Bristol-based bakery, Step and Stone, makes handmade lavosh flatbreads with a social purpose. They work with young people with learning disabilities, helping to develop their skills and confidence so they can eventually find employment in the mainstream catering world. They’re a community interest company, with all profits are ploughed straight back into the bakery. Step and Stone is backed by UnLtd, who help to support and fund social entrepreneurs to realise their untapped potential and build a better society for all.

Able Magazine caught up with co-owners, Jane Chong and Jane Kippax about how they are transforming employment opportunities for disabled people in Bristol and beyond.

1. What inspired you to start up your bakery ‘Step and Stone’?

Jane and I both have a child with Down’s Syndrome and met through a youth club our children attended. School and College nowadays are pretty inclusive places, but we became aware of the lack of opportunity which would in all likelihood face our children once they finished their education.

We were (and remain) appalled that only 6% of people with a learning disability are in paid employment and were determined to have an impact on this figure by setting up a project which would provide training and education and progression into employment. Both being foodies, we had quite a simple idea to involve people with a learning disability in making a delicious savoury cracker (lavosh flatbread).

We purposefully wanted to create a product that was of very high quality and we’re all very proud that our product is stocked in some really lovely food shops in and around Bristol.

We also really wanted to challenge people’s perceptions about what people with a learning disability can do. We actively encourage our young bakers to come along to food festivals/farmers’ markets so that they can explain the product to the general public, hopefully breaking down some barriers on the way.

We really want to open a vibrant cafe in or near Bristol some time soon, so that people with a learning disability who are interested in food service can have an even greater range of work experience opportunities – and, of course, where we can showcase the talents of our young people.

Lastly, people with a learning disability are often quite socially isolated – as well as learning new baking and employability skills at Step and Stone, we encourage friendships to flourish through organising regular social outings.

2. How do you plan to tackle the disability employment gap?

We are addressing the employment gap in several ways:

Firstly (and on a very practical level) we’ve just started discussions with Mencap and other organisations to see how we can pool resources so that we can have the maximum impact for the benefit of our young bakers who are ready for paid employment.

Secondly, we are actively ‘spreading the word’ about just how capable our young workers are: everybody who buys a box of lavosh flatbreads and reads about our story, everybody who visits our web page or becomes engaged with our other social media activities and everybody we meet at food tastings and farmers’ markets is a potential convert – and this may lead to new doors in employment being opened for our young people.

Thirdly, we have been invited to speak about our experience starting Step and Stone at events run by Foxes Academy and NATSPEC.

Lastly, we’re actively encouraging other people to set up enterprises just like ours!

3. What’s your recruitment process for employment at Step and Stone?

New people with a learning disability who are interested in joining us come along for a trial period of up to 4 weeks. If they like it they are offered a ‘trainee’ position; there is a modest charge for this which can be met out of the young person’s direct payments.

We agree on specific work targets with each individual. There are regular review meetings and each young trainee has their own, visual workbook, which develops into a robust record of achievements and skills etc gained over their time at Step and Stone. In time (which depends on each individual), we will start working with them to seek employment.

So far, we’re just about coping with demand from our young bakers, but we think this is likely to change, so we are actively seeking a base of our own – in or near Bristol – so that we can expand to baking 5 days a week.

4. What employment and training opportunities do you offer?

Step and Stone isn’t designed to be an employer itself: we recognise there is more value in trying to get our young trainees paid jobs in the broader catering/hospitality sector. In this way, we believe we are having an impact for more young people than we could if we employed just a handful ourselves.

5. How do you feel that Step and Stone tackles social isolation?

We organise regular social outings, which are really well attended. We alternate meeting up on a Thursday evening and a Friday evening, so that as many of our young trainees as possible can attend. So far, we’ve been bowling, played crazy golf and been for a pizza. Next up, we’re thinking of organising a drumming workshop!

6. Are you hoping that more businesses will take on a similar concept to ensure a fairer employment market for those with disabilities?

We are really hoping that other businesses will be persuaded that taking on someone with a learning disability isn’t tricky or scary. Although they may well need a bit more support right in the beginning – e.g being shown how to do a task a few more times than someone without a learning disability), our experience has shown that they make really amazing workers, turning up week after week and working enthusiastically. The morale at Step and Stone is amazing, and it is said that employing someone with a learning disability really improves team spirit.

7. Do you think many businesses see disability first over ability?

We think it’s frequently the case that people from all walks of life see the disability first. With better inclusion now in schools and elsewhere in the community, this is mostly changing for the better. But seeing that EVERYBODY has something to contribute is right not just for society, but is also SO important for that individual.

Our bakers take such pride in making a really delicious product and love selling the lavosh at markets. When you’re part of a really fabulous team, making a really special product, well … that makes you feel good!

8. Have you found through training at Step and Stone that many of your students have been able to find employment in the mainstream catering world?

We’ve been baking for 18 months and selling our lavosh for about a year; we’re only just starting to work out the process for supporting our young people to obtain paid employment, but one of our first cohorts is now in paid employment for 2 days per week.

9. What’s your vision for the future? I understand you ’ll be opening an inclusive Step and Stone cafe – will this help to encourage local business owners to change their outdated perceptions of the workplace being for everyone?

We’re really keen to open a cafe – for two reasons: firstly to give our young people with a learning disability access to a broader range of skills training, but secondly, because we feel it will break down even more barriers. Customers will see first hand just how capable people with a learning disability are!