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When Doing Good is a Piece of Cake


23 May 2017

The Luminary bakery in Hackney is transforming disadvantaged women’s lives with cake and an impressive training and support programme. Ahead of our June Bread - The Roux Way classes in partnership with the bakery, on Sunday 11th & 18th for London Food Month, Cactus Kitchens went to find out how baking is making a difference.

Rachel Stonehouse, head baker and trainer at the Luminary Bakery loves Thursdays. That’s the day she teaches the eight women enrolled on the bakery’s training course how to bake – everything from biscuits to bread to a professional standard; over the six months of the programme, the women also rebuild their confidence and self-belief. The best thing about her job Rachel says “is knowing we’re building something that has so much potential, making products that are really good and that what we’re doing is changing lives.”

This sense of purpose along with the heart-warming scents wafting from the newly built commercial kitchen is in evidence everywhere at the Luminary. All of the bakery’s enthusiastic customers have the satisfaction of knowing that every one of the items on sale is doing some good; not to waistlines probably, but in helping to transform the lives of vulnerable women and enabling them to build a future for themselves and their families.

Founded by Alice Williams in 2014, the Luminary Bakery, run by and for women, is a social enterprise supplying its newly opened café, and several others within a 10 mile radius, with delicious tray bakes, breads, cookies and fabulous layer cakes (including, say regulars, one of the best carrot cakes in town). On the day we visit we are greeted with the cheering sight of chocolate chip cookies fresh from the oven. And as for the Luminary’s soda bread, that barely has time to cool before the shelves are emptied.

Thanks to crowd funding (£16,387 from 263 backers), grants, donations and hard graft from volunteers, what started as an outreach project in a church kitchen in Bethnal Green to supply cakes to a community café in east London has grown into a purpose-built bakery in Stoke Newington with a welcoming and inclusive, light-filled café attached. The entire enterprise operates with four paid staff, one apprentice, two interns, several volunteers and an abundance of goodwill from supporters and benefactors. The Luminary’s mission: to help to address the major barriers to employment faced by some of the 180,000 unemployed women in London including up to 20,000 mothers with the potential to enter the workplace and lift their families out of poverty.

London has no shortage of cake makers, but what sets the Luminary apart is its innovative training and apprenticeship scheme. The Luminary Bakery’s excellent cakes have a lot more than icing resting on them; Rachel (the baker) and business manager, Rachael Coulson explain that baking is the tool (both practical and therapeutic) that gives growing numbers of disadvantaged women a second chance at life and a belief in a positive future for themselves beyond domestic violence, criminal activity, poverty or sexual exploitation.

And we shouldn’t underestimate the courage required from many of the participants to embark on the training course. Some of the women have never baked before; many lack confidence and self-esteem and have been badly let down in the past; for others, English is their second language. Nurturing the transformation in these women: from being overwhelmed at what’s being asked of them, to being overjoyed at what they have achieved and believing in themselves is one of the biggest rewards of the job. For Rachel and Rachael, the companionship and camaraderie is an incredibly valuable part of the process. The Luminary is “like a family, we look out for each other and all the woman for as long as is necessary”. That includes mentoring graduates.

So far 28 women from grandmothers to teenagers have graduated from the course that readies the participants for employment and equips them with transferable skills, of whom 88% have gone into employment or further training; the women have earned 56 accredited qualifications between them (in food safety and hygiene and in living and life skills). Running alongside are classes in how to set up a business, in interview techniques and language lessons. Graduates of the course may then apply for a 6-month apprenticeship in the bakery.

For the trainees and trainers alike taking pride in and sharing their success (and their baking) with their families is always a cause for celebration and affirmation.

Among the bakery’s many supporters is 2016 GBBO contestant and now Luminary Ambassador, Benjamina Ebuehi. Benjamina has been developing a new product with the apprentices exclusively for the café; she will also be running regular masterclasses at the bakery open to the general public.

For the women behind the bakery, this is just the beginning, their vision for the Luminary is for it to continue to grow to enable more women to benefit and for the model to be replicated elsewhere so that baking – and cakes - can rebuild even more lives.

Bread - The Roux Way X Luminary Bakery

Join us and Rachel from Luminary Bakery, on Sunday 11th and Sunday 18th June, for a full day of fun and informative baking at our cookery school. 

£189pp with 10% of each place sold going towards Luminary's apprenticeship scheme.

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