A baker across the pond is serving up Christmas spirit to his community using his favorite tool: the oven.
On Nov. 30, Ed Hamilton-Trewitt, owner of Brickyard Bakery, a community bakery in Guisborough, a village in North Yorkshire, England, offered to bake people's Christmas cakes in his six-foot-square oven, free of charge.
Christmas cakes are rich, dense fruit cakes commonly gifted during the holidays in the U.K. — and they can take hours to bake — an issue for many reeling from the country's rising energy costs.
“Drop your unbaked Christmas cakes off on Friday at the bakery, we bake over the weekend ready for you to collect Monday — FREE OF CHARGE,” reads a post on Brickyard Bakery’s Facebook page. “What’s not to love — lets get baking!”
The bakery, which has been open for nine years, also runs weekly full-day classes in breadmaking, Christmas baking, kids baking sessions and more. A staple in the community, Hamilton-Trewhitt was inspired to offer this service because of rising energy costs affecting everyone around him — including himself.
“We haven’t escaped the energy crisis ourselves,” Hamilton-Trewhitt tells TODAY.com. “To run our bread oven, a massive old oven, it used to cost us £1,000 a month to run it eight months ago. Now, it costs £2,200 a month to run it, and we’re not getting any more use out of it.”
The heat generated by Brickyard’s oven also inadvertently heats a sitting room above the shop, which gave Hamilton-Trewhitt the idea to offer the space on Sept. 15 as a free sitting room for people to come in from the cold, free of charge, to enjoy a cup of tea, read a book or just relax in the warmth.
“Our bakery ovens produce a tremendous amount of heat, and they are on a lot! The academy above the bakery has a lounge area which gets all this lovely warmth,” reads the caption on the Facebook post, adding that since Sept. 15 from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. on weekdays, anyone can use the space. “You don’t have to buy anything, just come and keep warm on us.”
Hamilton-Trewhitt says the bakery's heated lounge room and community oven service (which offers a driver to pick up and drop off customer’s cakes free of charge) were both no-brainers.
“It was a conversation I had with one of my customers,” he explains, adding that when a customer came in one day, she was clearly upset after shopping for the ingredients for her holiday bakes, a set of fruit cakes for various members of her family. “We’re struggling terribly with food inflation at the moment as well and the cost of the ingredients was massive.”
Hamilton-Trewhitt says he noticed how visibly shocked she was at the prices she had just paid for flour, butter and other grocery items. According to the Guardian, the country's food price inflation hit a new high of 12.4% in November.
“She really wasn’t sure she was going to be able to cook four or five cakes this year, not only because of the food costs, but how could you possibly afford to put the oven on for four or five hours to cook the cakes?” Hamilton-Trewhitt says. “So, you know, solving that one was dead easy.”
After offering the woman his oven, which stays on all day long as an operating bakery, it occurred to him that if there was one customer that was worried about being able to afford their well-held Christmas traditions, then there was surely lots of others. “So we just put it out there that we were going to revitalize the open community concept from medieval times,” he says.
The concept Hamilton-Trewhitt is referring to is a community oven, a centuries-old form of public cooking — particularly in Europe, but beyond its borders, too. A mini history lesson on the concept: As early as 55 B.C., when the Romans came to Britain, they brought with them designs for bread ovens.
In their early iterations, ovens were often the size of buildings and therefore too unwieldy for the everyday villager. Folks would often bake bread, puddings and potatoes in these devices, which became part of the heart of communities, and the concept is set to repeat itself — at least during this year's holiday season — and maybe beyond.
“There were so many cakes to do, so we’re just going to leave it on running until certainly after the Christmas holidays,” Hamilton-Trewhitt says, adding that he had originally intended to offer the service for a single weekend, but the response led him to reconsider. “If people need us and if people can benefit from it, then … yeah, why not?”
Hamilton-Trewhitt makes sure to stress that he’s not the only one in the community lending a helping hand to those around him.
“We live in an area that’s very much a community hub — lots of lots of people with lots of disposable income and are quite wealthy and there’s the other half of the town where people are genuinely struggling and genuinely living from hand to mouth,” Hamilton-Trewhitt explains.
“It’s nice when those people with that little bit of extra income ask, ‘Is there anything we can do? Do you need anything? Can we help you out in any way?’ It’s not just me,” he says. “It’s a whole community coming together to support each other, which is the really special part.”