Rise and fall and rise again

The fortunes of Dunbar Community Bakery have gone up and down and up again since it started trading in 2011.

Dunbar is a small coastal town about 40 miles east of Edinburgh with a population of 8,500. Local people decided to set up the community bakery after the local 150-year-old high street bakery closed. They raised funds from a community share issue and a few grants and loans including one from Co-op Loan Fund which was used to pay for renovations and new ovens and equipment. Dunbar Community Bakery is wholly owned by over 1,000 shareholders who mostly live in the town or nearby.

When the new bakery started the emphasis was on artisan baking and patisserie. After three years it was trading well and sales were boosted by the publicity it received from being a runner up in the ITV’s 2012 competition Britain’s Best Bakery.

When the head baker left in 2014 to set up his own business in the next town, the community bakery’s fortunes fell and it started to lose money. Following an appeal for help at the 2015 AGM there was a surge of support from the membership who were determined to revive the business. They provided additional investment, as well as donations and loans, and they formed a core group of volunteer workers to act as delivery drivers or sales assistants at special events. They also brought new people and energy to the management committee which drew up a new business plan.

The turnaround began in 2015 with the appointment of a new bakery manager and the introduction of a broader, more affordable range of products. The business had returned to profit by 2017. It now employs nine staff (some part time) and is in the process of recruiting an apprentice baker.

In 2018 this remarkable example of community resilience was recognised when Dunbar Community Bakery won the Horace Plunkett ‘Better Business’ Award.

Erica Wimbush, Chair of Dunbar Community Bakery, said: “When I first got actively involved things were not going well. The recovery has been the result of big collective effort. Much of the credit must go to Colin, our manager, but many other people have helped too.

“Although the business is stable for now, all independent high street shops are fragile. It is interesting that our local fruit and veg shop is considering launching a community share issue. Having two community-owned food shops in the same street raises all sorts of exciting possibilities.”

Co-op Loan Fund is pleased to have helped this community-owned business through good times, bad times, and better times.