Five years ago, a breakdown stopped me in my tracks. So I took some time out to swim in the sea and paddle-board my way to recovery. It was time to think about a new direction in life. I had been managing a Sussex women and families service for people living and affected by HIV. While working with these amazing women, I saw how making and doing something with their hands enabled them to connect together on a much deeper level and provided a freedom to be themselves.
I had also done a counselling course; previously I had worked in retail, was a brewer and managed pubs. I began my baking journey by volunteering at Stoneham Bakehouse, a social enterprise in Hove. This was a revelation! I volunteered with other people, baked bread and connected with the community. I also ran production bakes at the bakehouse.
Deep down I always knew I wanted to live in the countryside. I had applied many times to live in Firle, a village nestling in the Downs near Brighton, owned by the Gage family, and in 2018 I was successful.
I began to run bread-making workshops in the village hall, joined Firle Community Allotments and set up a village green market to sell local produce, plant saplings and eco products. It was also an opportunity to discuss environmental concerns, as well as bring the community together with cake sales and lunches.
As Covid-19 and lockdowns took hold, I began to bake freshly baked organic loaves for the village and surrounding area. Using a WhatsApp group was the perfect way to connect, sell my bread and create a buzz around the community.
My daughter and I made the deliveries on an old postal bike kindly given to us by a neighbour. The simple gift of baking with love and then delivering to people’s doors was, and still is, a delight. The connection you make with people at their front doors, the chats and warmth cannot be underestimated.
I set up Kitty Witch Bakehouse in December 2019. And last summer, through a generously supported crowd-funder campaign, and with a little help from my family, I was able to convert my garden outhouse. By December 2020 the new bakehouse was up and running.
We bake every Saturday for the local community of Firle, and we offer a monthly pizza night. We also record ‘virtual bakes’ for Stoneham Bakehouse Older People’s Project (Bread Shed), providing online workshops for isolated and lonely over-55s in Hove. Face-to-face sessions are set to resume.
As Covid restrictions ease and my garden comes alive with the promise of Spring, small bread-making workshops with seasonal lunches will take place.
Two new projects are planned: a collaboration with Firle Place to run exclusive monthly baking sessions with lunch served in the Great Hall including a private tour of the house; and there will be opportunities to take part in seasonal bakes for those living in Firle.
My longer-term goals are to work closely with disadvantaged women, to run a project around baking and recovery and get together with other cookery schools and community groups to share the magic of baking and connection.