‘We mix (ingredients) in order to mix (people)!'

During her PhD in Cultural Anthropology at Princeton University, Nadezhda S-G., from Bulgaria examined community development in poor areas employing the arts but she soon she discovered that what actually unites people most is food, and in particular bread as a universal symbol of peace. She founded the Bread Houses Network in 2009.

In 2008, when I found out that Bethlehem means “Bread House” the name deeply inspired me, and I imagined a warm place of peace for everyone. The mission of the Bread Houses Network is to help heal the world through a web of neighbourhoods, where the oven is the social focal point, metaphorically and literally, bringing diverse people around the fire (“foco” in Latin) to make, bake, and break bread and knead friendships! I tested my idea first in Bulgaria, where I had an old unused house from my great-grandmother. This is how it all started with volunteers in 2009, and then this very simple but powerful act of getting together somehow inspired many more people and places, even around the world. My personal mission is to help mix diverse people as much as possible in order to break solitude and social boundaries – our motto is ‘We mix (ingredients) in order to mix (people)!'

The Bread Houses Network (BHN) is inspired with the innovative community activities around bread-making with local people and organisations around Bulgaria and in other countries. Since 2009, there are 7 Bread Houses in Bulgaria, two of which operate as bakeries-social enterprises that sustain themselves, thus reaching national popularity and impact. The “Bread therapy” methods are not only therapeutic, but also have the goal to unite and mix people and provoke community-building, through the regular weekly community baking events employing the Theater of Crumbs and Kitchen Music methods, where puppets are made out of dough, the props are drawn in flour on a table, and songs are developed with kitchen utensils by groups of mixed ages and special needs.

In 2013 the first Bread House bakery-social enterprise opened its doors in Gabrovo, Bulgaria, out of the need to secure self-sustainability. The purchase of the machines and equipment and initial rent and salaries were covered by a small grant, which secured the training and employment of three young girls and a boy just leaving the local orphanage and without work skills and perspectives. The bakery also organizes weekly community baking events for social integration and regular free Bread therapy sessions . The second bakery opened in 2014 in Sofia, and works with the same mission and model, though with its own recipes and products, like the other one. As such, the two bakeries already proved the first for Bulgaria model of a «social franchise », and in 2015 the Network had its first foreign social franchisee visit Bulgaria to get trained with the plan to open BHN bakeries in the UK. BHN also started the global platform “Bakers Without Borders” which unites people around the world inspired by the BHN or already developing some bread-related community development project, from the jungles of Guatemala to the shantytowns of South Africa.

Silvia N, a volunteer explains: ''At the bread houses, people exchange ideas, cooperate, and give each other support to find self-confidence. They start small community initiatives, like cleaning our little park in front of the bread house and planning the construction of a children’s playground. What's very important is that people who have had very difficult and miserable lives have a chance to connect to beauty; to create with others; to talk about metaphors and poetry, about life and its meaning.' Asked why the Bread Houses have made such an impact Silvia replied: ''Because the idea is so simple, real, true, so widely applicable. Most important, it is accessible to anyone. Everything we do ultimately teaches goodness, equality, giving, respect and love!''

The most recent BHN initiative is called "Bread in the Dark" whose mission is to connect sight-impaired facilitators with sighted people in 100% darkened environment where the group engages in bread-making as a catalyst for dialogue on various existential questions, experienced tangibly through the processes of kneading bread as metaphors for life. We hope this method would grow into a network of social enterprises run by sight-impaired people themselves.

We would be very happy if anyone is interested in our methods and model of social enterprise can contact us. We will do our best to support you in reviving your community through the aroma of hot bread!

Nadezhda S-G,

Bread Houses Network

Sofia, Bulgaria