Insta-fitness star Shona Vertue once told me: ‘a cupcake is good for the soul.’ (a-men). And while clean eating and zero sugar are all very well and good, sometimes, you know, you just want a coffee and cinnamon bun. Now, Luminary Bakery over in Stoke Newington elevates all of the above to the next level. Not only do they make the most delicious pillow-soft pastries (think the carb equivalent of a nice, warm hug), but their sticky swirls are literally helping to transform women’s lives.
Now that’s my idea of soul food.
— K (@_kaylondon) August 29, 2017
This sweet social enterprise is the brainchild of Alice Williams. It started back in the day when Alice was training as youth and community worker. Keen to help others fulfil their potential, she developed a passion for gender equality and started volunteering for organisations which helped vulnerable women living in poverty.
Cue a trip to Bangkok spending time with a jewellery business which offered jobs to sex workers desperate to get out of the trade. Back home in London (and with fire in her belly) she started working at charity-run cafe Kahaila – a cool space in Brick Lane whose profits support local projects and causes.
It was here – while serving coffee and slices of cake – that she got to know of the plight of local women living on the streets, in homeless hostels, or selling sex to survive – and was shocked to discover that such desperation existed right on her doorstep.
‘London is my home and it really bothers me that in a city with such affluence, this kind of poverty and exploitation exists,’
Alice Williams, Luminary Bakery
And she wasn’t the only one to feel aggrieved. Fellow volunteers at Kahaila wanted to do something about it too. So they researched what was around and were dismayed to discover that training and employment opportunities were thin on the ground.
‘How are you supposed to change your circumstances, make something of your life, when there are no opportunities for you?’ Alice says. ‘So we looked at what we had – we were in the food industry and we had skilled bakers (not me I might add, I can’t really bake!) so we started training local women and selling their products in local cafes.’
And so Luminary bakery was born.
Two and a half years on, Luminary has evolved into a super-sleek cafe perched on Allen Road, Stoke Newington, East London, which uses baking as a tool to empower vulnerable women through courses, training and paid employment.
Its oh-so-tempting window displays heaving with cakes, traybakes and pastries have all been produced by a team of fledgling bakers who are taking steps to break the generational cycle of prostitution, abuse, criminal activity and poverty.
So, stepping inside and taking a seat at one of the stylish, long, wooden benches, not only will you be greeted by the aroma of freshly baked sourdough bread – but also one of sweet success.
The project already has an incredible 30 graduates from their training programme – and seven training at the moment – with an impressive 88% success rate of women going on to create new lives for themselves.
Some now work as bakery apprentices or cafe staff and others have gone on to Luminary’s ‘enterprise scheme’ to help launch their own businesses.
One such trainee-turn-entrepreneur is Halimot who was a victim of people trafficking. Listen to how the project helped her as she chats to actress Sharon Horgan.
Other celebrity supporters include The Great British Bake Off’s Benjamina Ebuehi who has just been announced as their ambassador.
But, of course, the real stars of the show are the graduates themselves. As one told me: ‘Coming from prison, I felt that I didn’t fit in anymore as I was different, but at Luminary I was made to feel I was a person of worth. It has also given me the confidence that I lacked from being in custody for a long period. I now feel that my destiny is in my own hands, not anyone else’s.’
So, back to those cinnamon buns…better make that two.
Luminary Bakery is open weekdays 8:30am – 3:30pm and weekends 9am – 3:30pm.