Shankly pies top premier league in tale full of Ealing promise
BRICK by brick, loaf by loaf, slowly but surely.
The baking shop that made it on to BBC TV and into the broadsheets - before even owning a commercial oven – is finally open for business, full time, six days a week.
'I have seen the materials – bricks and timber – carefully removed so they can be used in projects such as loft apartments in London'
Homebaked Anfield chose what turned out to be a golden match day (for the Reds) to open its doors to the public. Directly opposite LFC's ground there were cheers and salutes on both sides of Oakfield Road last Saturday, 5 o'clock gone.
The short version: They make exceedingly good cakes, not to mention bread and pies, one even bearing the name of Bill Shankly.
But this is a tale that already has more than a touch of Ealing Film feelgood about it - with Julie Walters and Helen Mirren in star roles. The Title? All You Knead Is Love.
For the unschooled, it goes like this: after almost 100 years serving the people of Anfield, Mitchell's Bakery closed in 2010.
It had to, its customer base had gone; families bought out by the catastrophic Housing Market Renewal scheme which devastated much of the cityscape, including Anfield, on a level not seen since 1960s slum clearance.
There was insult to injury. In 2010, Liverpool Confidential was in Anfield interviewing Dutch artist Jeanne van Heeswijk. She had not long arrived there at the behest of the Liverpool Biennial for an art-meets-community project called 2Up 2Down.
Van Heeswijk's agenda was housing and regeneration in a slow burner of a commission which sought to empower local people to snatch back “the right to live well”.
How? Two empty houses adjoining Mitchell's would be renovated and reborn. Architects and design specialists were engaged to work with more than 20 younger members of the fractured community.
If people were being encouraged to take “matters into their own hands” then matters needed a heart.
The power was in flour. Mitchell's, that century-old cornerstone of the community, would be put back to work too.
During the 2012 Biennial, bread would be baked and sold once more (for a couple of hours, two days a week, anyway).
Was it a grand tokenistic gesture? Would everything go cold when the bus-loads of London art critics went home? Fortunately not.
Led by van Heeswijk and her collaborators - artists Britt Jurgensen, Debbie Morgan and Graham Hicks - plans for an affordable housing scheme, shop, meeting and project spaces rumbled on.
At the same time, a “cross-generational” group of local residents set up Homebaked Community Land Trust – a co-operative organisation to enable collective community ownership of the properties and to reopen the bakery as a social enterprise.
A business plan was drafted. Local men and women enrolled on bread-making courses at Liverpool Community College. Crowd-sourced funding for that commercial oven raised not £14,000 but £19,000, and private backers and charity support, from the Esme Fairburn Foundation and others, came forth.
Like the loaves, it all started to stack up and what was going on in a tired Anfield row continued to attract interest, with Observer food critic Jay Rayner backing the effort when he turned up with The One Show and DJ Chris Evans earlier this year.
On opening day, last Saturday, Homebaked was crammed with LFC fans, the culturally curious and at least two of the Biennial artists who were there at the start.
Business development manager Mia Tagg was among the flushed staff of 11 who will man Homebaked.
“We have been working flat out all week and today things couldn't have gone better in terms of business – even though there have been hiccups, like the till not working,” she said.
“It's a bit overwhelming. We've made 240 pies since dawn and they are flying out. The scouse pies sold out long ago. We're getting all sorts of people coming in. There will be a little party for all our supporters when we close today to say a big thanks."
It's not just about pies, it's not just about match-day. Cakes, soup, sandwiches, proper coffee for those who have cause to pass every day. Several varieties of bread, on sale for a very affordable quid, undercut and surpass anything with the much-overused “artisan” attached to it.
When Confidential's conversation took place with van Heeswijk in 2010, she remarked: “These houses, hundreds of them, are boarded up because they want them to be demolished, yet I have seen the materials – bricks and timber – carefully removed so they can be used in projects such as loft apartments in London. How ironic is that?”
There is irony now, too, that a bakery in one of the most deprived and neglected areas of Europe is turning out the sort of bread and hand-raised pork pies that would not be out of place in an upmarket London deli.
Unlike fireplaces and bannisters, they ain't going too far and, at £3 a time, they rival anything you will find in either a farmers' market or, crucially, on a match-day burger van.
Meanwhile, Bill Shankly's family have given Homebaked their blessing to attach his name to a rather impressive steak and mushroom variety. “Apparently, that was his favourite sort,” says Mia Tagg.
One wonders what would the Liverpool legend have made of all this.
The story goes that on a European trip, a generation ago, Shanks was filling in the hotel registration form where he wrote “Football” for occupation and “Anfield” for the address. "Sir," said the receptionist, “you need to fill in where you live”.
"Lady", he replied, "in Liverpool there is only one address that matters - and that is where I live."
It remains to be seen whether yeast will be enough of a catalyst for the north end to rise again.
Homebaked, 199 Oakfield Road, Anfield, L4 0UF. 0151 263 3117. Open Mon-Fri 8.30am-4.30pm. Sat 10am-5.30pm.
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