The baker women are ‘proofing’ to be real tough business cookies

Students on South Eastern Regional College’s (SERC) catering and hospitality courses have been flexing not only their excellent baking and patisserie skills but also their entrepreneurial prowess by creating their own businesses.

By Claire Cartmill
Thursday, 20th May 2021, 12:47 pm

The College, which actively encourages each and every student to develop entrepreneurial skills through a programme of project-based learning, has supported the development of over 55 enterprises ranging from theatre production to software development, recycled gift ware to photography services, fine art and ceramics to day centre for older people. Speciality bakes, patisserie and confectionery students Keely Sherry, Paula Kirby, Niamh Quinn, Benita Brown and former student Katie Graham are just some of the students who have set up their own enterprises to satisfy the niche market for occasion bakes and cakes.

Paul Mercer, Deputy Head of School of Hospitality and Catering said: “Our students are preparing for careers in the hospitality and tourism sector. They come to us to develop their skills and experience and gain qualifications which will put them at the top, whether they are progressing to further studies or into careers with the best restaurants and venues or to set up on their own. Even before they walk out the door, these students are business savvy about their products, the competition and how to market themselves. They have been busy in lockdown creating opportunities for themselves and meeting market with their skills, creativity and professionalism.”

Niamh Quinn - Cake and Bake

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Niamh is a Level 2 Professional Bakery student at SERC Her business “Cake and Bake” is an artisan producer based in Belfast. They produce a range of baked goods which include cakes, cupcakes, breads, and sweet treats. Everything created is handmade and personally suited to the clienteles needs.

Niamh explained: “My favourite part is the creative aspect of the business. I get to design and produce works of art for my clientele to enjoy with their friends and family. There have been challenges in terms of balancing the business and customer care, whilst still working and studying at SERC. Meeting the challenges head on has been the driving force which has kept the business going strong and it pushed me to continue to develop my skills in all my work.

“SERC has definitely been a great help with starting my business as it has given me the confidence and knowledge to get going. I am surrounded by an amazing support system within the College, who have assisted in developing my skills and knowledge when it comes to every aspects of my business. After completing my Level 2 Professional Bakery course in SERC, I will go on to complete my Level 3 Professional Cookery Patisserie and Confectionery course to fully qualify me as an advanced patisserie specialist.”

Katie Graham - Katies Baked Delights

Keely Sherry of SoBake

Another business in the process of being set up is “Katie’s Baked Delights”. Katie, from Dromore, is a former student of SERC who successfully completed the Level 2 Diploma in Professional Bakery before progressing to the Level 3 NVQ Diploma in Professional Cookery Patisserie and Confectionery. While at SERC, Katie won Bronze at the UK WorldSkills, beating off competition from across the UK, for her Confectionery knowledge and skills.

Katie’s business will specialise in buttercream celebration/birthday cakes and cupcakes. She continued: “I was inspired from a very young age to bake from both my nannies. At weekends I would have been in the kitchen learning how to bake chocolate cakes, apple tarts and cupcakes. If I was ever baking on my own and anything went wrong my nanny Eileen was always there to save the day!”

Speaking about her experience at SERC and how her lecturer, Ruth Doherty, helped her confidence she said: “My teacher Ruth always pushed me, to extend my abilities and boost my confidence. Ruth suggested I enter the WorldSkills UK competition - something I would never have dreamt of doing on my own – and mentored me through the whole competition. She has helped me out a lot in the past few years, even after I finished my courses, she’s always there on the other end of the phone for advice. It’s like you are still part of the SERC community, the door is always open. At SERC I also had the opportunity to complete a 2-week work placement in Valencia through the Erasmus programme. It was a fantastic experience for which I am ever thankful as I learnt so many different skills which I still use today.”

Keely Sherry - SoBake

Paula Kirby of Paula’s Treats Lisburn

Keely, from Lisburn, is currently following the Foundation Degree in Hospitality Management at the College, progressing on from the Level 2 and 3 Patisserie and Confectionery and the Level 3 Hospitality and Catering. Her business specialises in occasion cakes for weddings, birthdays and baby showers. Her business was just getting off the ground shortly before Covid-19 restrictions hit. Keely said: “Covid was a challenge, it impacted sales and lead to cancelations of orders, although I stayed positive that things would improve, and people would continue to order. Eventually, to my relief, I found that the situation created a shift. People, who might not have ordered previously, wanted to make an extra effort with their occasion cakes and cupcakes. Because they couldn’t celebrate with a meal or a party, they wanted to make the occasion as special as they could, creating memories and going all out in other ways and that included a really special cake.

“SERC has supported me greatly in establishing my business, not only with helping to develop the skills I need for creating the products, but my current course, the Foundation Degree in Hospitality Management, has helped equip me with business management skills including finance and marketing. The Enterprise team at SERC have also been great in providing me with support and advice and helping me keep abreast of regulations applicable to my business. For me the best part of running the business is being able to play a part and have a positive impact on someone’s big day.”

Paula Kirby - Paula’s Treats Lisburn

Paula, from Lisburn, has studied a range of courses at SERC including NVQ Level 3 in Confectionery and Patisserie. Paula’s business specialises in artisan food, desserts, cakes, snacks and treat boxes in the Lisburn area.

Paula outlined: “I wanted to start my business because I love baking and take great pride in the work that I produce. I recently created a chocolate showpiece for a client and I’m very proud of the final results – I get tremendous satisfaction from my work and when my customers are happy, I’m happy. I think the best part of it all is working for myself, making the decisions and planning my work. Right now there are a lot of competitors in the market, but I think SERC has equipped me the relevant, skills, experience and qualification to give me the edge over those competitors.”

Benita Brown - Hands Bakery

Benita, from Poyntzpass, studies Level 2 Professional Bakery at SERC. She said: “I have always wanted to start my own business for as long as I can remember, so I took the leap of faith at the end of 2020 and Hands Bakery was established. My lecturers at SERC have been very supportive alongside the Entrepreneurs Club - part of the Enterprise Team at SERC – giving me the help, support and advice that I have needed to get off on the right foot.

“For me, one of the most enjoyable parts of the job is the creative side of the business where I am designing and making all the products. A highlight for me was my Mother’s Day collection, I sold 100 boxes of cakes in four hours!

“I specialise in birthday cakes and have had good success with releasing menus for occasions like Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day. I’ve also had products stocked in a local spar for Mother’s Day, so I am considering going in a retail direction too.

“I would say to anyone thinking of starting their own business to give it a go! It’s scary at first but you might just be surprised at how well it goes if you stick at it. There is no doubt it is hard work but the buzz you get from having your own business is surely the icing on the cake!”

Visit to find out how you could be #BetterOffAtSERC #OnlineAndOpenForBusiness.

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