FRANCESCA Barker, better known as the Barker Baker, is proud to lead a drug-free, crime-free and dependency free life. She created The Barker Bakery in Littleborough, Rochdale as a vehicle for positive change to address the issues of reoffending, substance misuse and mental health problems.
In February 2013, Francesca was convicted in the Crown Court and received a suspended sentence of 18 months with compensation order, mandatory probation, drug rehabilitation and mental health support.
“While on probation I was sent on a bread making course for three days – it changed my life. In between attending drug rehabilitation with ADS and Intuitive Recovery and engaging with the local mental health team, I found that baking was a therapeutic and invigorating way to break the routine and find the passion in something that wasn’t all about the crime I had committed.”
Francesca has always dreamt of having her place where she can sell bread and employ people. She managed to fulfil her dream in October in 2013 when she finally set up her business with 300 pounds only.
“It was entirely by luck that I decided to go with the shop and the bakery since then it has gone from strength to strength,” she says.
“A big part of what I do is giving back, and that stands for my community order. My suspended sentence was to make right the mistakes that I have made, and I followed that on with my business. I want to help people help themselves. Business isn’t charity, but at the same time, my business has a social conscience and social ethic to employ ex-offenders, to give them a second chance and to make sure that they utilise it as best as they can. I believe everyone can change and to achieve.”
Francesca currently employs two ex-offenders. Through the past few years, they’ve had many people coming to do work experience, and few paid shifts on the market stall. Currently, two permanent part-time employees are working 12 to 20 hours per week.
“They are very happy, they are stable, secure, and as long as they work hard, they will stay with me,” she says.
Her bestseller is the chocolate orange soda bread, although she hated soda bread while she was growing up.
“It was something that my dad thought it was healthy, and it was traditional and that’s why I didn’t like it because I was a teenager and that sounded grouse, but it is the first thing I learned how to bake, it is the easiest thing I know how to make.”
For the first time, this Christmas Francesca has her partner’s parents for dinner.
“That’s magical because I have a beautiful house, a lovely partner, family, and there is nothing else I want in the whole wide world. I just want my family, some food, warmth, and that’s the Perfect Christmas for me.I am cooking a full turkey which is scary. I hope we will all survive. We will see New Year, hopefully without food poisoning.”
By Anna Ilieva