TV star gives Newcastle bakery the lead role in a new photography project

TV star gives Newcastle bakery the lead role in a new photography project

Putting us in the picture - actor, and award-winning photgrapher, Bill Ward turns the focus on Big River Bakery in Shieldfield to help raise awareness about its work.

A former soap star is using his skills on the other side of the camera to help support a social enterprise in Newcastle.

Actor Bill Ward, a familiar face from Coronation Street and Emmerdale who is in the new Channel 4 crime series Before We Die, was in Shieldfield this week where he was keen to make Big River Bakery the focus of attention.

While best known for his work in front of the lens, Ward, who's from the North East, also happens to be an award-winning photographer and he's been taking a series of images in the city to promote the bakery and what it stands for.

It is part of the social enterprise and for more than eight years has been using baking to bring together diverse communities and help open up a path into training, education and jobs.

The bakery, which moved into its Shieldfield premises in 2019, makes money by selling its bread and other products, including pies and cakes, and during the pandemic even managed to raise enough money through a crowdfunding campaign to buy a new oven to increase production.

With the aim of fighting food poverty, it also makes healthy food available at low cost to those who need a bit of help.

Teaming up with Teesside University, is has also opened a second bakery in Middlesbrough, offer training and support to the local BAME - black, asian and minority ethnic - community. It works with refugees and students too.

The work of the social enterprise has attracted celebrity interest already, from Si King - one half of The Hairy Bikers - who praised its ethos as well as the quality of its "proper bread" including the stottie.

Now its profile is set to receive a major boost thanks Bill Ward, who - well known for playing Charlie Stubbs in Coronation Street and James Barton in Emmerdale - more recently appeared in Ricky Gervais' After Life before taking a role in current new Channel 4 series Before We Die, as Sean Hardacre, boyfriend of a fellow detective played by Lesley Sharp.

When in the area he has been fitting his new photography project between filming and is taking images around the River Tyne for the bakery.

The idea is to have his work on display in the bakery later this year, capturing a sense of its story.

Gail Lawler, a director at Big River Bakery, called the actor "a lovely guy" saying "he's doing all of this for free."

She first got to know the actor some years ago when they were involved in a poetry project with Tyne and Wear Metro and the photography idea took shape as she was chatting to him about how to raise the profile of the bakery which, despite the challenges of the pandemic, she says has kept ticking over by being both resilient and flexible.

The nearby Tyne referenced in the bakery's name symbolises much of what the enterprise stands for.

"I think the river means so many things," says Gail and - flowing through our lives - its association with making journeys and connecting people is being picked up by Bill in his photographs.

"He just gets what we are doing and supports it," adds Gail. "And he's just a big supporter of the North East."

The actor, who has also appeared on stage in the region in plays and musicals, already has taken about 25 colour images and the plan is the exhibit them at the Shieldfield bakery - with others perhaps featuring at the Middlesbrough branch - and another idea of Gail's is to use them to create a calendar whose profits could be shared by the bakery and a charity close to Bill's heart.

His photographs - yet to be revealed - include atmospheric scenes shot in early morning light, capturing a sense of hope and renewal, and scenes of moody Northumberland skies reflecting, says Gail, both sides of life: the ups and downs of the journey many of those at the enterprise have experienced.

They avoid the usual images of the Tyne with its view of its bridges - "he's steered clear from the cliched ones which have been done to death; he's really thought about it," says Gail - and instead Bill is producing pictures set to catch the attention.

And by do so, they will help to raise awareness about the bakery which reopened from lockdown with a focus on initiatives such as One Loaf at a Time, which is an 'employability' course combining hands-on baking and aimed at helping people in the most deprived areas of Newcastle.

Big River Bakery is all-inclusive and offers opportunities to those furthest from the jobs market, including ex-offenders and people with autism, and at present it is also looking to take on new trainees as front-of-house staff and baking assistants through the Government's Kickstart scheme.

While its days of business have been limited to Wednesday to Sunday since emerging from lockdown, it is planning to open five days a week from July.

For more about its work see here. The bakery is also keen to hear from anyone interested in offering it corporate sponsorship and those interested can email Gail at

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By Barbara Hodgson
Life Writer
6 JUNE 2021