Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Denison Street - a year on

I thought it was high time I reported on how our little venture was traveling along in the wilds of Newcastle West - it's been about a year since I was smuggled in the back door and allowed a bit of kitchen space at Wesley Mission's then unused facility.

 Time flies. It's good to have a look at where we were and where we are now.- when you are in the midst of it, things seem to stay fairly still, but when you step back a bit you can see where things have moved and where they haven't.

Back in November 2011 I was given access to a kitchen which at that time had no retail facility. You may remember that through this blog and attached social media I put out the idea of a bakery which was run on a subscription basis - in other words, a bakery better connected to its customers.

By effectively pre paying for bread, our customers became stakeholders in the new enterprise. At the time, I had chosen to close our Hunter Street premises due to a perfect storm of unfavourable events. Greg Colby, who was the GM here at Wesley Mission, saw that our community based enterprise was the perfect fit for the abovementioned vacant Wesley Mission space. He held out a lifeline for us, and gave me the kitchen to re establish while the rest of the Wesley site was being renovated to incorporate the entire Newcastle Wesley Mission and it's multifarious operations. I moved in, did a few modifications to Wal, their oven, and set to work on the kitchen space to make it suitable for baking.

The Virtual Village Bakery idea was quickly established, and before I knew it I had 20 or so pre paid sourdough lovers whom I could bake fresh bread for each week. Through their support, I could keep myself afloat while I got the new premises running.

A year later, the number of subscribers to our Virtual Village Bakery has doubled, and continues its steady growth. We also have one commercial subscriber who receives deliveries of huge 2kg loaves of sourdough bread each day for their bustling city cafe.

Our subscribers get their fresh bread every Saturday morning delivered to their door, and receive a regular bakery newsletter telling them of goings on around the cafe, and also the inside word on what is being baked for Saturday morning as well. Once people get their bread this way, they tend to continue, so we have not lost too many over the year. And our bakery manages to get a better idea of  how much bread to bake on the busiest day of the week. Our wastage level is definitely lower than normal retail bakeries as a result.

During this first year, we have managed to get lots of other things off the ground too. As mentioned in previous posts, we've renovated and re opened the cafe. Sourdough Cafe, as it has become known, has become a part of the Newcastle cafe landscape - and while it appears possibly a bit too left of center for some tastes, for many others it is a comfortable and welcoming place, a second lounge room, meeting venue or even office space, which the community in general have embraced. It definitely feels good to be here, and to be part of our vibrant and fascinating cultural mix in this post industrial city of Newcastle.

The lane from the street has been a work in progress too - Pete, our Urban Farmer, has lovingly transformed it into a kind of community garden, which provides us with salad greens and native berries, among other things. It is also a very comfy space to hang out and munch on lunch - there is sunshine and shade in equal measure.

We've called our lane Baker's Lane. For obvious reasons - and others which may become obvious as this blog continues...

Meanwhile, Joe, our erstwhile barista cum event coordinator, has started the Baker's Lane Market, which has begun to raise funds for Wesley Mission through regular Saturday morning market stalls. Our stallholders are selling homegrown food, hand made art, vintage wares and performance art (otherwise known as buskers). The stalls are free, and are attracting people to Newcastle West each week in growing numbers. We are really interested in re energising the precinct, as Denison Street is really a beautiful part of the urban landscape which up until now has been neglected and overlooked by a city as it abandons its industrial heritage for the suburban dream.

We have set up our second hand bookstore, which has actually become more of a library these days. Despite the fact that we sell books cheaply to raise money for Wesley Mission, we seem to be getting more books than we can sell from people who donate them to us.

The Cafe is also regularly used as a live alcohol free venue in the evenings, as well as for numerous community groups, including church and bible groups, meditation gatherings, storytelling evenings and even weddings! We have catered for lots of seminars and workshop events, and hold breadmaking workshops once a month.

In future posts, I'll be talking about some of the other things going on around the SourdoughBaker community enterprise, so subscribe to this very occasional blog to stay in the loop.

In the meantime, make sure you drop in to the cafe and make yourself known! We are a pretty happy mob here and are always interested to know what people are doing, so don't be shy!

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