Research has consistently demonstrated the impact mentoring and employment can have on re-offending rates amongst ex-offenders and the role that secure work can have on breaking the vicious cycle often associated with the criminal justice system across Scotland and the UK. These are goals right at the very heart of the work of the Freedom Bakery. The artisan bakery is the brainchild of Matt Fountain, Cambridge graduate and former Dennistoun resident, who wanted to provide a route out of the pattern of re-offending through training, mentoring and employment. He witnessed early in life the impact stigmatization of ex-offenders and lack of employment opportunities had on individuals, families and communities and from this grew the seeds of the Freedom Bakery.
We spoke to Matt about where the inspiration for the Freedom Bakery came from, his plans for the future and how the organisation treads the careful balance between social mission and financial sustainability.
Can you tell us a little about yourself?
I’m 28; I studied History of Art at the Universities of Glasgow and Cambridge, and pulled out of DPhil at Oxford. I have been an ‘eternal’ student, cum charity fundraiser, cum architectural historian cum corporate branding strategist but never really found my calling in any of these careers!
What is the Freedom Bakery aiming to achieve?
Freedom seeks foremost to change the lives of prisoners by offering them training and real career progression through work within an artisan bakery at HMP Low Moss, and through mentoring once released. Everything we bake, we trade in order to be financially self-sufficient and to limit the cost upon the taxpayer, and it is in this simulated environment of a fully operational bakery that the right conditions for prisoners to become employable can take place.
Where did the inspiration for the Freedom Bakery come from?
Freedom is inspired in part by the Italian charity San Patrignano, and the Clink charity, operating in English prisons. The financial modelling was inspired by some of the Grameen partnerships, (rather than microfinance itself) and using Muhammad Yunus’ idea of ‘local knowledge’ as a facilitator for negotiating new markets. In this case, i.e. the ‘developed’ world, the reality of criminal justice, rather than its general perception by mainstream business, is the ‘local knowledge’ we’re facilitating for creating fair, social and sustainable business. We seek to help mainstream business ‘overcome’ the barriers it creates for employing those with criminal records.
What stage of development are you at – are you trading as yet?
It’s still early days for us, and we are trading but still on a micro scale to just three wholesale customers based in Glasgow. Soon we will operate a café within the prison service too. I think it will take us a year to really find out feet – this is a unique situation in the UK!
Where are you based?
We’re based at HMP Low Moss which is on the outskirts of Glasgow. It is a maximum security prison with up to 740 inmates at any one time, 50% of whom are long term prisoners. We have our kitchen within the prison and work with 8 prisoners at any one time for a minimum of 6 months. We are currently conducting a feasibility study to open a restaurant/bakery in Glasgow, which will hopefully open in a year or so. We will run this as a social business where a certain allocation of the jobs available will be reserved for our graduates who we’ve trained up and ready to work upon release.
How do/will you recruit trainees – what’s the process?
We recruit trainees by advertising on the halls. Prisoners then have a short application form to fill out. Everyone who submits an application will be interviewed by me, and then a selection is made on the basis of a 6 week trial. Even those who are not successful receive a letter with feedback on both the application and interview so that the process of applying can be beneficial in itself. We look for a mix of ages, and for people who are determined to learn. We have no preference over long or short term prisoner but cannot work with segregated prisoners (those who have committed a sex crime).
You’ve been described as “the new face of social enterprise” – how does your model differ from the traditional view of social enterprise?
It was in my work as a charity fundraiser (where I liaised with many small and medium sized charities) that I came to realise the effects of the recession upon the third sector, and perhaps more startlingly, it’s inability to innovate in how it funds itself. Some of the tools of mainstream business like marketing, branding, finance, etc. are not only not used but treated with mistrust, and I realised that in order for the sector to grow it needs to move away (if an organisation can) from financial dependency models towards self-sustaining ones. In this respect Freedom, as a trading entity, fulfils this philosophy.
We are the first social enterprise in Scotland (and the first UK start up) to take advantage of social investment tax relief (SITR), which allows us to issue unsecured loans to private investors where we can call the shots on the interest repayments, and have a capital holiday of over 3 years. Investors receive a tax rebate of up to 30% of the principle. In this sense, we were able to raise a vast amount of investment quickly, in order to literally begin, and also use it as proof of concept for other funders to match fund us, where traditionally being so new and an untried concept we might have to wait until year 2 before we could consider raising investment this quickly.
You appear to build your business around the quality of your goods rather than your social mission – why has the Freedom Bakery has chosen this approach?
This is perhaps something not so new an idea but one rarely utilised by some social enterprises. Divine Chocolate, for example, is now a mainstream brand in supermarkets. There is a tri-partite reasoning for this. Firstly, perception of product is directly correspondent to the perception of reformed offender in the eyes of the consumer. With high quality comes repeat purchase, which is more sustainable for income. Secondly, a sense of pride and a tangibility of a prisoner’s input into their efforts helps them to feel valued, resourceful and that they do have purpose. Lastly, that it serves as a proof of concept to the food industry more generally that prisoners do have skills, and can commit the time and dedication to learning and working.
The move towards profit distribution and shareholder dividends have been criticised by some within the Scottish social enterprise sector – how would you respond to this?
Freedom is entirely not-for-profit. We pay the Scottish Prison Service a rent and utility fee, and take no direct investment from the government, though have received some grants (only 14.5% of overall funding so far) and will invest all profits back into the sustainable growth of the Freedom for the benefit of others.
The idea that the sector continues to grow in Scotland with limiting pots of investment that is funded into dependency models hides a great issue that is simply not being discussed: what is the deficit in funding needs, and when can we no longer afford it? I have seen nothing in the Scottish sector to suggest this issue is being researched and discussed independently, let alone in government. We absolutely need to turn away from the question of profit and protection towards the question of sustainability and growth because if a social enterprise fails, it is the benefactor, whether society or environment, who impacted most.
A key challenge for any social enterprise lies in the balance between commercial and social goals – how do you manage this within the Freedom Bakery?
The model comes after 18 months of research across social, criminological and economic fields including 6 months of access within Low Moss prison itself. It has been designed to be commercial in as far as it needs to be healthy and sustainable but without causing too much strain upon our team or the prisoners so that the focus is always learning, and personal development for the prisoners.
To elaborate we employ two experienced bakers who could meet production targets independently, so this allows them more time to give a real ‘apprenticeship’ and sense of learning to their prisoner teammates.
In this sense, we marry up commercial and social aims well because the one binding force in Freedom, and our philosophy, is that the best place for making some employable is within an operational, trading entity.
Can you bring us up to date on any recent developments at the Freedom Bakery?
We’ll be ready to launch officially at the end of October so keep a look out. We also have trained up our first baker who has even gone on to develop his own breads, which are going to trial with customers.
What plans do you have for future development?
The development of the Freedom Bakery and Restaurant in Glasgow. Once the model is tested and fine tuned, we intend to replicate it in other prisons and cities in Scotland, and hopefully in the UK.
Many thanks to Matt for taking the time to speak to us about the Freedom Bakery – for more information and to keep updated on future developments please visit their website here.