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Business & Economy

Five minutes with… Andy Haddon

Championed by Hairy Biker Si King and known the country over for mixing stotties with strong social commitments, Newcastle’s Big River Bakery is an organisation firmly on the rise. Here, founder Andy Haddon tells Colin Young about its progress, the importance of inclusivity and his ambition to extend the venture across future years.


The business that became Big River Bakery was set up as a purpose-led organisation a little more than ten years ago. Tell us a little about yours and the business’ background.

It has been a convoluted journey of more than 40 years that has brought me to this point, where I am much more comfortable with myself and my purpose. 

It has been quite a challenging journey, wherein I seem to have increased the temperature over the years.

Coming out of university in 1984, I did not know what I wanted to do and, in the recession-hit 1980s, the options were quite limited. 

I somehow found a graduate trainee role in a cold store, in Bracknell, full of frozen food for Marks and Spencer. 

I progressed to a chill store in Rugby and then, reaching ambient temperature in a warehouse, I moved to TNT’s head office and got an air-conditioned seat, designing and implementing logistics solutions across the UK and then in Germany and finally across China.

Over time, I felt less able to recognise myself. It felt like I was changing and the values I grew up with were too, so I decided I needed to change direction. 

I resigned from TNT in China and came back to undertake a full-time MBA in my native North East at Durham University. 

The next ten years were spent in universities and start-ups, including launching the first gin in the North for more than 200 years.

I had become more and more interested in acting on climate change, and even went to the Earth Summit, in Johannesburg, in 2002, as a global activist.  

So, in 2013 I managed to persuade several others to become directors and created Earth Doctors Ltd, with the vision that the North of England will become a region that is globally recognised for creating a sustainable, healthy and affordable local food system at scale.

Having set that vision, I then needed to find a grounded route to action and thought for a long time how to start. 

In the end, we decided a community bakery was the best starting point and not just because it would be warmer. 

I wanted to prove the concept of a sustainable, healthy and affordable food business.

I have done five degrees along my journey but never one in baking, so I volunteered with a co-operative bakery on Fridays to learn enough to get started. 

The bakery would make on a Friday and sell breads on a Saturday morning in my local library in Wylam. 

It stayed a small volunteer project for more than five years and then, in 2019, we found our first permanent home in Shieldfield, Newcastle.


You work with the wider community and have set up a number of projects which are unique to Big River Bakery. Can you talk us through some of those and how they have impacted on the community?

We didn’t want to put a bakery in an area which would only serve the more affluent.

We wanted to demonstrate a more inclusive approach to good local food, and I think we have stayed true to that in Shieldfield. 

Our bakery is more than the baked goods we make; it is demonstrating an innovative business that is more inclusive. 

Making sure some of our products are affordable, or free to people in need, is fundamental for us. 

We have run lots of community projects, including baking themed employability projects for long-term unemployed from the least affluent areas in Newcastle. 

We have been operating as a warm hub for the local community through the winter, and run baking sessions for local schoolchildren too.

We have even had two resident artists running weaving sessions for locals, which have been a big hit. 

Many of these activities allow people to be creative and learn a new skill, but the real power of the activity is in the coming together and therapeutic impact.

Our business has been recognised as showing leadership in terms of a more inclusive economy, and we have done this through innovation, trading at scale and being creative. 

We have not built this business on a grant dependent model, rather most of our income comes from trading, including our Adventures of Scottie the Stottie book and cuddly toy. 


You previously secured £25,000 from the North East Small Loan Fund, supported by the European Regional Development Fund. How did this help the bakery’s progress? And what are your plans for the future?

The funding allowed us to buy our super eco baking oven. 

However, most of our funding to grow is due to our loyal following, which really took off after we appeared on The Hairy Bikers Go North show, on BBC Two.

Plans for the future are rising well too. 

With a following wind, we plan to open additional sites and expand our training school over the next few years. 

I believe we have a business model which can scale out much more widely.

And with the right partners, we can make it happen.