Foraging has become integral to the range of breads at Filbert's Bakery in Lancaster
PUBLISHED: 00:00 04 July 2018
An award winning community bakery has proved it can rise to a challenge
Felicity Duirwyn will never tire of the broad, child-like grin her customers get when they tear off a hunk of her bread and sink their teeth into it. ‘It’s addictive – completely and utterly marvellous, they just can’t wait to eat it,’ said Felicity, the owner of Filbert’s Bakery in Lancaster. ‘Sometimes they manage to wait until they’re up the street but mostly they tuck in while they’re still in the shop. I love the smiles on people’s faces, they look so excited. It’s just bread, but it has this ability to have this effect on people. It’s a reaction that comes from deep down inside and it’s wonderful.’
It’s easy to see why her products provoke such a reaction: the Filbert’s shelves groan with Lancaster sourdough, rye and caraway and soft, plump white rolls and a tempting choice of cakes and bakes. It’s a remarkable achievement for Felicity who hadn’t had any formal training when she launched the business five years ago, shortly after moving from London with her husband, Joe.
It was a steep learning curve and a big change; Felicity had worked as an IT manager in the financial industry in London, so you could say she went from working with dough to working with dough.
‘As soon as we moved here we really felt the absence of a cracking bakery,’ said Felicity.
‘Lancashire holds its own for great local produce but there are gaps on every high street in Britain where fishmongers, butchers and bakers used to stand and serve our local communities and Lancashire is no exception. We have particularly lost our bakers. We wanted to try and put that right.
‘I’d started making so much bread at home, supplying more and more friends with bread that I think Joe got the bakery just as a way to get it all out of our home kitchen.’ The slow process in which the bread is made is integral to the Filbert’s ethos. Good ingredients play a huge role, with organic flour and locally supplied dairy, fruit and vegetables from producers including Lancaster’s George Speights and Singlestep, Procters Cheeses in Chipping and Stephensons Dairy in Morecambe.
Some of the ingredients foraged on the lanes near Felicity’s home or bartered with local gardeners and allotment holders. They have been inundated with huge bounties of rhubarb, chard, courgettes, currants and apples and love finding different ways to use it all.
‘It’s wonderful that people think of us. And it cuts down on food waste, we don’t want to waste food. We shouldn’t be doing it.’
But the bread isn’t the only star attraction. What’s remarkable about Filbert’s is the way the business has been built – in some cases literally – with the help of family, friends and the local community who chipped in to replace a broken mixer and keep the bakery open.
And Felicity, who has ongoing mental health challenges, said: ‘My team are amazing. I have issues with anxiety that can sometimes be crippling, but they are always there for me.
‘There are days where one of us may just need to work in the back and have time out and that’s absolutely fine. We all look out for one another and look after each other. That’s something really special.’
Filbert’s have built an impressive reputation for their bread and they are also known for doing things a little differently. As well as flouting traditional retail opening times, they also operate a bread delivery service to Lancaster and some outlying areas.
‘The shop’s complete lack of tradition is actually rather liberating – inspiration can strike one day and be acted upon the next,’ said Felicity. ‘And if the customers like it, it stays. We take great pride in our ability to be other. It’s very important to me.
‘There are bakeries in France that are only open for a few hours a day. Everyone knows it so they make sure they get there. People should be able to have lives as well as work. But we also want to be more than a bakery. Supporting people who need help is something that’s a part of my life so it feels natural to use that approach in my bakery too. Some mornings I’ll come in and there will be piles of bags full of clothing for me to pass on to different charities, we’re known for it and it’s great that people see us as a place that helps others.’
The Filbert’s team’s were awarded Baker of the Year at the Farm Shop and Deli Awards, where the judges said they were impressed by Felicity’s passion to educate and change her customer’s habits and by her single-minded drive for quality, their charitable efforts and their work to reduce waste.
‘I almost didn’t want to go to the awards ceremony because I didn’t think we would ever win. But the team, as usual, really got behind me and encouraged me. It was amazing to have won.
‘It is incredibly hard work doing what we do, and it’s not for everyone. I feel really lucky to have very special people working with me as a team. It’s quite a ride running a place like Filbert’s, but it’s a fun one.’