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This blog post was published under the 2015-2024 Conservative Administration

Bake clubs rise to the fund-raising challenge

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Alice Temple
Alice Temple

Baking and cakes are a British tradition - just don’t mention Alfred the Great. As civil servants, many of us need only look around the workplace to see examples of the baked article, often the result of colleagues’ efforts.

So it’s probably not surprising how quickly the Great British Bake Off (GBBO) has become a great British institution. It clearly taps into something in the national psyche, comprising equal parts of creativity, competitive spirit, nostalgia, a dedication to home comforts, and not a little eccentricity. Baking itself is at once communal and inclusive, yet allows ample room for self-expression.

Baking competitions have been a staple of fairs, fetes, shows and the WI for as long as most of us can remember. But GBBO has given baking a new impetus as a way of raising money for good causes - another great British (and Civil Service) tradition.

At the Department for Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) I am involved with one of the ‘self-raising’ bake clubs springing up across the Civil Service, baking for cake sales, the proceeds of which we donate to charity.

Selection of cakes on a table top
Just some of the delights produced for a DWP bake club sale.

I’ve been a civil servant for just under two years and I’m a relative newcomer to our bake club, which has been going for over six. Some club members have been in the Civil Service for decades, others just a few months, but this mix of experiences is a recipe for success.

I took over the club’s administration in March this year. I offered to take a slice out of my predecessor’s stodgy workload and help with organisation. I’m glad to say it worked out. I like having an excuse to bake - other than for my own consumption - and I’ve become the main contact for the club. However - as in any successful bake, when all the ingredients come together - it’s truly a team affair, with all the members contributing their ideas, time and culinary creations to the cause.

Rather than supporting a single charity, we ‘spread’ the ‘dough’ around by giving to a different one after each (usually) monthly sale. So far this financial year we’ve raised around £350 for charities including the Choir With No Name, Kings’ College Hospital Charity, and The Prince’s Trust. Our next sale will be in support of Macmillan’s World’s Biggest Coffee Morning.

Each bake sale tends to follow a theme, to encourage more experimental baking! So, we’ve had Queen's head cakes, cakes inspired by famous artists or works of art, and cakes like miniature Mr Whippy ice-creams. We also share recipes and baking equipment, help each other overcome cake-based challenges (frosting’s my Achilles heel), have club lunches, etc.

Bake club cakes inspired by famous artists
Bake club cakes inspired by famous artists

As well as doing something to help good causes close to our hearts and indulging our love of baking, bake club is a brilliant way of getting to know people, particularly in teams that wouldn’t normally work together. The wider department would definitely agree they benefit from the delights the club produces!

Working as a team and encouraging fellow bakers to get involved in running the club has meant our numbers - and the amount of baked goods produced - have grown, resulting in more proceeds for charities. And the mix of skills available to us (some people not only produce stunning iced creations, but are also a dab hand at graphics; others are not only Victoria sponge specialists but whizzes on Excel) means we have a constant flow of new ideas for the club.

Personally, running bake club has helped me become more assertive (not in a hardbaked way, of course), as it does require a bit of decisiveness to organise a successful cake sale.

Bake Off has certainly created interest in joining bake club. More importantly, it’s shown that anybody can bake. That’s certainly our motto, though we don’t require the level of sophistication you see in the best Bake Off creations.

For anyone considering starting a bake club, I have four top tips:

  1. Be organised - you need to dedicate time and some folder space to the club
  2. Be creative - think up different themes for sales (it’s good to have something in the ‘piping’-line)
  3. Be friendly and approachable - sound out colleagues who might be interested
  4. Promote bake club at every opportunity, through your organisation’s intranet, notice boards, newsletters, etc.

So, if you’re a secret baker keen to show off your skills, or if you simply want to do something that will give pleasure and benefit others, why not start your own club? It’ll be the icing on the...

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  1. Comment by Freckle posted on

    Eating cake is completely against the rules if you work in the Civil Service for Public Health England. We even have regulations about how much salad there should be in each sandwich.

  2. Comment by Marty posted on

    Well I just know that since I stopped snacking, I've lost 12 lbs.

  3. Comment by AJT posted on

    We just held a cake sale in the somerset courts and raised £128 for Mind UK and Dementia UK - which we were all really proud of - staff felt it gave a focus onto something other than work - and I then arranged for a local representative from Mind UK to come along to the courts to collect the cheque and give a brief talk on what his charity does. And also we didn't just bake cakes either - staff made quiches and savoury items too. We are going to take part in the macmillan coffee morning at the end of the month. I don't think any of the staff are suffering from obesity either - just having a nice slice of cake to raise money for charity.

  4. Comment by Clare Bridges Fundraising Manager posted on

    I'm giving a shout out for The Charity for Civil Servants annual Get Yellow fundraising week, being held this year from October 3rd-7th.

    We'd love all you bakers in the civil service to create a bake for us and raise some money in your office. It's a great way to enjoy some team spirit and support your very own charity.

  5. Comment by Gavin Thomas posted on

    From my experience both here at home and during time served overseas, such bake off events are not only a great way for colleague to show off their baking / artistic talents, but also a fantastic "ice breaker" and way in which to meet new people!

    I would interested to learn from Bernie what the H&S issues are? Surely, if a colleague is aware of a particular allergy, they will either try to bake in such a manner that will be acceptable to all or warn colleagues that their baked product might contain x, y and z!

  6. Comment by Graham Laurenson posted on

    Coincidentally, we are in the middle of organizing our own 'Bake Off' over here at Corsham. It'll be our second year of doing it (as the first was such a success !). We managed to raise over £200 last year for our MOD Corsham local charities, and we'll hopefully improve upon that this year..

    It's on the 5th October if anyone from Corsham is reading this ! 🙂

  7. Comment by Elaine Olsen posted on

    Doing wonders for the national obesity crisis too!

  8. Comment by Jo posted on

    Hi, I'm wondering what the difference is between a baking club and a bake sale?

    • Replies to Jo>

      Comment by The Blog Team posted on

      While we're aware of one-off bake sales taking place to raise money for specific causes, bake clubs are a semi-permanent arrangement, with civil servants 'clubbing' together to bake for a regular, ongoing series of such sales benefiting numerous charities.

  9. Comment by Carolyn Worfolk posted on

    We have monthly bake sales at the Natural England office in Exeter, planned to coincide with main office meetings. They are a great way of encouraging different people from different teams to interact. We sometime manage a theme - the Olympics was popular, with 200m "Butterfly" cakes and a swimming pool cake complete with competitors. They have been running for a couple of years - we've raised £968.97 for a suite a of charities already this year. All credit goes to the organiser, my colleague Jan Maclennan (who has left me in charge today while she is on holiday). We are hoping to break through the £1000 barrier today!

    • Replies to Carolyn Worfolk>

      Comment by The Blog Team posted on

      Great work, Carolyn (and Jan). We're sure there are similar initiatives right across the Civil Service with colleagues devoting their time and effort to raising money for charity and giving pleasure all round in the process. It's one of the many ways in which we support good causes.

  10. Comment by Tyler posted on

    The first rule of Bake Club is........

  11. Comment by Bernie posted on

    Although a keen follower of 'Bake Off' myself, I'm surprised that there are no H&S issues with this. Our office used to sell home-made cakes for a local breast cancer charity but we had to stop this and start using only shop-bought ones because of the legal issues (a great disappointment all round, as we have some tremendously talented bakers here). I would be interested to know the position on this.

    I hasten to add that I'm not suggesting yours should be shut down too, but hoping you might have some work-around that might be adopted in our office so that our amateur bakers could get back into action - their cakes were so much nicer!