Medieval-inspired communal bakery aims to help with cost-of-living crisis

"At the moment some people can't afford to switch on their ovens at all and they're having to choose between heating and eating, which is just ludicrous."

 Medieval oven, now used for pizza purposes (photo credit: WIKIMEDIA)
Medieval oven, now used for pizza purposes
(photo credit: WIKIMEDIA)

Baker Maisie Collins has opened up her industrial oven in east London for locals to use, drawing on the medieval tradition of communal bakehouses to help people at a time when many are struggling to pay their bills.

For some of Britain's poorest, the combination of soaring prices for gas and electricity, plus the rising cost of food, means switching on the oven has become a luxury this winter.

"At the moment some people can't afford to switch on their ovens at all and they're having to choose between heating and eating, which is just ludicrous," Collins, 31, said.

Her solution is "The People's Oven," a monthly event where locals can come to the bakery she set up six months ago in a former warehouse near a canal in Hackney.

In an area where artists and design studios in old industrial buildings rub shoulders with newly-built apartment blocks, the bakery, "Hearth," has a hipster vibe.

Freshly baked bread cools at a bakery in Beirut, Lebanon June 30, 2020. (credit: MOHAMED AZAKIR / REUTERS)Freshly baked bread cools at a bakery in Beirut, Lebanon June 30, 2020. (credit: MOHAMED AZAKIR / REUTERS)

Vegan chocolate brownies made with pea flour are a best seller, and the shelves are crowded with bottles and jars with handwritten labels for trendy ingredients such as elderflower vinegar, dried fig leaves and chai sugar.

But just up the road are some of Britain's most deprived neighborhoods and Hearth is a social enterprise, meaning a proportion of its profits will be channeled into community projects.

Community resources for all

By promoting her open oven event with local food banks, Collins hopes those in need of cooking facilities, friendship and a warm space will breathe new life into the ancient idea of the medieval hearth at the center of the village.

Annie Ren, 22, who has just moved to the area, was taught how to bake bread by Collins.

"I came here for like the experience, also to make friends and kind of seek out a community in east London," Ren said.

Andrea Moro, 33, had brought pizza dough and toppings to share with the other visitors.

"I think it's a very interesting thing to do for many, many reasons," he said. "For sure to help people to save some money, but also to create a sort of community in the area."