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Changes in the loop

The loop project has gone a little quiet recently as we’ve been busy baking lots of bread, moving house and gardening. However the biggest project is loopy baby that is due in August. Hence Leanne has been reducing the amount of work she is doing to concentrate on a much more important project!

There was good news recently in that I (Andy) passed my Msc Architecture: Advanced Environmental and Energy Studies at CAT. I was researching and writing about local food production in Llanidloes. I will post a link to the thesis at some point.

It was hard work last winter writing for a January 31st hand-in. However, once the thesis was submitted I felt so relieved but also drained that I had to stop thinking about “local food production” for a time. However I’m now at the point of feeling inspired about the whole thing again, perhaps it’s the bounty of fantastic local fruit and vegetables we are devouring at the moment. I want to use the knowledge I’ve built up to make a difference to the area in which we live, it would be a real shame not to.

Anyway the focus of the loop project is going to change over the next year; the bakery is doing well and I would also like to focus more on research and perhaps do some consultancy work (if any comes our way) surround the mid-Wales region and local food production. Therefore there will be less emphasis on website design although Leanne will still be graphic designing and if the right sort of website comes along we will still work on it. There will also be a little one to nurture and look after.

I am becoming increasingly aware of the need to reduce our dependence even further on some aspects of the consumer society that surrounds us. We have already reduced the constant bombardment of advertising and marketing by not watching TV adverts and not buying newspapers or glossy magazines. We don’t really need much more than we have and by embracing “voluntary simplicity” we’ve had the happiest few years of our lives.

The next stage of this plan is really to spent more time learning simple skills such as pottery, carpentry, making clothes and basic electronics. This is not to say I expect an imminent societal collapse, it is just that we are (happily) time rich and money poor – we can learn these skills to improve our lives whether or not the consumerist world continues to grow for the rest of our lives. Community building is also very important. Luckily we appear to have stumbled across a fabulously strong community in the town we moved to only 18 months ago, Llanidloes. This can only grow stronger as time progresses and we build even greater bonds of trust with those we live and work near to.

We’re looking forward to the year ahead!

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TLP 29 – Seed Swap – 5th March

The Llanidloes Seeds Swap event will take place on 5th March, 10am – 1pm at the Resource Centre on Great Oak Street. Poster lovingly designed by The Loop Project below…

There will be lots of exciting varieties of seeds available. Please bring along any spare seeds you have to contribute. Click here for more information on Llanidloes Seed Swap.

On the same day at the same venue there will also be the launch event of “Fruit Trees For All” – a new Llanidloes based project ran by The Llanidloes Allotment Action Group and funded by Environment Wales. The project aims to establish a community orchard throughout the town and will be offering fruit and nut trees for sale at £4 each – half normal price.

It’s going to be a great day. Hope to see you there!

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More on Loop Project Presents #1

Thanks everyone who came to the first Loop Project Presents last Sunday evening. There was a good turnout and a thought-provoking discussion after the documentary. We’re looking forward to the next one – more details coming soon.

As we mentioned, we only showed the first part of the documentary on Sunday, to watch the next 3 parts try looking on Google Video. Here is a link to part 2. It’s not difficult to find the rest.

Once you’ve worked through that documentary, why not give another of Adam Curtis’ documentaries a watch? The Power of Nightmares looks at how politicians have used our fears to increase power and control over society. It looks at the development of the American neo-Conservative movement through over the course of the last few decades. “The Trap” looks at the concept of freedom and specifically “”how a simplistic model of human beings as self-seeking, almost robotic, creatures led to today’s idea of freedom.” (Thanks wikipedia)

Both perfect for family viewing over the Christmas period!

Curtis also has a blog on the BBC website which he uses to observe and discuss footage he has found in the archives. It’s a really interesting mix of stuff that he posts up so would recommend subscribing to it. I quite enjoyed this 1970s documentary about the hell’s angels and their mini-break on a canal barge!

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The Century of the Self – Happiness Machines

We thought long and hard about what to do for the opening event for “The Loop Project Presents”. Our main aim with these nights is to bring people together to talk about the way we live and how this effects the world we live in. We wanted to ask questions.  What motivates our behaviour? Why do we value what we value? What are the alternatives, and how do we realise them?

Adam Curtis’ award winning documentary seems to answer these questions more directly and with more persuasive force than anything else I’ve seen. What’s more it comes at it from a surprising angle.

Adam Curtis introduces the first episode,

“This series is about how those in power have used Freud’s theories to try and control the dangerous crowd in an age of mass democracy.”

So, you may ask, how does Freud relate to the environmental problems we face? Through the documentary we come to learn how since the 1920s public relations and politicians have used Freud’s theories to “engineer consent” and how our desires (to consume) have been created.

Curtis cites Paul Mazur, a Wall Street banker working for Lehman Brothers in the 1930s:

“We must shift America from a needs- to a desires-culture. People must be trained to desire, to want new things, even before the old have been entirely consumed. […] Man’s desires must overshadow his needs.”

