The Great British Bake Off is entering the final stretch with just six contestants left and ever more demanding challenges and showstoppers on the baking horizon.  

For diehard fans it’s a bittersweet time, given the imminent disbanding of the tent and its long time inhabitants. But love it or loathe it, GBBO captures something about the inherent sociability of baking.  We make cakes to share with others (well, most of the time) and often for special occasions. Cakes have stories associated with them to share, bridge inter-generational divides with recipes handed down within families, and are often intrinsically linked to the identity of places and regions.

What relevance has baking to our work at Renaisi (beyond the fact that cakes and biscuits in our communal areas at Garden Walk tend to disappear within minutes)? We are interested in helping people and places to thrive, and there is a growing evidence base on the impact of community businesses and their contribution to social cohesion and economic development. Locality recently highlighted in a blog post three examples of community-led bakeries, including Homebaked in Liverpool which was saved by the local community, and offers training and job opportunities for local people. 

There are also many local examples on our doorstep in East London. These include social enterprises working to develop transferable employability skills and build confidence through baking courses – Dusty Knuckle works with youth offenders, early school leavers and the long term unemployed, and The Luminary Bakery supports women who have experienced social and economic disadvantage. A previous GBBO winner, John Whaite spoke openly about the role baking played in helping him to manage his manic depression, turning negative energy into something constructive. The Better Health Bakery in Haggerston shares this belief in the benefits of baking as a therapeutic activity and offers three month trainee placements to adults recovering from mental ill health.  

So when you next bite into a baked good, take a pause and think about the story behind how it was made and who by. Is baking another of the magic ingredients that can help to build stronger social connections in local areas?