A group of veterans supported by Phoenix House Recovery Centre teamed up with pupils at a West Yorkshire school for a Bake Off. The competition paired two boys with each beneficiary to bake and decorate a cake, all vying for the coveted title of Champion Baker 2017.
It was the second year that Help for Heroes had been invited to Titus Salt in Bradford to take part in the competition under the watchful eye of 2015 Great British Bake Off contestant Sandy Docherty who works at the school.
When she left the Bake Off tent, Sandy set up a website, Baking Down Barriers, to encourage people to cook and baking regardless of background and personal circumstance.
“I’m all about getting people to have a go,” she said. “When I was asked to work with Help for Heroes, I just saw the opportunity to join the dots. What better opportunity for the kids to meet veterans but also for the veterans to see how much admiration the kids have for them. It seemed the perfect way to ‘bake down’ some barriers.”
Earlier this year, members of the school’s Boys’ Achievement group visited Phoenix House Recovery Centre and saw first-hand what Help for Heroes does to support the wounded.
One of the veterans who weighed, mixed and iced in the kitchen classroom was Glenn Prosho who served 25 years with the Royal Army Medical Corps, going on operations all over the world, including Afghanistan in 2010. There, the experience of trying to treat the most severely wounded in the operating theatres during a period of intense fighting, took its toll and Glenn had a massive mental breakdown.
He is now back working in a medical environment but said he could relate to the boys who took part in Bake Off as he too had not enjoyed school and been disruptive in the classroom.
“They are privileged to have Sandy to inspire and encourage them,” he said. “I talked to them to say that even if they leave school with no qualifications, there are still pathways that they can follow and have a good career as a result – I am a prime example of that.”
For David ‘H’ Hubber, the competition gave him a reason to get out of the house. Injured in 2001 while playing ice hockey for the army in Canada, David put up with an increasingly worsening spinal condition for ten years until he could no longer continue to carry out his regular role within the Royal Logistic Corps.
Wheelchair dependent and on a lot of medication for his pain, David struggles to motivate himself to be active and sociable.
“It’s good to get involved in a community. I don’t bake at home because the kitchen is not adapted for a wheelchair user but I think it would be quite therapeutic, creating something that you can then eat!”
After some serious judging (and tasting) by Sandy and some of her teaching colleagues, the winner was announced as Matt Wightman, a novice chef whose artistic side shone through with his idea of making a fried egg out of fondant for the top of his team’s Easter Egg cake.
“I am glad we managed to ‘rise’ to the occasion,” he said modestly. “It was a fantastic day, the pupils and staff at Titus Salts made us all feel so very welcome and I loved every minute of it!
“I am going to attempt the same recipe again at home now – I feel obliged to as I won a mixing bowl and wooden spoon for my prize so I better make use of it!”
BACKGROUND: The Phoenix House Bake Off competition, now in its fourth year, was originally designed as an activity to teach beneficiaries a skill, increase their confidence at having achieved something and, through media coverage, reach out to other wounded ex- Service personnel who have not yet engaged with Help for Heroes, and encourage members of the public to take part in the Charity’s annual Bake for Heroes fundraiser.
At the same time, the school showed its support for the Bake for Heroes campaign by selling slices of cake and fairy cakes to raise money for the Charity.
Regular donations provide a sustained focus on rebuilding the lives of our wounded Servicemen and women.