Small Sitting Rooms

Zainab Bilal, who runs Pie Mexannae, makes pies in her kitchen in Blackburn.Zainab Bilal, who runs Pie Mexannae, makes pies in her kitchen in Blackburn. Photograph: Jon Super for the Guardian

Area is experiencing a makers’ renaissance as small-scale producers set up shop in their lounges and kitchens

In a small galley kitchen in a terraced house in Blackburn this week, a crack operation was under way. With the first ever National Festival of Making opening in the town on Saturday, Zainab Bilal had several hundred pies to cook – in between her day job as a teacher and taking care of her five children.

The 38-year-old is at the forefront of a domestic manufacturing revolution: 200 years on from a time when most people of Pennine Lancashire used their homes at the peak of the cottage industry boom, the area is seeing a renaissance as small-scale producers set up shop in their living rooms and kitchens, selling online via Facebook and Instagram to consumers tired of globalised mass production, who increasingly want to buy local.

“These days it’s almost a status thing to say: ‘Look what I bought, I had a conversation with the maker, I know where all the materials are sourced from, ’” said Elena Gifford, director of the National Festival of Making, who has commissioned a film celebrating Bilal and her company, Pie Mezzanae, as well as other small-scale producers.

Bilal’s eclectic menu visits most corners of the globe – lamb tikka pies, shepherd’s pies, burger pies, samosa pies, chicken taco pies finished with tortilla chip shavings – all handmade to her own secret recipe.

In March, four of her spicy creations won silver medals at the British pie awards in Melton Mowbray, with Bilal believing she is the first halal baker to triumph at the contest. It is a particularly remarkable achievement given she is generally unable to taste her rivals’ efforts for religious dietary reasons.

The Front Room Factories film, which premieres at the festival on Saturday, follows Bilal as she dreams of taking her “fusion pies” beyond the streets of Blackburn. Also featured is Rizwana Matadar, a young Muslim designer from Bolton selling modest but fashionable clothes to the UK and the Middle East under her Cover Me brand; business analyst Ami Gleeson who spends her evenings making children’s clothes in her Preston living room under the label Ida and Rudy (named after her own two small children); and a man who makes modernist tealight holders in his Pennine conservatory. All will be selling their wares at Blackburn’s St George’s Hall this weekend.


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