And no, there is no typo in the title of this post! Better Health Artisan Bakery at 13 Stean Street in London, England, is officially changing its name. The new sign is already up.
A bit confusing for visitors from abroad trying to find their way without a map (our phones are useless in Britain), to this remote spot in East London. Spotting the sign from the end of the street, we thought for a minute that we had the wrong address but a helpful breeze brought the unmistakable whiff of baking bread and, bereft of Google Maps, we simply followed our noses.
The Centre for Better Health -which has active here in Hackney for more than fifty-five years- is a “community-based charity that promotes well-being and supports recovery from mental distress,’ through counseling, classes and on-the-job training. It operates three social enterprises: the afore-mentioned Better Health Bakery soon to be known as The Bikery, Better Health Bikes and Better Health Products Ltd. We only saw the bakery.
Yann Lamour, the head baker (who is French and trained at Ferrandi in Paris), was in the shop when we entered. He kindly took a few minutes of his time to tell us more.
The twelve-month training program has been in existence for two and a half years. Geared towards men and women with mental issues, typically referred by their “carer,” their doctor, a counseling centre, but sometimes self-referred as well, it isn’t meant to train future bakers as much as to provide a stepping stone towards a new life. The participants are all dealing with some mental issue or other (from depression or anxiety to schizophrenia or other forms of psychosis) but they are all in remission. They have to have been stable for at least two years before they can join.
“Bread making is a form of meditation, ” says Yann, “Touching the dough, seeing it grow and transform is a healing experience. ” The participants also have their own goals: some seek a chance to meet people in a controlled environment, others want to learn how to develop a routine by sticking to a schedule (arriving on-time, etc.), others still wish to learn teamwork. When their twelve months are over, they don’t all become bakers. One has discovered in himself a passion for plants and the open air and is now a gardener. Another plans to be a driver. Another yet is interning in a social restaurant, etc. The common denominator is that for each of them the time spent at the bakery has helped unlock the future.
The breads are all-leavened with natural starters, either a wheat levain at 55% hydration or a rye levain at 100% hydration.
The bakery -who employs four to six bakers- sells at the market on Saturdays and has wholesale accounts with restaurants and natural food stores. It is open for retail Tuesday to Saturday. If you ever are in London, hop on the Overground and follow your nose. You won’t regret it.