Freedom Bakery rising to the challenge to help ex-offenders

It seems everyone is getting into baking these days

Cooking shows like the Great British Bake Off have got thousands of us experimenting in the kitchen but next up to catch the baking bug could be ex-offenders. Matt Fountain, from Dennistoun, plans to help cut reoffending rates by luring ex-inmates away from crime and into the kitchen. His new project Freedom Bakery aims to take ex-offenders and turn them into talented bakers to help them find a way back into work. The 26-year-old thought up the scheme after reading about San Patrignano, an Italian bakery that rehabilitates drug addicts through baking.

"The idea is that it's a bakery that could have a social use as well," said Matt. “It really struck me that you can take someone like a drug addict, who has this addiction and maybe no education, and make them world-class bakers. 

“It made me think that there’s nothing really like that in Scotland but why couldn’t there be?” It was a thought he mulled over while cycling 2000 miles around the UK last year in mammoth challenge to raise money for homeless charity Shelter. In 2011, his mother and younger sister were hours away from being on the streets after being evicted from their home.

His decision to specifically reach out to ex-offenders through the Freedom Bakery also stemmed from that experience. Matt saw his mother's partner fall into the vicious cycle of reoffending after initially serving time for credit card fraud. "He quickly became a repeat offender and the domestic and financial situation at home gradually deteriorated and led to them losing their house," said Matt. “It made me think that if he’d been given some other opportunity when he first left prison then things might have been different. “He could have gone straight instead of having the stigma of a criminal record preventing him from gaining any further employment.”

By training ex-offenders to whip up tasty loaves and scrummy sourdoughs, Matt hopes it will help them avoid falling into a similar pattern. To find the best candidates for the project, the bakery will work in partnership with Positive Prisons, a charity that aims to cut reoffending rates by creating a support network of ex-offenders and recently released prisoners.

Baking behind bars

Matt also hopes to eventually take the project inside locals prisons to teach inmates how to bake breads, cakes and pastries. On their release, they would then be given the opportunity to work in the Freedom Bakery. “I’m planning to start really small so will probably only be employing two guys but the idea is to expand that quite quickly,” said Matt. “The bakery will exist in the public domain, selling to the public directly, and also wholesale through restaurants, cafes and delis.

"The ultimate plan is to work our way back into prisons which has never been done in Scotland before." It's a scheme that has already shown positive results south of the border. The Bad Boys’ Bakery, based in HM Prison Brixton, was set up by Gordon Ramsay through his TV show Gordon Behind Bars in 2012. It continues to sell bread and cakes made by inmates to a range of stockists including Cafe Nero.

No charity case

Ideally, Matt plans to have his Freedom Bakery up and running by June in time for the Commonwealth Games and hopes to eventually turn the venture into a sustainable business known for its quality products rather than its bakers’ backgrounds. He said: “It’s 'freedom’ because it’s providing people with a way out of a life that could lead back to reoffending. “But also freedom in the sense that what you get is going to be the best.

Matt is keen for the Freedom Bakery to source local ingredients including yeast from WEST Brewery in Glasgow's East End to create barm bread or beer bread, which has already gone down a treat. "We want to look at what Glasgow eats and loves and try to make it better," said Matt. “We’d rather be competitive than be seen as the charity case.”

The above article by Laura Smith first published on in 2014.