A Spotlight on Luminary Bakery

With the Duchess of Sussex, Meghan Markle, a firm fan, Luminary Bakery’s mission to empower disadvantaged women through training and employment means your morning coffee provides more than just a caffeine fix. We spoke to Kaila Johnson about the social enterprise’s mission to use baking as a tool to equip women with the skills needed for further employment. 

Luminary Bakery is a social enterprise bakery and café who advocate for women in the workplace, with their employment schemes and skills training having been created to improve the lives of disadvantaged women in London. Originally based in Hackney, East London, the success of the bakery has now seen the opening of a second location in Camden, in turn enabling a larger team of women to be put through their programme. With beautiful cakes worthy of any Instagram post and fresh bread baked in house, Luminary Bakery goes beyond that of a beautiful mid-morning coffee stop to support women reestablishing their lives and in furthering their careers.

How did Luminary begin?

Luminary was founded in 2014. The inspiration came from meeting women in East London who were experiencing gender-based violence, poverty, homelessness and criminal activity. Getting to know local women living through this helped its founding members to see that, although these women were facing complex issues, they were incredibly resilient and had so much potential. We recognise that the immediate needs have to be met – housing, safety & medication for example. Then, once a woman has a level of stability, she needs someone to give her new opportunities for a different future, and a possibility of changing her own life trajectory through earning financial security. This is where Luminary comes in. The founder, Alice Williams, has led the business and charity in meeting these needs by creating something that would help bridge the gap for women to start building their career by offering training and employment opportunities, with a key aspect of support – community.

What’s Luminary’s mission?

Luminary is an innovative response to a need we saw for women who have experienced social and economic disadvantage. We are a social enterprise bakery designed to offer opportunities for women to help build a future for themselves, providing a safe and professional environment where they can grow holistically – encouraging ambition, restoration and second chances. We use baking as a tool to take women on a journey to employability and entrepreneurship, equipping them with transferrable skills for the working world. In order to do this, we offer courses, work experience and paid employment within our bakery, empowering women to build their career. By investing in and releasing them to realise their dreams, through training, employment and community, we aim to break cycles of poverty, violence and disadvantage once and for all.

(R) Image Credit: Rye London

What’s the impact been so far?

As of June 2019, Luminary has supported 52 women to graduate from our programme, 25 women into work and awarded 85 accredited certificates to these women. We’ve provided 233 days of training and consequently assisted 10 women to start their own business. With regards to the women supported through our programme, 96% have reported an increase in their skills and knowledge; with 83% reporting a boost in self esteem; 62% reported an improvement in their mental health; and 52% an increase in their abitlity to manage money.

What challenges have you overcome & how?

Having limited resources has often been a challenge. We never want to be held back by our finances and are always seeking ways to have more and more impact in women’s lives. Operating on a shoestring budget has made us very creative and requires us to work in partnership with others to help fund our work.

Image Credit: Anna Strathaki

What achievements or milestones are you most proud of as a team since you began?

We opened a second Luminary in Camden on 10th October, 2019! We partnered with investors to open another cafe and bakery, as well as a new training centre (provided by a grant funder – National Lottery). This means Luminary can quadruple the number of women trained per year.

One of our graduates (now employee) commented, “When I walked through the new doors of Luminary’s second home, my heart was filled with so much love and joy. I am so grateful to have found Luminary when I was in need of support, and now I get to work with some of the most courageous women who have provided me with a hopeful and fulfilling future.”

Great British Bake Off seems to have re-ignited a passion and interest in traditional baking techniques across the UK and beyond – have you experienced this and if so how has it impacted your work & output?

Yes, we’ve definitely seen the impact of this reignited passion. We have found that baking is a therapeutic and creative activity which builds self confidence and also helps to develop other skills such as determination, precision, time-keeping and even literacy and numeracy skills from following recipes.

(L) Image Credit: Erika Raxworthy

What are the benefits of buying fresh loaves compared to supermarket alternatives?

Our soda bread is freshly made everyday by women you can actually speak to about it. Every purchase made from our cafes and bakeries helps our work* in training, supporting and employing more women in the bakery, helping to change the trajectory of their lives and reach their potential.

*We train 28 women over six months through our employability programme, which offers training, employment, and community, that aims to break the cycles of abuse, prostitution, criminal activity and poverty, which currently holds these women back from reaching their potential.

What are the benefits of cooking/baking for individuals and communities?

As highlighted above, the benefits of baking for the individual are immense, but when baking for community, not only is isolation reduced but there’s a sense of empowerment that takes place. Within our employability programme, we provide a safe and professional environment where women can grow holistically – encouraging ambition, restoration and new opportunities. Luminary uses baking as a tool to take women on a journey to employability and entrepreneurship, equipping them with practical and transferrable skills for the working world.

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