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Medieval-Inspired Communal Bakery Aims to Help With Cost-of-Living Crisis

Published: December 13, 2022
(Image: Screenshot / Reuters)
(Image: Screenshot / Reuters)

Baker Maisie Collins has opened up her industrial oven in east London for locals to use, drawing on the medieval tradition of communal bakehouses to help people at a time when many are struggling to pay their bills.

For some of Britain’s poorest, switching on the oven has become a luxury this winter. The combination of soaring prices for gas and electricity, plus the rising cost of food, means many are worrying about making ends meet.

“At the moment some people can’t afford to switch on their ovens at all and they’re having to choose between heating and eating, which is just ludicrous,” Collins, 31, said.

Her solution is “The People’s Oven,” a monthly event where locals can come to the bakery she set up six months ago in a former warehouse in Hackney.

Located near the canal, it’s an area where artists and design studios in old industrial buildings rub shoulders with newly-built apartment blocks.

The bakery, “Hearth,” has a hipster vibe. Vegan chocolate brownies made with pea flour are best sellers, and the shelves are crowded with bottles and jars with handwritten labels for trendy ingredients like elderflower vinegar, dried fig leaves, and chai sugar.

But just up the road are some of Britain’s most deprived neighborhoods, and Hearth is a social enterprise, meaning a proportion of its profits will be channeled into community projects.

By promoting her open oven event with local food banks, Collins hopes those in need of cooking facilities, friendship, and a warm space will breathe new life into the ancient idea of the medieval hearth at the center of the village.

Annie Ren, 22, who has just moved to the area, was taught how to bake bread by Collins.

“This really wasn’t an opportunity to stay home and bake and like use up electricity, but having this space has been really helpful,” Ren said.

The sense of community was also the draw for Andrea Moro, 33, who brought pizza dough and toppings to share with the other visitors.

“I think it’s a very interesting thing to do for many, many reasons. For sure like to help people to save some money, but also to sort of create like a sort of community in the area,” he said.

Production: Ben Makori, Aiden Nulty