Popular ‘artisan’ bakery in Plymouth has closed down

Plymouth’s artisan Column Bakehouse has closed – but it is hoped a new business will take over the bakery in the Grade I-listed Devonport Guildhall.

Social enterprise Real Ideas Organisation (RIO) is ending the venture but stressed its cafes in the Guildhall and Ocean Studios, at the Royal William Yard, will continue to operate.

So visitors to the landmark Devonport building, home to several businesses, will still be able to indulge in coffee, cakes and artisan loaves, but RIO won’t be producing the goodies themselves.

It is planning for other businesses to supply the two cafes and is making the bakery and kitchen available to small catering ventures.

Mmmmmm the smell of fresh bread, does anything beat it?
Inside Column Bakehouse before it closed (Image: Penny Cross)

RIO has just launched a sponsorship programme, where it will support 10 start-ups or scale-ups, and that may include food producers.

Lindsey Hall, RIO chief executive, said that during the lockdown the social enterprise has “taken stock, thought long and hard about the best ways we can use our spaces, facilities and assets to support more people to be enterprising”, and stressed that the spirit of generosity and sharing is “something we hold dear” and added: “It is in this spirit we have decided to make some quite radical changes.”

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She said: “We have commercial kitchen spaces in our buildings and until now we have only used them to run our own enterprise – Column Bakehouse – which produced and sold coffee, delicious cake and other food at Devonport Guildhall and Ocean Studios.

“We could continue to keep our facilities to ourselves, but given the challenges ahead, we think we can do more by opening up our commercial kitchens and sharing the space with food producers – emerging or established – who need space to make and create without the prohibitive overheads and risk that their own premises would bring.

Column Bakehouse used to be a mortuary in the late 1800s (Image: Erin Black)

“Some things won’t change,” Ms Hall stressed. “In our buildings, you will still be able to get great coffee, delicious cake and enjoy a sense of community in our Real Ideas cafes.

“The only difference is that we’re not going to be making our own bread and cakes – rather we want to buy from local producers and support them through this period of uncertainty.

“We have not taken this decision lightly and sadly, it does mean that Column Bakehouse will no longer exist as a brand, but we believe we can do more good in these troubled times by supporting a new bakery and other food enterprises to emerge and grow.

“In time, we hope to be able to serve their bread and food products to customers though our cafés.”

RIO is now offering to sponsor 10 innovative new businesses through its Start Something programme for “the hustlers, the foodies, artsy folks and everyone in between” with a “free membership package” worth more than £3,000.

RIO said the support would be ideal for “students, graduates, current or former colleagues, friends, family or business contacts”.

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The business incubator programme will also allow use of RIO’s facilities – which could include its Devonport Guildhall kitchens, or the “creative making space” at Ocean Studios, and the social enterprise’s co-work space across buildings in Plymouth, Liskeard and Newquay.

It could also see sponsored ventures using the Immersive Dome at the Market Hall, in Devonport, Plymouth. This is the £7.4million tech centre, currently still under construction.

RIO is transforming the 166-year-old former market building into a centre for the latest tech businesses and research and is building an extension which will house a 15m diameter dome for immersive, virtual reality (VR) and mixed reality (MR) experiences.

Ms Hall said: “COVID has changed everything. Uncertainty dominates; the health crisis continues; and the economy is increasingly fragile.

“A big part of what we do as a social enterprise is supporting people to overcome challenges and find their way to meaningful work, income and independence.

“This includes supporting people to set up their own enterprises, support that is increasingly needed as jobs become scarcer.”

Anyone interested in using RIO’s commercial kitchens, creative making and co-work facilities, should click here.

Plymouth Live