Photo: Customers, staff and volunteers at Skeena Bakery.
Credit: Northern Development
Over the past decade, Skeena Bakery has developed a reputation as a place that provides opportunity. Operated by Skeena Supported Employment Society (SSES), in New Hazelton, the bakery is a positive environment that creates meaningful employment and skill-training opportunities for people who face challenges gaining employment. Just as yeast needs food and warmth to grow, so do people need encouragement and a warm environment to realize their potential.
“It’s been a super good project,” said Braunwyn Henwood, manager at Skeena Bakery and former SSES board member. “The community has been so supportive of our project. Operating as a non-profit encourages community members to have a stake in the bakery. We operate with a very positive outlook that benefits our clients, employees, delivery people and customers.”
In 2010, SSES received $80,000 from the Government of Canada’s Community Adjustment Fund, administered by Northern Development. While the fund is no longer available, it was established to mitigate the impacts of the 2008 economic downturn by encouraging job creation in affected communities. One of the program criteria was that approved projects had to create jobs and maintain employment; which Skeena Bakery has successfully done.
Skeena Bakery intentionally and proactively helps those who are most affected by the limited job market, including individuals with physical and developmental disabilities. It also benefits the community by selling quality, fresh bread at fair prices. In a place where the unemployment rate is high, accessing healthy food at affordable prices can otherwise be challenging. Even though people frequently comment that the bakery could increase bread prices, Henwood says they intentionally keep them low, so more people can benefit from their business.
“In our situation of running a social enterprise, we have our social mission and revenue goals,” explained Henwood. “On the revenue side, over the past eight years we’ve made enough in sales to support ourselves. On the social mission side, we provide supported employment and provide a good quality product at a good price. We have a good following of people who come in because of the simple and quality ingredients we use.”
Since they started baking craft breads and artisan treats, Skeena Bakery has brought new opportunities to the Hazeltons and surrounding area. Now, locals and passersby can enjoy homemade goods created with traditional skills. As with most cafes, the bakery is integrated into peoples’ daily routines, whether through coffee and snack purchases, volunteering or working.
“We’ve done things we didn’t think we would do,” Henwood recounted. “Coast Mountain College offered a program for women who had never worked outside the home. We took them in, and they did a variety of skills training with us over a period of time to gain work skills. We also had a community member who was recovering from a stroke approach us, looking for a friendly environment where she could evaluate her work skills. She stayed with us as a weekly volunteer.”
Throughout the past 10 years, SSES has contributed to positive change in New Hazelton. From providing people with tangible employment experience to creating a welcoming place to serve wholesome food, Skeena Bakery has mixed up the ingredients key to success: eager people and tasty products.