Village Bakery Sponsor student Jo Flower from the Harper Adams college. Pictured (Centre) Jo Flower with (L/R) Amy Wickham, Robin Jones Managing Director, Jasmin Robinson and Florence Roberts. Picture; Mandy Jones

A leading bakery has launched a £3,000-a-year scholarship programme to help raise standards in the food industry.

The first recipient of the Jones Village Bakery’s bursary is Jo Flower, 21, a food technology and product development student at Harper Adams University in Newport in Shropshire.

Part of the prize will be spending the next year on placement with the multi-award winning Wrexham-based company.

By the time she starts, the family firm’s new state-of-the-art super bakery will be up and running.

At 140,000 sq ft, it’s four times the size of the bakery it’s replacing and will also be the home of the company’s Baking Academy and Innovation Centre.

The opening will herald a major expansion which will see the creation of 115 new jobs over the next three years.

Jo, who comes from Tenbury Wells, in Worcestershire, describes herself as a dedicated foodie and says that winning the Jones Village Bakery Scholarship is a dream come true.

She said: “I’m technically from a farming background because I grew up on a smallholding, but farming had nothing to do with my interest in food.

“The main reason is that my family on my mum’s side owned an Italian restaurant in London and they were real foodies – so food was always something I was going to do.

“I’m in my second year at Harper Adams and loving it to bits – and we’ve physically been back in the last few weeks which makes such a difference.

“I’m very excited about coming on placement to the Jones Village Bakery. I’ve just been on a guided tour of the new bakery and it’s 140,000 sq ft of baking heaven.

“This is a massive opportunity for me. It also makes me feel very proud to be the first ever recipient of the Jones Village Bakery Scholarship.”

The scholarship scheme was masterminded by new product development technologist Amy Wickham who is herself a former Harper Adams student.

She came on placement to the Jones Village Bakery in 2015 and impressed the bosses so much they gave her a job.

Amy said: “We’ve had placement students every year since, including Jasmin Robinson, who was on placement the following year and has now come back as a graduate as well.

“I have remained close with the University and setting up the annual scholarship was the natural progression to build on what was already a very strong relationship.

“I’d applied for scholarships internally when I was at Harper Adams. They were all to do with dairy, meat and poultry but there was nothing for food development outside those areas, so I felt there was a gap that needed filling.

“I contacted Harper Adams to suggest the idea and they were absolutely over the moon.

“The hope is that it’ll be that extra incentive to get the best people to come and work for us here at the Jones Village Bakery.

“This is a really exciting opportunity for Jo because we are so busy.  We’re such a strong brand in the area, so it’ll be great for her to see how we develop the products ourselves, maintaining and improving quality.”

Jones Village Bakery managing director Robin Jones said: “We have enjoyed a long and successful partnership with Harper Adams University, and we decided it was time to invest in that relationship.

“I am very grateful to Amy for all the hard work she has put in to make this happen and I am sure the University is grateful to her too.

“The aim is to attract the cream of the crop at Harper Adams to the Jones Village Bakery and more widely to raise standards in the food industry.

“We’re delighted to welcome Jo to the Jones Village Bakery. She’s clearly a very keen foodie and she has a great personality. We’re looking forward to working with Jo and developing her career.”

Speaking about the new scholarship, the Harper Adams University Vice-Chancellor, Dr David Llewellyn, said: “We are delighted that Jones Village Bakery is supporting our students in this way, demonstrating not only the range of career opportunities in the food industry, but also the demand for high quality graduates to contribute to the success of this fast-growing business.

“We are pleased to have such a strong relationship with the company, and we wish Jo all the very best on her placement year.”