Young Innovators Success Stories: Rachel Parker, The Frangipane Bakery, Scotland
The gluten-free baker championing greater autism acceptance
The idea for The Frangipane Bakery, a social enterprise that sells gluten-free baked goods, was born out of Rachel Parker’s own experiences.
Rachel is unable to eat gluten, and found that eating out was “boring and often unsafe” due to the risk of cross-contamination. When she visited cafes, gluten-free options were usually dry and prepackaged.
There was a clear gap in the market for a gluten-free bakery, but she wasn’t sure how to turn her idea into a reality.
“Being autistic, I’ve faced many challenges in education and employment. The employment statistics for disabled people are appalling – there’s a 60 percentage point difference in employment rates between autistic people and neurotypical people. So I knew I wanted my idea to be a social enterprise,” she says.
Winning the Young Innovators Award has given Rachel the confidence to move forward with her business ambitions, share her story and hopefully inspire others.
“I’m now a member of the Scottish Borders Autism Strategy group and South of Scotland’s Additional Support Needs Learning Network,” Rachel says.
“I am also working with Tara Bolland, my Innovation Champion at South of Scotland Enterprise, and Zsofia Utry from Autism Understanding Scotland. We’re developing an improved enterprise support offering for autistic and neurodivergent people in the south of Scotland, based on the difficulties I’ve experienced in accessing certain types of support.”
Rachel explains that being part of the Young Innovators programme provided validation for The Frangipane Bakery. It also allowed her to progress on the advocacy and social change aspect of the business.
“In January, the PR launch raised my profile and shared my story and lived experience. This was huge, because my autism diagnosis was published for the first time. Before then, my diagnosis had never been shared publicly, not even on my personal social media pages.
“This was a key step for the social impact side of the business. It shows credibility; that this is being undertaken by someone with lived experience of the challenges that aim to be addressed.”
Since joining the programme, Rachel has recruited two additional directors, secured business premises and built a comprehensive support network – all while completing her Honours degree at university.
“Balancing the demands of university studies with setting up the business has been overwhelming at times. Finishing my degree was a huge personal achievement but it has also freed up more time and headspace to really focus on driving the business forwards,” she says.
Driving meaningful change
Rachel singles out her business coach as a highlight of the last 12 months, providing depth of knowledge and a drive for meaningful change.
“My business coach and innovation champion, Tara, has been absolutely amazing! Working with her has been very empowering. She’s always there to ask the right questions to help me work out my own answers, rather than trying to take over and do things for me. It means I’ve built more confidence in my own abilities,” Rachel explains.
“With her support, my full ambitions feel more realistic and achievable. They no longer need to be limited to seem possible.”
Rachel encourages future Award winners to utilise all the allocated hours of mentoring. Even if you think there’s nothing important to discuss, she says, there will always be something that comes up once you start chatting.
“The innovation champions are not just an encyclopaedia to provide facts – Google can do that! They’re a very useful part of the process for discussing ideas and plans, and working out ways to move through challenges. They have all sorts of connections and networking can go both ways.”
The goal is in sight
Rachel’s ambitions for the next year include fitting out the commercial kitchen, launching the bakery production and recruiting two support workers. She also wants to become an accredited living wage and disability confident employer.
While there’s still a lot of work to do, the prospect of achieving her business vision no longer seems insurmountable.
“It now feels like I’m trying to climb Mount Everest (a long hard challenge that I’ll get through step by step – business isn’t easy) instead of a vertical cliff face (an impossibility). My drive has never altered, but the goal is now in sight.”
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Read the other Young Innovators’ success stories here.