The Great Croydon Bake Off 2013


By - Friday 3rd May, 2013

Self-made event director Christo Matthews takes us on a personal journey from his humble beginnings as a #Croydon twittersphere initiate to the overseer of next weekend’s Great Croydon Bake Off


The Great Croydon Bake Off logo by Catherine Frere-Smith

My relationship with Croydon turned from casual to long-term about two years ago, when I discovered Croydon’s tumultuous micro-climate in the Twittersphere. It’s at this point that I start my story, as it’s the one event which has led me to where I am today – running ambitious community events at the heart of town.

Wide eyed and bushy tailed, I set up my Twitter name and started tweeting about the mundanities of life. Suddenly, a wild hashtagged word  - “#Croydon” – appeared. I clicked and plunged head first down the rabbit hole into a secret world of internet celebrities, dirty politics, and more “headin’ to #Croydon” tweets than I could ever have imagined. Soon my tail had been mercilessly shaved by hail storm arguments, my eyes permanently squinted from constantly kicked-up and settling dust.

After networking my way through the hashtag badlands to the calmer places, and meeting other Croydon folk, I became involved in the Cherry Orchard Arts Festival, directing performance – music, theatre, and dance. About one month after this, having decided to make 2013 a year for self-improvement, a year to kick back and reflect on myself, I decided to direct a four-part live baking competition in the heart of Croydon.

Whilst I haven’t yet succeeded at kicking back, the Great Croydon Bake Off has been a roaring success. How did I get here? Well, let me tell you.

The Great Croydon Bake Off: Origins

I love The Great British Bake Off, I love baking, and I love my friends, so I decided to put together one for just us. My oven is, however, woefully small so it seemed to turn into more of a Come Dine With Me idea. Then I thought, why not put it in the heart of Croydon, open it up to whoever wants to be a part, and see what happens?

Ideas are great. They’re fun to throw around and are usually just a sentence long – “a baking competition in the heart of Croydon” – but the challenge is to take them from an idea to a living, breathing entity, one which an entire community of people can get behind.

Challenges that face a community event

The way I see it, there are two demands with any big idea: money and time. The two go hand in hand. Money allows a quick route to a goal – buying advertising space, ovens, licenses, etc., but is hard to gain and comes with strings attached. Time is the factor which allows for good quality, thought-out decisions but is finite.

I’m lucky to have been included in community projects which saw me gain many contacts and grew my credibility as someone who can put on a great event. I’ve put a lot of time into networking in Croydon too, so that barrier was taken down.

Money

Without question, this event had to be free. The goal was, therefore, to do everything for free in return for sponsorship – having the names of sponsors proudly displayed as an enabler for the Bake Off. To start off assuming that there is and may never be funding was the only way to proceed.

The sponsors made themselves known as the word spread online and in local newspapers. Matthews Yard, Croydon’s best kept secret cafe, offered PA equipment. Rebecca Perfect, a local TV presenter, offered to present the day. Hotminute Magazine proposed promotion of the event, supplying a photographer and more PA equipment. Award winning and successful bakers Tim Fisher and Sean Coughlan agreed to judge. Professional artist Catherine Frere-Smith designed the beautiful logo above. One Of A Kind Cupcake Company provided the master class. Etio video productions filmed a promotional video of the first bake off, seen below.

There was only one thing missing: the ovens.

Coincidentally, Croydon was selected to take on the Portas Pilot scheme. They contacted me to offer their support for the Bake Off and agreed to provide four ovens and a marquee. After contacting all of the Croydon borough home appliance shops for support, the largest part of the financial burden had finally been lifted.

Time

I thought the biggest obstacle would be fitting the organisation for this series of events around my day job and home life. Time is finite and I certainly don’t want to sacrifice myself for an idea. However, upon planning out my days and months, I discovered pockets of time I didn’t know existed. My hour commutes in the morning became my email activity time. Lunchtime became Vlog time. Post-dinner wind down became phone time. I’d spend hours every evening, and entire weekends, busy-bodying around, creating leads, and tying up loose ends. Each confirmation was a triumph; each set back was tough.

I chronicled my progress on YouTube with regular Vlogs.