In order for any real change to be made in the world we need to understand the root cause of our consumeristic values as only through understanding can we bring these values into question and have any chance of changing the way we live.

We invite you to join us to watch the first episode of this brilliant documentary series.

After the film there will be discussion and drinks. Please bring something to share.

“The Century of the Self – Happiness Machines”

Sunday 12th December 7.30pm Dol Llys Hall.

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Loop Project Presents

The Loop Project are planning a series of events which will include talks, debates, workshops and documentary showings. We hope this will develop into a regular feature in Llanidloes’ calendar – a chance to meet people, share knowledge, challenge assumptions and discuss ideas.

We are currently looking for people who would be interested in taking part – either by giving talks, attending events or by getting involved in promotions so we can reach a larger audience.

At this point I suppose I should let you know about what you would be letting yourself in for…

“Sustainability” – Of What?

We started from the perspective of concerned environmentalists, worried about sustainability and despairing at the lack of any convincing action either from businesses, government or individuals. Eventually we realised that environmental catastrophes unfolding are but a symptom of a much larger problem and that current attempts to “solve” environmental “problems” are ultimately flawed as they seek not radical change, but instead to sustain our current individualistic lifestyles of consumerism, materialism, the unending pursuit of growth – the very things that are in the fact root causes of the environmental problems.

A New Morality

The Loop Project hopes to call into question these values and believes that only by doing this can real change be made and the way opened to a new morality that recognises our place in the world, as part of the ecosystem, not rulers of it. To have any real effect the environmental movement needs to give up on it’s mission of “sustainability” (of current lifestyles) and move towards a radically different set of values, that while they may not line the pockets those currently in power, will enrich our lives.

We hope to bring forward new ideas, to challenge assumptions and to give real practical advice on how to live a life more in harmony with each other and the world we are part of.

We know this is not an easy task to take on and don’t expect to change the world overnight, but for change to happen it needs to start somewhere. Albeit in our own small part of the world, we are opening the door and invite you to walk through. Who knows where this may lead?

Loop Project Presents… will take place at Dol Llys Hall. We invite people to come to the events after which there will be open discussion and drinks (bring something to share). Keep an eye on the website or sign up to be kept up to date with the program of events.

If you would like to give a talk or have suggestions of films to show please contact us, we would love to hear from you.

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Bread on sale!

We’re happy and excited to report that our bread is now on sale on a Friday in Llanidloes. Find out more. We’re selling scottish morning rolls, a yeasted 4-seeded loaf, ciabattas and rye seeded sourdoughs!

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Loop goes to Loaf (Part 2)

Apologies for the delay in bringing the second part of this article to you but there was the small matter of a wedding and honeymoon to deal with. Now we are back in Llanidloes with our heads buzzing with ideas and lots of potentially exciting things happening. Anyway back to the post!

You may remember from part one we had taken a break for a fabulous home-laid egg and home-made ciabatta lunch. We didn’t stop for long though as burnt bread doesn’t taste good or sell very well either. So we took the final load of rye bread out of the oven and then took some time to reduce the washing-up mountain that had formed.


It was now time to bake using the outside oven. Although specifically designed for making pizzas in, it can also handle a few loaves although any remaining fire needs to be completely scraped out beforehand. It’s also crazily hot, so a good idea to quickly bake some roll or batches first to make use of that heat.


From proving basket to oven you have to be really quick. With a flick of the wrist, Tom turned the banneton over to expose the jelly-like dough to the peel; and with a quick slash of the knife the dough was thrust into the oven.


We put three loaves in and kept an eye on them however they still cooked a little too quickly; it’s really hard to monitor the internal temperature of the oven so it take a bit of guesswork to find out when they are done. However we ended up with some very good looking loaves and presumably some very happy customers who collected them later the same day.


And that was the marathon baking session over. I headed back to Llanidloes on the train with my head full of ideas about how this could be replicated across the border in Wales.

I’m at a slight disadvantage in that our kitchen is a lot smaller than Tom’s but I’m sure there is a way around it all. My kitchen has just been passed by environmental health so I can now start making bread. I already have a few potential customers and the locally run community shop in Llani will take loaves off me. Watch this space for more info in the next few weeks (with no wedding to distract me either!)

Time will tell if the community bakery idea takes off but there is a growing national movement as shown by the Realbread campaign. Demand “Real bread” at every place you shop and let’s make this thing a success. No longer should the British public have to put up with tasteless, expensive supermarket bread. And as Andrew Whitley says “Le pain se lève”.

Finally, thanks to Tom at Loaf for giving me such a great insight into the life of a community supported baker! It certainly gave me lots of ideas. Loaf also run a cookery school with great bread, pasta and wild food courses. Check them out if you are in the Birmingham area.

