government and industry. For the last six years she has been part of Reading's True Food Co-op.