How cakes can support charity, community and collaboration

Earlier this year we began to hold monthly bake sales to raise money for charity and to provide a new social space to engage with colleagues. Siân Harris explains.


The pandemic restrictions over the past couple of years have taken their toll on the informal chatting and networking that happens in research units like ours. Opportunities to share ideas or just get to know each other and catch up on how we spent our weekends became more difficult. And new staff and PhD students could go months without meeting many of their new colleagues face-to-face.

And it’s not just research and social interactions that the pandemic affected; it has also hit charities hard, curtailing many of their usual vital fundraising activities.

It was against this backdrop that IEU researcher Alba Fernandez-Sanles introduced a great initiative from the Barcelona Biomedical Research Park (PRBB), where she used to work. The idea, dreamt up more than nine years ago by two members of the Centre for Genomic Regulation (CRG) at the research park, was to hold regular bake sales to raise money for charity – and, so far, that initiative has raised tens of thousands of euros and led to a lot of tasty baked goods being consumed. They called their initiative Incubakers and you can read more about it here.

We wanted to do the same in IEU – to create a monthly space where people could get together, chat, enjoy good food and drink, and raise some money for charity. IEUbakers was born!

We held our first bake sale in April. The model is simple. Different people each month take it in turns to act as coordinator and select a charity. Then various people in the team of volunteers make cakes or savoury snacks, pick up other supplies like milk and coffee, set up, clear up or sell the baked goods. We hold our sales in the staff room of our building, and everyone is invited to turn up to buy drinks and cakes and stay for a chat.

In those few months since we started we have raised over £900 for charities, including Refugees Support Europe, Restless Development, Against Malaria Foundation, The Cara Girl’s Rescue Centre (a local centre in Kenya), and Avon Wildlife Trust.

Researchers supporting researchers

Last month it was my turn to be IEUbakers coordinator and I chose the AuthorAID project for my charity. This is a project that I used to work with before joining IEU and it seemed fitting as is closely aligned with the day-to-day experiences of researchers.

IEU staff with cakes.

Many early-career researchers in low- and middle-income countries face particular challenges in getting started with their research careers and publishing their research. This is due to many factors, including lack of experienced mentors, training and support; lack of funding for resources like journals subscriptions, software, and the latest equipment; language barriers; and biases in the journal review processes. Some face particular disadvantages in some contexts, for example female researchers, those with disabilities or in minority groups, and those who are refugees. And the barriers to communicating their research do not just affect the researchers’ careers; they also mean that important research is not being shared. This in turn, fuels inequality in what research receives global attention, under-representing, for example, the health, agricultural and climate challenges that predominantly affect the world’s poorest people.

AuthorAID works to support such researchers with an online mentoring and collaboration platform (if you are interested in becoming a mentor, you can find out more here) and regular massive open online courses in research writing and other research skills. To date, over 30,000 early-career researchers have taken part in one of these online courses. And I know from first-hand conversations with researchers in Africa and south Asia what a difference such support has made to researchers getting their first papers published and being able to engage in wider research conversations. So, thank you to all who came and bought cakes at our October sale.

I’m also excited about this month’s sale (Wednesday 16th November, 12.30-1.30), which will be raising money for  Bristol Avon Rivers Trust  and will be the Oakfield House part of the Bristol Medical School Climate Action Roadshow (timed to coincide with the COP27 summit). Do come and join us!

Beyond fundraising

When I signed up to be part of IEUbakers, I predominantly did it because I like making cakes and was inspired by the idea of raising money for charity. What I appreciated less at the time of volunteering was the social side of it. Being part of the IEUbakers team has been a great way to get to know colleagues better, which is wonderful for someone like me who was interviewed for my job via Teams and joined IEU while COVID restrictions were still very much in place. If you’ve not got involved yet and would like to, you’d be very welcome – and there are plenty of roles that don’t involve baking.

It was a particular delight at the last sale to spend two hours in the staff room just chatting with people. Not only was it a chance to get to know colleagues better as people but it was also a chance to get to know their research and discuss ways we can work together.

It remains to be seen whether IEU needs to start a new research project particularly looking at the public health implications of lunches based entirely on cake though!

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