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Featured Image for Joan Charlett’s Story

Joan Charlett’s Story

In 2008, having received excellent treatment from a breast surgeon and his team at the Nottingham Breast Institute, I decided that I wished to do something to thank him. His specialism is Oncoplastic Reconstructive Breast Surgery and I found out that I could fundraise to help finance research for this treatment. This got me thinking; what could I do to raise money? I wanted to be able to be able to provide something that people would want to buy. I knew that I could cook and I therefore decided to bake apple pies, which I could sell to friends and neighbours. I initially asked close friends if they could donate to me gifts of flour, margarine, sugar and apples and I then set about making a number of pies which I then sold back to them. At the village fete I set up a table and sold my pies and with some of the money I   obtained I bought more ingredients. Soon people were asking me if I could make cakes, so I looked through my cookery books and started baking simple but enjoyable cakes, which became much in demand and Breast Bakes was born.

I was put in touch with a lady from a nearby village who made preserves and sold them at craft fairs and markets and she gave me some very useful contacts for selling my produce. It soon became clear to me that I had chosen the right produce to sell, as customers would return regularly to buy consumable products much more often than if I was selling craft items. My husband helped me to record my expenditure on ingredients and my income from sales and we both learned how to design posters to advertise the items for sale. I opted for quick turnover and decided to continue to bake simple but appetising family cakes rather than spend a lot of time producing fancy confectionery, which would be expensive to produce and to sell and there would be less demand for the product. I have tremendous admiration for the contestants in Bake Off, but what they produce is not what I wanted to do.

Having spent 3 years learning my trade at various craft fairs, my husband was instrumental in helping to set up a community café in our village hall. Here people could come and enjoy a bacon, sausage or egg bap and a cup of tea or coffee and chat with friends and neighbours and then browse and buy from a selection of produce for sale on a variety of stalls. The Vale Market Café operates for two hours, from 10 am to 12 noon, on the second Saturday of each month. Here I set up my stall selling a variety of cakes. The market cafe became popular and I was able to attract regular customers and to sell £60 – £70 worth of cakes in two hours.

At this time I also had a desire to produce and sell a cookery book containing recipes of simple but enjoyable food. The idea came from one of my goddaughters who told me that what she really wanted was to be able to cook good food that was not difficult to produce and did not contain fancy ingredients that were hard to find and, once used were never used again. I therefore set about writing to all my friends and acquaintances and asking them for simple recipes using ingredients that could be found in most people’s larders. There was an amazing snowball effect, friends would ask their friends for favourite recipes and soon I was deluged with 140 recipes that I then had to sort into categories and format into a singular style using metric weights and measures and cooker settings for both gas and electric ovens. I found a local printer who was able to give me a very reasonable price for producing the books. I was unaware that a book produced with spiral binding was VAT exempt. This type of binding was also useful for cookery books, as it allowed the book to lie flat on the worktop when consulting the recipe while cooking. The book was called Breast Plates and a neighbour, who was a graphic designer, produced a stunning front cover of a lady with a superb cleavage holding a plate containing a chocolate pudding with a cherry mounted on the top. The design attracted a number of men, who picked up the book to flick through, hoping to find similar images inside, only to be disappointed when they found out that all it contained was recipes! I ordered a print run of 1,000 copies, which I sold alongside my cakes. Sales could happen anywhere. I can recall selling two copies to ladies on the top of a mountain on a Himalayan trek. I was also able to ask local shops and pubs if they would sell copies of the book. One of these was a local cheese dairy. One day a customer came in to buy some cheese and remarked that it would be good if a cookery book could be produced containing recipes using cheese. So, having sold all copies of our first book we set about producing our second book, Cheese Plates. Again we commissioned 1,000 copies and sold them through our usual channels.

I was now being asked if I could bake desserts and so I started producing lemon meringue pies and Pavlovas. I was also most fortunate to be given lots of fruit and eggs from friends and neighbours and we therefore decided to produce a cake containing five different types of fruit, which we called Barnstone Bounty and which became a particular favourite within our village. Soon I was receiving orders for desserts that customers could take as their contribution to dinner parties. They would bring me their own plate to put it on so that they could present the dessert as their own effort! As we had now sold all copies of our second book we now decided to produce another book containing dessert recipes, which we entitled Pudding Plates, the last few copies of which are now being sold.

In recent years we have been asked if we can cater for parties and other events. We were fortunate to meet a caller at a Ceilidh in our village who was willing to bring his band along to play at events we would organise. Soon we were organising Ceilidhs to celebrate Burns Night and St. Patrick’s night and my husband, who is keen on singing, was soon involved in joining the Ceilidh Band and performing at other gigs. My husband is also the Chairman of the local branch of the Royal British Legion and I am often asked if I would provide the food for events that they have organised. In addition we organised an Antiques Roadshow event and a Rock n’ Roll evening.

As we reach our 10th anniversary we are able to look back on a fantastic journey, in which we have met many interesting and generous people and, along the way, we have acquired a number of new skills. Initially we had little knowledge about retailing, marketing, publishing, quality control, food hygiene regulations and organising concerts. These skills have been picked up along the way. We have also learned that many organisations are willing to help you if you approach them with a request for help. We have been most fortunate to receive either financial help or gifts of ingredients from a number of shops and other businesses. We have also done lots of things that we would never have had the opportunity to do if we had not embarked on our fundraising. Among these I can recall having been a Calendar Girl, a Catwalk Model and a Firewalker. We have now reached a total of over £50,000, when Gift Aid is included. This is an important consideration as Gift Aid can add 25% to any money that you raise. Would we do this again? Yes, definitely. We have had extremely good support from the NUH Charity Office whenever we needed it  and we hope to continue on this journey for as long as we are able to.