Breaking Bread: Share, Eat, Cook, Learn with Leah McLaughlin

Breaking Bread: Share, Eat, Cook, Learn 

Leah Mc Laughlin: Researcher, CARIAD: Inclusive Arts and Design

Cardiff Metropolitan University 

The project ‘Breaking Bread: Share, Cook, Eat, Learn’ aims to extend recent research suggesting the activity of bread making has therapeutic benefits for people with late stage dementia. This deceptively familiar and humble activity has already created evidence that the benefits of bread making; the smell, texture, malleable form and production, reach far beyond the activity of baking itself; creating a shared language, triggering new social engagement, communication and knowledge exchange between people from diverse and varied backgrounds. 

The project has involved a feasibility study to pilot a not-for-profit service to enable older and younger people to come together through the shared experience of making bread. Connecting with a range of organisations, charities, local groups and volunteers, workshops include ‘pop up’ tea rooms, where the group can sit, eat lunch and share ideas. Evidence is collected through participant feedback, filming sessions and new social media platforms for stakeholders to disseminate their experiences.

‘Breaking Bread: Share, Cook, Eat, Learn’ is now being set up as a new Community Interest Company. Breaking Bread: Share, Cook, Eat, Learn CIC; which aims to expand from the domestic to regional level and unlock some of the social, therapeutic and employment opportunities offered by the shared event of making bread: providing training, empowering individuals through increasing confidence, improving communication and developing new organisational and life skills.

Through the familiar and humble activity of making bread, the project can reach out to more isolated and disadvantaged younger and older people, connect communities, enable activities which are directly beneficial to wellbeing and provide new communication, social and business skills to people who have found themselves removed from more main stream services. It will create opportunities to promote and sell the bread, instilling community pride and create an asset that can generate revenue for communities across Wales.

Interpretation of an art object:

Making bread is multi sensorial; engaging the senses, creating emotive states, inspiring conversation and triggering memory. In this sense, bread making is considered ‘magical’ an almost unique transformative experience.  Similar assertions have been made of the therapeutic properties of clay, as Heimlich and Mark describe: ‘Simply by lightly touching the lump of clay, the client leaves the imprint of his or her fingers on it and thus becomes absorbed in his or her ability to trans- form, in the impact of his or her existence and presence on the here and now’.

What at first glance might have seemed a world apart perhaps has more in common, take the process of kneading, moulding and firing; bread making by its very nature exhibits many of the factors ceramic artists aim to encompass in their art.

Ceramic artists have different and perhaps more challenging concerns than other disciplines in aiming to ‘sing in the home’ as well as the gallery. Often ceramics must fulfil additional sensory qualities than the purely visual, in providing comfort to touch as well as fulfilling function. Ceramics provide the vessels in which nourishment is delivered, all whilst inspiring through craftsmanship, endless possibilities of form and surface through the transformative application of heat.

It is these shared concerns with the domestic and everyday that arguably give ceramics an ‘ambiguous status’ in the history, theory and interpretation of art. Perhaps as projects such as ‘Breaking Bread: Share, Cook, Eat, Learn’ give new emphasis to the domestic; as a significant vantage point from which to view the personal, community and universal understandings, we might also be reminded of the magical nature of clay.

 Breaking Bread is a collaboration between Leah Mc Laughlin, and ArkLab, 

David Prytherch, Intrinsic Haptic Reward as a Basis for Therapeutic Intervention to Foster Day-to-day Well-being in People with Dementia, Well-Being, Birmingham UK, 2011

The project is funded by Creative Exchange Wales Network (an AHRC grant funding scheme) Cardiff Met and Tesco Community Awards. 

This included: Welsh Government, Cardiff Council 50plus initiative, The Sprout, Volunteer Community Service Cardiff, Cardiff Met’s Job centre, Communities First, The Trinity Project and many more initiatives to promote and recruit interested participants. Two design and development workshops hosted 6 older and 6 younger people (a baker’s dozen!), and with a facilitator and the team, made bread and soup to go with the bread.   Follow us on Twitter @Breaking4Bread, view and book sessions here 

 Bread making eliciting sensations of wonder and excitement was a key feature in the early designs of the service. See, Dr. Andy Connelly, The Science and Magic of Breadmaking, Science Notes & Theories, The Guardian,, 2009.

 Heimlich, E. P., & Mark, A. J. Paraverbal communication with children: Not through words alone. New York: Plenum Press. 1990

 Carol Mc Nicoll, Ceramics: A Fragile History, The Art of the Potter, Ep 3 of 3, BBC 4, first broadcast Tuesday 25th October 2011

 Glenn Adamson, Thinking Through Craft, UK, Berg, 2007 

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