Breadmakers: Bakery's Fame on the Rise

This article appeared in the Edinburgh Evening News on 7th November 2007.

There's a productive din in the busy bakery, while people scurry to put loaves on trolleys and wipe down flour-caked tables. It's 3.30pm and the apron-clad organic bakers are packing up for the day. But as long-serving worker Alan Auld opens the oven door, a rush of heat and a comforting waft of freshly baking bread escapes - and all the team's dedication seems worthwhile. In his white baker's hat and well-singed oven gloves, 60-year-old Alan looks every inch the professional baker, as he carefully removes a hot tray of loaves and places them on the cooling tray for all to admire.

At the Garvald Bakery on Gorgie Road, Alan is just one of 36 bakers who every day prepare breads and confectionery using only organic ingredients. The wide range of products are top notch, as the Edinburgh shopkeepers who watch them fly off their shelves will testify. But many who enjoy the fine walnut or linseed breads bearing the Garvald label may be surprised to know that the creators of their loaves all have learning difficulties.

A slightly floury Alan, from Dalkeith, proudly introduces himself as "the chairman of the rep council". Indeed, he is one of the longest-serving bakers, having been at Garvald 11 years. Standing over a fresh batch of wholemeal loaves, he declares: "The first time I made bread was when I came here. I feel proud to make it and I buy it myself if I see one of our loaves in the shops. Garvald is great."

The bakery, which produces up to 150 loaves a day - all baked to order - is part of the Garvald Centre, which has been offering creative day workshops to people with learning difficulties for more than 30 years, teaching them skills ranging from puppet-making to woodwork. Members are trained in every aspect of work, from mixing the dough and kneading the bread to printing the labels and delivering the wares to shops, such as Real Foods in Broughton Street and Tollcross, and Tattie Shaw's greengrocers on Elm Row.

Though the efforts of the Garvald bakers may not be that widely known in Edinburgh, thanks to a locally based film-maker they are now famed as far afield as Tehran. Yasmin Fedda's ten-minute documentary Breadmakers was shown at the Iran Documentary Film Festival and has just been nominated for a Scottish Bafta.

The 27-year-old, from Leith, shot the film in March, after spending time as a relief support worker at Garvald last year. She says: "It's an inspiring place. The film allows people into a world they wouldn't normally see. What's great about Garvald is that it provides a routine and creative space for adults with learning difficulties and they can get college certificates for their skills."

Members prepare a huge variety of organic loaves, including brown, white, linseed, walnut, malt, oatmeal, Russian and Tibetan breads. The not-for-profit organisation has 18 members making standard loaves in a workshop in the mornings and another 18 are employed on speciality breads in the afternoons.

The first lot of members, aged from 18 upwards, arrive at the bakery at 9am. Work starts later than in regular bakeries because it is a training facility, where the emphasis is on learning. The first thing members do is grab their aprons and hats from the hooks and line up at the sink to wash their hands. After that well-worn routine, they gather round the silver table in the centre and work together to get the dough ready, weighing it and cutting it. Twenty-three-year-old Sian Mayne, from Currie, is confident to turn his hand to most tasks. "I make the bread and white rolls, and cut the bread," he explains. Kirsty Parsons, who leads the confectionery workshop next door, chips in: "His favourite part of the day is making the toast for the tea break." Warming to his subject, Sian adds: "I wash the tables too."

James Welby, owner of Tattie Shaw's, is fulsome in his praise of the Garvald bakers, whose produce he has been selling for the last three years. He says: "It's fantastic bread. It comes in lovely and warm and fresh at 1.30pm every day and, as well as being organic, it's tasty and good value for money." James says that over the week they order 30 to 40 small plain loaves, as well as a wholemeal, a walnut and a linseed loaf. "They also do fantastic homemade biscuits that are great with a coffee and hot cross buns at Easter," he enthuses. "It's all very popular with our customers, who like to buy local."

And he isn't the only one willing to testify to the high standards adhered to by the bakery. Simon Sibley, general manager of Real Foods, says they have bought the Garvald bread for a decade due to its high quality. "They make good-quality organic loaves and do the whole range of seasonal breads. We have been dealing with them for at least ten years. These things get brand loyalty," he says.

The bakery got its official organic certification in 1993 and day service manager Nancy Macdonald says staff try to think green in all they do. She says: "We try to look after the environment and recycle, as well as helping members learn new skills. "Everyone contributes in different ways to the final product. It's about making products with a real value to the outside world. We concentrate on quality - we are not a factory churning out hundreds of loaves."

After a satisfying afternoon's labour, Alan wipes the sweat from his brow and takes off his hat. Members hang up their pinnies and the sounds of work are replaced by an excited chatter as they gather in the doorway to await their transport home. It is these moments that are perhaps the most poignant captured in Yasmin's documentary. The film - which has already garnered the Short Scottish Documentary Award at the 2007 Edinburgh International Film Festival - is mostly silent, allowing the images to speak for themselves, but the closing scene, filled with the sound of the merry whistling of a fulfilled baker, is the one that lingers most in the memory.

The Breadmakers short documentary by Yasmin Fedda, is one of three films nominated by BAFTA Scotland in the best short film category. The bakery is part of the Garvald Centre which provides creative day opportunities for more than 120 members. It also has its own retail outlet, the Mulberry Bush shop, on Morningside Road, which sells handmade crafts from the centre's workshops. Produced by Jim Hickey and Robin Mitchell, the Breadmakers has been signed up for international distribution by Network Ireland Television. Yasmin was brought up in Kuwait and moved to Edinburgh nine years ago to study social anthropology at Edinburgh University. Breadmakers, which was made as part of the Scottish Documentary Institute's Bridging the Gap scheme, can be viewed on the BBC Film Network website.

The Lloyds TSB BAFTA Scotland Awards 2007 take place on Sunday November 18, in the City Halls, Glasgow.