Providence Row Rise Bakery

Tuesday, 2 October 2018 - 4:51pm

Providence Row was awarded first place for Social Enterprise of the Year at the Homeless Link Excellence Awards. In this latest feature, Dom Gates, Director of Services at Providence Row, talks us through their project which combines a bakery training scheme with an online bakery business. 

Providence Row

In recent years not only has homelessness risen and the needs of the communities we serve become more complex and challenging, funding has also become increasingly scarce. We felt it was really important for local charities like us to be lean and innovative to truly offer the best support to its service user. Every contact counts, and we are constantly looking for ways to make every contact with our clients count towards building a better, healthier and happier future for them.

Ten years ago, Providence Row was operating a traditional soup-kitchen, manned by volunteers who cooked and served food for rough sleepers from the local area. A great deal of effort was going into crowd control, energy and resources that we realised could be better spent giving personalised support to help people improve their situation in the longer term.

When I started at Providence Row, I was brought in to transform the food service from a traditional model to something innovative, that incorporated co-production, involved our clients and benefitted them beyond their next meal.

Today, nine years on, the way we view, source, prepare and serve food at Providence Row has changed beyond recognition. We run an accredited catering trainee scheme, where people affected by homelessness, substance misuse and/or mental health issues, learn skills, gain accreditations and serve food to others using our centre. We have found it to be an incredibly powerful tool in helping people recovery from crisis and trauma.

The Bakery

This catering trainee scheme led to the formation of our social enterprise Rise Bakery – a training scheme that combines a real food business with supported training for the same client group. We run the Rise Trainee Scheme to the same model as our catering trainee scheme, however, the difference is that the trainees are training within the context of a real business and this offers a new dimension that wasn’t there before.

Trainees are creating products for an award-winning contemporary brand. The products, a range of brownies boxes, have a tangible value beyond the walls of our day centre. They sell for £16 per box to multi-national companies and the general public. They've also won a Great Taste Award two years’ running. This is a confidence boost, for us, as well as the over 20 capable and talented trainees we work with every year, many of who go onto jobs in the catering sector.

All the money we raise from selling the products are re-invested back into the training scheme, making it a self-sufficient scheme. Our trainees are also supported by all our other onsite services, including personalised employability support helping them get back to work. Some trainees have even taken a brownie box with them to job interviews, to demonstrate what they’ve achieved through their training.

What’s next

Winning the Social Enterprise Award at the Homeless Link Awards this summer is something we’re very honoured and proud to have received as it acknowledges the quality of the training we’re offering to people who are too often excluded from other training and employment opportunities. Having demonstrated the quality of the products over the last two years, at the Food Manufacturing and Great Taste Awards, we hope to increase the scale of the business in order to fund more training spaces. With high unemployment in our local borough, particularly among those between the age of 45 and 59 we feel it is so important that more training and employment opportunities are created for people, and barriers are removed for those who have complex needs, like mental health and substance misuse issues.

We are looking forward to the challenge of scaling up this social enterprise, not to create income, but to create more opportunities for the people we work with. This is the most important aspect of the project to us.


Homeless Link are working with Access to deliver a new Enterprise Development Programme. If you are interested in social enterprise, please take a look.