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GP’s business bakes up special help for people in chronic pain

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A class at the School of Breads

The long drive home after a French skiing holiday was the inspiration for GP Rachael Watson to change her life – and set up a school teaching people to bake bread.

Having worked as a GP in surgeries since 2001, including practices in Abergavenny, Eywas Harold, and Blaenavon, and now in Ebbw Vale, Rachael became inspired by the couple she met in the bed and breakfast where she and her husband stayed.

They had given up hectic lives as a singer and singing teacher in Paris to follow their dream and buy and run the B&B.

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Rachael Watson (left) teaching a student

“I thought how happy they were because they had made that decision and I knew I wanted to do something as well as being a GP,” Rachael, who lives in Abergavenny, said.

She and her husband joked about opening a health spa.

Then, she said: “I thought how wonderful it would be to teach people how to bake bread.

“I had 830 miles on the drive home to think it through. I thought about what I would need to do to run it from home – organise the kitchen, for example.

“Then, I took a course in Cardiff.”

The rest, as they say, is history.

How the School of Breads was born

Rachael held her first class on October 9, 2015, and the word soon spread on Facebook and among local groups in Abergavenny to make her artisan bread baking school a success.

People who visited the town for the food festival began booking in for classes at the Abergavenny Baker School of Artisan Breads, including visitors from as far afield as Australia.

She has now taught hundreds of people the art of making breads from around the world, from sourdough to ciabatta or focaccia.

Rachael shares her knowledge of the chemistry of breadmaking, tips on kneading, shaping, and baking fresh bread.

Her students can choose from classes in the popular Italian breads, Middle Eastern, Continental, and Great British breads. There are also seasonal classes baking breads for Christmas and Easter.

Teaching people with chronic pain to bake bread

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Now, the GP is combining her medical background with classes aimed at helping people in chronic pain.

She said: “The aim is to help people talk about managing their pain in a far more relaxed way than at a GP surgery. There, the doctor will have only 10 minutes for an appointment.

“The process of making bread is something which helps people take in information. It is something physical and there are smells of the ingredients and the breads which are associated with the information. It also takes place on a non-threatening environment.

“There is a primeval safety message about making and sharing food which helps our nervous system to relax.

“I use my knowledge and experience to explain the nerve pathways and risk factors for developing chronic pain. I also explain the skills and practices people can use to feel less pain and enjoy life more.”

The sessions will help people with conditions such as fibromyalgia or arthritis.

The first open session for people living with chronic pain is on May 24. Read more about the baking school here.

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