Back in March 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic meant that people we support and our staff teams found themselves stuck at home, not being able to go to work or access our training programmes.
The usual and hustle and bustle of café life came to a halt and we started thinking of ways to keep ourselves busy so that trainees wouldn’t lose their motivation or skills in the kitchen; as well as ways that we could futureproof our Social Enterprise Cafes without being there in person. It was all about resilience – how could we keep ourselves and our work going so we could all bounce back when the time came?
From this, we created Unity Works Online – a virtual training programme for people across our services. Unity Works Online covers everything from baking to employment support, wellbeing sessions to news breakdown! One of our most popular groups was and remains to this day the weekly cooking group and from there stemmed what we think may be our greatest ever idea….
What if we could create a product designed by Unity Works trainees, apprentices and job seekers, test it, refine it and ultimately bring it to the market?
This idea was the boost we all needed and ideas came thick and fast. Eventually, we decided on pies. We felt that as well as having enduring popularity, they are a versatile product that could change seasonally, could be served as an eat in or takeaway option and would also be easy to package. People’s motivation was high as they knew we weren’t just filling time – we were building back with a training opportunity that was challenging, relevant and fun.
Over the summer the recipe testing began (see both images) and a voting process led tor 3 pie recipes:
- Chicken and mushroom
- Lentil and squash (vegan)
- Strawberry and rhubarb/Orange and lemon
We had our concept, but we needed backing to bring it to life. Luckily for us, the Postcode Neighbourhood Trust (part of the Postcode Lottery) stepped in with a transformative grant of £18,679 to allow us to take our concept to reality. Thanks to their support, we will be working over the next few months to deliver our first ‘pie-lot’ (do you see what we did there?) and trial our product in the marketplace. We are making the most of lockdown to refine our product and marketing plans behind the scenes before a final launch later on this year. We are privileged to be receiving expert advice from Social Enterprise UK to guide us on this next leg of the journey.
Ultimately, this project is about aspiration and resilience: something the people we support show us time after time. Thanks to the support of the Postcode Neighbourhood Trust, we will be able to offer the people we support a training opportunity that is challenging and relevant; and be ready to bounce back post-Covid with a project that we hope will be a lasting legacy to people’s creativity and determination under lockdown.
We are all so excited to be embarking on this project, and we look forward to sharing our progress with you as things progress.