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Loop in the Idler

We are delighted to announce that our article “A WWOOFer’s diary” has been published in the latest edition of the Idler #43 which is jam-packed with a range of articles focussed around the theme “Back to the Land”.

In the article we talk about our experiences with WWOOFing (Working on organic farms) over the last couple of years which culminated in us moving to Llanidloes where we now live in a housing co-operative.

The book is available from all good bookshops or the Idler bookshop and more information can be found on the Idler website.

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Llani Seed Exchange is go!

Today is the launch of the Llanidloes Seed Exchange. We want people to swap their extra seeds and stop giving the seed companies so much money! Take a look at our Seed Exchange page for more information. Or just pop into the Resource Centre in Llanidloes and get swapping!

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Loop goes to Loaf (Part 1)

A couple of weeks ago I (Andy) took the train over to Bourneville in South Birmingham to visit the social enterprise LOAF. As well as running cookery courses, running a local food directory and blogging about real food in Birmingham, they also run a community-supported bakery.


Every Friday LOAF director Tom bakes loaves in his kitchen for 15 subscribers. These folk invest a certain amount each month and get a loaf baked for them which they collect in the afternoon. This benefits the small baker as they get a guaranteed income to buy the ingredients for the month and the investor gets a fabulous loaf each week. Tom bakes sourdough with a choice between a white or a rye loaf as well the appearance of an occasional guest bread .

I arrived on the Thursday afternoon for the start of my mini baking apprenticeship. I have been baking bread myself for the last year or so (before that it was with the aid of a bread machine) and feel like I have made progress from the first heavy loaves that came out of the oven as I have become more proficient with the bread making process. There is a real art to each stage; from choosing the best flour, measuring quantities, kneading, proving and baking. Things can go wrong (and have done) at every stage of the process and I’m only making a couple of loaves. Mistakes only make you stronger though and you don’t make the same mistake in a hurry.

So coming to LOAF would give me a chance to see a slightly larger operation at work, being run from home with conventional kitchen equipment, with a view to possibly replicated the scheme in Llanidloes.

The evening was spent talking about bread (I think myself and Tom will readily admit to our bread-geekery), looking through bread books and chatting about the state of bread in the UK (generally bad but with a smattering of incredible stuff happening) and how it could be improved (first steps are taking a look at what the Real Bread Campaign is up to).

Pizza Oven

We also took a look at the wood-fired oven he has built in his back garden whilst Tom chopped a bit of wood in preparation for Friday morning. Finally we made a list for the plan of events the next morning. It seemed like military precision was going to be needed to bake 40 loaves.


Tom keeps his rye and wheat sourdoughs in the fridge all week and takes them out on a Wednesday to allow them to get to room temperature and allow them to bulk them up in time for making the dough on late Thursday. Having calculated how many of each type of bread he is going to bake, he works out how much starter he is going to need using a spreadsheet with all the baker’s percentages programmed in. A nice way of keeping track of everything. So late on we were able to bulk up the last of the rye sourdough ready for the next day and also just before we went to bed, we mixed the wheat dough, kneaded it and placed it into large boxes to prove overnight.


I’m not used to being up that late or having to get up at 5.30am either. So by midnight I was asleep, dreaming of light fluffy ciabattas and fields of wheat blowing gently in the breeze.

Before I knew it the alarm went off and it was time to get up to bake lots of bread! It was a dark drizzly morning outside but we got the fire going, had a cuppa, folded the sourdough into thirds, made a ciabatta dough (for lunch) and mixed the borodinksy rye mix up. All before 6.30am…


Over the next couple of hours we gave the Ciabatta dough a couple of folds in thirds to stretch out the gluten and make it more airy before moving onto the rye mix. I’ve made a couple of ryes before but here we were making it in batches of 4kg! The spreadsheet was used to get the correct consistency. As Rye is a wet dough there isn’t any kneading involved but this means it is a tricky thing to handle. You have to get everything wet and shape it into a loaf. Bit like handling a wet fish I expect.


By 9am we had done 3 batches of rye and shaped the Ciabatta. When you are doing this much bread in a small space you really need to be organised, there is a lot going on at once. The check-list was very very important. And it worked really well. We even had time to have a few cups of tea and some bread and butter (of course!)

The oven was warmed (with a big chunk of marble inside to keep the radiant temperature warm) and we started loading it with rye loaves, 6 at a time, not something my oven at home could handle. Whilst doing this we were busy shaping the wheat sourdoughs and placing them into bannetons. Doing each 4kg batch with 30 minute breads meant that we could stagger the proving and put them into the ovens at this time difference later on. The ciabatta also came out the oven looking lovely and light.



The smell of all this freshly baked bread was too much by 11.30am, hunger had struck hard. So we had an early lunch with the still slightly warm Ciabattas and fried eggs from Tom’s chickens outside. Simply devine.


I’ll write more in part 2 about the afternoon bake in the outside oven and more about how community bakeries work later in the week.