Meet The Trader: the Hackney bakery with a social purpose and great bread…

Maisie Collins, owner of Hearth. Pic: Elishah Luke

Tucked away in a corner of Hackney Wick is Hearth, a social enterprise bakery that prioritizes sustainability, the reduction of food waste, and locally sourced produce, besides producing great bread and cakes.

Just in time for Easter on March 31, Hearth are selling their special vegan twist on the traditional hot cross bun, including changing flours in the recipe per week, dried apples, and fudge-style dates instead of mixed fruit. 

Hearth partners with local farms in Kent, Essex, Sussex and Hertfordshire to source the ingredients that go into their baked goods.

Maisie Collins, the owner and founder of Hearth told Eastlondonlines: “…All of our fresh produce comes locally, we use only UK suppliers…part of the social enterprise is teaching people about sustainable food, wasting less, and kind of benefiting from the local environment… recently one of the farms we were buying salad from, drop really affordable veg bags [at The Hearth] once a week.”

Entrance to Hearth. Pic: Elishah Luke 

The Hearth sources local ingredients for its baked goods. Pic: Elishah Luke

Collins says that some of Hearth’s intended social projects had to be put on hold because of a lack of funding, as well as the shortage of staff due to the cost of hiring: “…It was pretty mad… but there’s never a good time to start a business.” Once the business is stable, they plan a six month paid traineeship scheme for a young unemployed person in the local community.

Other projects have included The People’s Oven, which took place in Autumn 2022 which allowed local residents to come in to keep warm, learn more about sustainable cooking, and cook bulk meals, and the People’s Plate, an initiative that ran from January-May 2023 which utilized spare produce from suppliers, social projects, as well as from Hearth to create an affordable two-course lunch for customers.

Collins says however that the relationships she had built and the work she had put in previously at an earlier bakery she founded in White Post Lane in Hackney Wick were key to her choosing to persevere with the bakery: “We’ve had loads of setbacks. I think the thing that made me want to keep going was that we had built up this trade, and relationships with local people and I had done a lot of work, and I didn’t really want to lose that…its [the] drive… I’m very much…a completionist. It’s really hard to have started and to have sacrificed so much to let it drop.”  

Hearth’s ‘special’ hot cross buns. Pic: Elishah Luke  

Collins has been in hospitality since she got her first kitchen job at fourteen and that she had always seen it as a good way to connect with other people. Though she went to university at one point to study art and design, after two years, she left that to become a full-time chef: “I’ve always enjoyed cooking and gardening from a young age. I find communication with people hard sometimes … but feeding people and sharing food is such a universal form of connection … I found it much easier to find a sense of completion and fulfilment with cooking as you know when something turns out well.”  

Collins noted that there is a gap within the wider hospitality industry in terms of food sustainability that is partly due to the industry ‘aging.’   

This, she noted could leave the door open for potential problems for employees including around mental health: “…unemployment is really high in young people and within the wider community…the hospitality industry is very archaic, and it’s trying to change and get better, but it’s been very slow and there’s a massive skill and staff gap… where it’s falling short on its employees. It’s very common for people working in the industry have long term mental health problems, substance abuse, or learning difficulties, a lot of the time.”  

Collins told Eastlondonlines that a more lasting solution to the food sustainability problem in the hospitality industry could be found if the focus was narrowed down to the local environment, and then broadened out to the wider environment, and if crops grown were more diverse and localised rather than industrialized: “…I think a lot of the time the focus is on the bigger picture, and then it never reaches the people at the bottom of that chain…It’s much easier to make a change within your local communities, in your local environment and then ripple it outwards.”  

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