A Cup of Tea with Luminary Bakery
by Isabelle Wilkinson
Luminary Bakery is a social enterprise set up to provide training, employment opportunities and community to disadvantaged women in East London. We recently started working with them at our shop on Leather Lane when we were blown away by their amazing cakes, and their unusual and inspirational story.
On a quiet, drizzly morning in February, I headed over to Stoke Newington to visit their bakery-cum-cafe and find out more about how it all came to be. Over a cup of tea, accompanied by the smell of freshly baked Irish soda bread, founder, Alice Williams tells all…
Tell us bit about how Luminary Bakery came to be.
A few of us were working in Kahaila Cafe on Brick Lane in 2014 and noticed a lot of deprivation locally, with homelessness & sexual exploitation sadly being common in the East End. We wanted to do something in response to the need we saw for women in particular who have had a social and economic disadvantage, because we had met some of these women and felt they had huge potential. So we started to run baking classes in a local women’s hostel to see if they enjoyed it, and to test whether the idea of a social enterprise bakery creating job opportunities for disadvantaged women could work - and it went well! So we slowly built it - from something casually run by volunteers to the fully-fledged bakery it is today.
So those original baking classes have become the basis for the project. As you grow, what are the core values that you work to at Luminary?
From the very beginning we’ve held authenticity, empathy, community, faith, fun and commitment as the core values of what we’re doing.
You’ve got a beautiful cafe/bakery in Stoke Newington. Tell us about the programmes and opportunities you offer there.
We train 7 women at a time through our employability programme, which lasts for 6 months and covers baking skills, food hygiene & personal development. Women can also access 1-2-1 support & mentoring, and upon graduating they can apply for jobs within our business or we help them to find work elsewhere. We also offer an enterprise course for those wanting to start their own business. We’re incredibly proud of all of our grads; we recently got to visit one of them running her own tea hut at Spitalfields City Farm.
We’ll have to keep our eyes peeled! What is it about baking that works so well for this project?
Baking is a therapeutic & creative activity which builds self confidence & also helps to develop other skills such as determination, precision, time-keeping & even literacy/numeracy skills from following recipes. It’s also a trade to teach which can open doors into a career, and a lot of the women we encounter love preparing food, so it turns that into earning potential for them.
And they have a delicious end result! Tell us about the cakes.
We make cinnamon swirls which have been rated 5/5 by Borough Market’s chefs, according to customers we make ‘the best carrot cake in London’, along with decadent gluten free salted caramel brownies, vegan peanut butter cookies, breads such as focaccia & Irish soda bread, and special products created by our apprentices & ambassadors like ‘The Benjamina’ which is a best selling pear, almond & honey traybake.
We know all about the carrot cake and can confirm that your customers are absolutely right (it’s now available to enjoy with a pot of Good & Proper Tea at our tea bar)! So what does an average day look like in the bakery?
No day here is average! We open our Stoke Newington cafe at 7:30am, and there is a hive of activity from then onwards - with customers coming in for cake & coffee, baking for the wholesale business & classes going on - as well as Luminary graduates popping in for a catch up! There’s never a dull moment and that’s the way we like it.
Why do you love what you do?
It’s really significant because it is giving purpose to someone who has been dealt a really tough hand, it’s making them feel valued and it’s empowering them with skills to change their future.
At Good & Proper we are all about doing things properly so we love working with people who show so much passion and care. We’re proud to have Luminary cakes on our counter and inspired by the work that you are doing to support women in East London. What’s next for Luminary Bakery?
We’re looking forward to opening more sites across London - market stall & cafes and really growing our business to provide more & more opportunities to the women we meet. We love stocking cafes that really get behind our vision and want to make a difference by using their purchasing power - so more cafes like Good & proper would be amazing!