The restorative potential of baking really came into its own during the Covid-19 pandemic, as millions turned to baking to fill the days of lockdown and soothe anxiety. However, at London’s Luminary Bakery, baking is more than just a comforting pastime – it has been a vital source of salvation for some of the UK’s most vulnerable women.
Launched in 2014 as a collective by Alice Williams, Sarah Harrison and Abigail Mifsud, Luminary Bakery is a Social Enterprise Bakery in London which works to create jobs and provide support and a sense of community for women who have been socially and economically disadvantaged.
Alice Williams, the founder and now CEO of Luminary, recognised the link between female homelessness and sexual or domestic violence: ‘Homeless women are at serious risk of sexual exploitation or getting caught up in crime. On the flip side, domestic violence is the single largest driver of homelessness for women. Professionals describe this web of interconnected issues including homelessness, substance misuse, mental health issues and offending as ‘multiple disadvantage’.’
Baking is Lifechanging
Since the bakery’s inception, 69% of the women that Luminary has supported have experienced homelessness, 24% are survivors of trafficking, 78% struggle with mental health issues including PTSD, and 26% have been through the criminal justice system.
Luminary Bakery was born in response to this crisis, offering a 6-month baking training programme which seeks to equip women with transferable life skills for employability and entrepreneurship. Upon graduating, each woman is given a progression support worker and will take part in work experience as well as having the opportunity to apply for paid work within the Luminary Bakery Business or with one of their partner organisations.
The bakery’s programme is not just about baking – it teaches its students important life skills, too. Groups of seven women come together for one day a week for baking classes, around which they’re educated in food hygiene, time management, finance and computer literacy. The women also benefit from having access to a safe, supportive and professional community.
To date, the bakery has supported 66 women, helping 25 women into work and 10 women to set up their own businesses. Of these women, 96% said that the programme had increased their skills and knowledge, whilst 83% reported that it had improved their self-esteem.
The social enterprise is going from strength to strength – with their HQ in Stoke Newington, they opened a second bakery in Camden in 2019, and this year published their first baking book, Rising Hope, which combines recipes and stories from the women the bakery has supported.
Luminary Bakery has used something as simple and joyful as baking as a tool to take vulnerable women on a journey of self-empowerment – and eating cake for a good cause is something I think we can all get behind.
To find out more and support the bakery, visit luminarybakery.com.
Read about other organisations using food to change lives here.