Pandemic one year on – Unexpected silver linings: Bread making courses online

Remember when there was a run on eggs at the beginning of the first lockdown in 2020? Like toilet rolls and hand sanitiser, as the supermarket shelves emptied, they briefly became highly prized items. People who’d never kept chickens before suddenly decided they would, and the manufacturers of chicken coops quickly ran out of stock.

Sara Ward at Hen Corner suddenly found there was a market for online chicken keeping courses. Sara runs Hen Corner – ‘Hen’ because she keeps chickens and ‘Corner’ because she keeps them in the back garden of an ordinary surburban house in Brentford which happens to be on a corner.

Images above: Sara Ward with one of her girls; photographs from Hen Corner

In 2010 she and her husband set out to become self-sufficient. They quickly realised they couldn’t manage it completely, but eleven years on, they almost are. They grow their own fruit and vegetables and keep bees as well as the chickens. The main part of Sara’s income has been from running courses on how to make bread, cheese, sausages Christmas and Easter specialities and  how to keep bees and chickens. She also bakes and sells bread and cakes from Hen Corner every Friday.

At the beginning of 2020 as everything ground to a halt she was worried her income would dry up completely. Her bread courses were very popular, and it’s nice to chat round a big kitchen table, comparing notes as you knead and pummel your dough, with Sara keeping a beady eye on how your’re doing. I tried out her bread making course in 2019 and it was brilliant.

Images above: Photographs from Sara’s bread making courses

Online advantages

Not the same over Zoom, but when she tried it, she discovered there were advantages.

“If you’ve done it in your own kitchen, with your own equipment then you know you can make fantastic stuff yourself at home”.

The courses are also cheaper over the internet, starting at £30, and you don’t waste time travelling. You can do a course after a day’s work and with six to eight people in a class you still get her personal attention.

The advantage for her is that she now has clients from outside the UK. She’s discovered 5.00pm is the perfect time; an evening course for people in the UK and Europe, which can also include people on the east coast of America. She’s always inventing new courses with different variations and many of her clients come back for more.

She has a scones and jam course, where you make both the scones and the jam, and did one Christmas wreath making course for 60 people as an office party.

Images above: Sara bee-keeping; photographs Hen Corner

Sara quickly got used to running chicken and bee-keeping courses online as well, livestreaming with her iphone in a tree and the camera on a tripod. But the most successful development over the past year has been the bakery.

“What I found very quickly was that the bakery increased tenfold. People knew they could always get bread from me whereas they couldn’t be sure to get bread or flour from the supermarket. I buy my flour direct from the mills and they prioritised customers who were baking for others”.

Compared with the amount of pre-prepared bread and cakes there is normally in a supermarket, there is very little flour on sale. The mills sell it in 10 kilo sacks and upwards. Sara usually buys 25 kilo sacks. She quickly became used to baking 100 loaves a day and feeding up to 80 families a week. She is now giving courses to people who want to join the ‘Bread Angels’ and run micro bakeries.

Sara starts face to face chicken and bee-keeping courses again outside in the garden on 29 March 2021, and indoor artisan food courses (with social distancing, face coverings and ventilation) in her kitchen on 12 April.

Hen Corner is part of the Club Card scheme. Sara offers The Chiswick Calendar’s Club Card members a 10% discount on all her courses.

Read more stories on The Chiswick Calendar

See also: Best thing since sliced bread

See also: Out of lockdown Harriet’s Kitchen was born

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