Community events are ravenous for time. They want it all – and even that’s not enough. Consequently, the Bake Off team, pillars as I consider them, consists of Neil Ridulfa as Marketing and PR, and Dave Heron as Project Manager and Coordinator.

The first Great Croydon Bake Off

I announced The Great Croydon Bake Off on Twitter at midday on 8th November:

The Great #Croydon Winter Bake off – Coming to you in 2013 – Croydon Dinner Club – Meetup ow.ly/f7qyg

— Croydon Eats Out (@CroydonEO) November 8, 2012

Subsequently, a torrent of emails arrived from interested bakers wanting to take part in the event. For the next few months the background work began; selecting a designer for the logo, finding a host, finding sponsors, finding a location, finding the right people to make this happen.

Suddenly the Bake Off was upon me. I liaised between nervous yet enthusiastic bakers, sponsors, and judges. Social media advertising ramped up. The local and national press caught wind and publicised the event. Logistics for the day were planned – setup, take down, crisis management. Fliers were printed to hand out by the team of volunteers – Keri, Ronnie, and Tim. Everything was going perfectly. Then, four days before the event, disaster.

All four ovens, with custom made units built around them, hadn’t come. Portas hadn’t heard anything from the company providing them except for a guarantee the previous week that they’d be ready. There was a very real chance that Croydon would not have its cake and eat it.

Thankfully, I sourced some ovens from Curry’s with Portas funding. On the morning of the Bake Off I went there to pick up three ovens – it was all they had. The Bake Off was back on!

On the warmest day of the year so far the doors opened, the bakers baked, and Croydon flocked. Well, a hearty portion. Some 500 people came to the Bake Off throughout the day. Many heard about it on BBC London Radio that morning, others through local press, plenty through the volunteers’ fliers.

The Bake Off took the form of one savoury bake and one sweet bake. Both were divine, with everyone in attendance having the chance to try a mouthful of each. Adults and children alike decorated their very own cupcakes for free in the masterclass provided by One Of a Kind Cake Company. Our winner, Kimberley, was crowned and given a meal for two at Croydon’s Michelin starred “Alberts Table”. Everything went off without a hitch. Then I realised something I hadn’t planned was happening.

The atmosphere. It was nothing short of beautiful. Here, in the heart of Croydon, there was love, kinship, joy. Complete strangers chatting over a shared interest in baking. People everywhere chatting, getting to know each other. The most heart-warming and unexpected outcome of the day for me, it brings a smile to my face even now, and was commented on by everyone.

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Coming up this year

The Great Croydon Bake Off is a four-part event. We’ve had the first heat in Winter and on May 11th is the Spring heat. It will start at midday, with doors open from 11.30.

This time we’ll have more master classes throughout the day, so there will be plenty of opportunities to dip away from the live baking and try your hand at other baking craft. There will be bunting by the Croydon Bunting Team, and above all there will be many, many more people. We are looking at over 1,000 people throughout the day to check out the bakes and get involved in this free celebration of baking!

Later on in the year – on 13th July and 19th October – we’re looking to expand even further on the foodie ideas, but you will have to stay tuned to our Twitter or Facebook page to get the latest on these very exciting developments!

May 11th. See you there, Croydon Citizens.


Event Details

Date: Saturday, May 11th 2013

Time: 12:00-16:00

Venue: Exchange Square, off Surrey Street, Croydon.

FREE ENTRY

Suitable for all ages.

Website:
www.croydonbakeoff.com

Social Media:
http://facebook.com/CroydonBakeOff

http://twitter.com/CroydonEO

#CroydonBakeOff

Christo Matthews

Christo Matthews

Idea cauldron. Event Director. Social Entrepreneur. Croydonite. I moved to Croydon in July 2010 and have loved every second living in this great mini-city. I'd describe my experience of living in Croydon like eating a chocolate sauce covered ice-cream. The chocolate sauce is hard and brittle, just like the reputation of Croydon, but beneath it is a whole world of rich, sweet goodness. I'm a Director for Croydon's art festival, held in Addiscombe, Cherry Orchard Arts Festival. Director of The Great Croydon Bake Off. Creator of the Croydon Dinner Club. Presenter on Croydon Radio. My aim is to give more people reasons to get into Croydon and rediscover the fantastic, vibrant place we call home.

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