Shared kitchens a recipe for success in rural communities
Situated in the food heartland of Northern Ireland, Banbridge’s rural location and rich agricultural traditions make it the perfect home for artisan produce, household food brands - and an Erasmus+ project helping to develop food entrepreneurs.
Banbridge District Enterprises is looking to revitalise rural communities like theirs by boosting business growth through the development of shared kitchen spaces as part of their project, ‘Food incubators transforming regions’ (FITR).
Manager Ciaran Cunningham explained the idea: “Our FITR Erasmus+ project was the first of its kind in Europe and sought to provide learning tools and structures for regions to stimulate food entrepreneurship in their own area by developing a food incubator.
“A food incubator can be something as simple as a shared kitchen up to a dedicated food enterprise centre. It all depends what is best for a particular area economically.”
Inspired by locals
The inspiration for this project came from the the needs of local people.
“This area is largely agricultural; we have a lot of emerging food producers, but there’s only so far a small producer can go in terms of developing their business when they’re working from home,” Ciaran said.
"At some stage, they need to formalise the process and go into a facility where their whole process is scalable so that they can develop a more commercial product.
"To have a food incubator that is specifically designed for food production would be amazing for an area like ours."
Banbridge District Enterprises works with emerging and expanding entrepreneurs who would benefit from shared facilities on a daily basis.
“We deliver the Northern Ireland Business Start Up Programme, so we see a lot of people, often classed as ‘economically inactive’ that have an excellent food business idea.
“They may come in with a well-researched idea but the need to invest in expensive production facilities means that they are unable to fulfil their potential.
"A shared facility would allow them to professionalise their work and develop their business, without having the concerns of leasing a property or the huge expense of buying professional catering equipment.”
Together with partners based in the Republic of Ireland, The Netherlands and Slovakia, Banbridge District Enterprises established, through research, that the lack of access to food grade facilities is a serious barrier to the establishment and growth of artisan food producers.
The partners also found that there is an abundance of underutilised properties that have the potential to become food incubators, but whose owners may lack the skills and strategies to develop them.
The FITR project created a toolkit on developing regional partnerships and a training course to help local authorities, policy makers and growing entrepreneurs facilitate the creation of more small food businesses.
As an organisation, we have benefitted greatly from this project and are happy that food incubators are now emerging across Europe.
The partnership brought together a varied range of experts including higher education institutions (HEIs) and vocational education and training (VET) organisations, economic development agencies, agri-food industry champions and an eLearning specialist.
"The greatest thing about Erasmus+, from our point of view, is the partnerships that we were able to develop," said Ciaran.
“Erasmus+ funding has been crucial to us. The programme allows you to develop those relationships and create great and lasting partnerships.
"We were able to share best practice, learning from the Slovak University of Agriculture, business incubation specialists BDF from the Netherlands and Irish food incubation specialist Momentum.”
Other organisations are already reaping the benefits of the research and outputs created by the FITR partnership.
“At our first multiplier event in Northern Ireland, our FITR partner Roscommon LEADER Partnership brought their partnership members and Local Authority.
"After hearing about the potential of food incubators at our event, the Local Authority awarded one of the community organisations €100,000 to develop a food incubation training kitchen.
“Following the development of the training kitchen, they now have plans to develop a food incubator of their own, where those who trained at the training kitchen are able to create their own products.
“I also discussed our project with the manager of the local rural development programme and they identified food incubation as an area of interest. They have now submitted a cooperation project application for the development of merged facilities with the partner we introduced them to in the Republic of Ireland.
"As an organisation, we have benefitted greatly from this project and are happy that food incubators are now emerging across Europe."
Want to share your story with us? Enter a submission of interest now!