This month we visited Luminary Bakery in Stoke Newington to meet the Founder Alice
Williams. We were lucky enough to try some delicious bakes and find out more about the
amazing work Alice and her team is doing to empower women across London.
Can you tell us a little about yourself and the story behind Luminary Bakery?
6 years ago I volunteered with an NGO in Thailand that offers employment to women trying
to get out of prostitution in Bangkok. When I moved back to England I knew that sadly this
wasn't just an exotic problem that happened overseas, women were working the streets
here in London to feed themselves – right on our doorstep. So, I got involved in Kahaila
Café with the understanding that I would research & develop how we could support &
provide opportunities for the women experiencing disadvantage in East London. A
colleague at Kahaila Café started running some baking lessons in a nearby women's
homeless hostel. She was a keen baker, and the café we ran was always in need of freshly
baked goods! So, the idea came about to launch a social enterprise which could train &
employ women from vulnerable backgrounds to bake & sell the products. We secured a
grant for our pilot training programme which lasted for 6 months and we had 4 amazing
graduates. We then employed 2 of them within the business on a 6-month contract. The
business has grown from just baking 2 days a week to a full-time operation, stocking many
cafés across London including the Ben & Jerry's scoop shop & we're now on our 8th
training cohort of women! We have now built a community of women who are looking to
leave behind their disadvantage and inspire one another on towards a positive &
How do the training programmes you offer work and who are they designed for?
Luminary supports the UK's most disadvantaged women, so that is those who have
experienced gender-based violence and poverty. Many have lived through homelessness,
have come out of prison or left the care system. These experiences attack confidence and
significantly limit options open to women. We run 6-month training programmes where we
take women on a journey to employment through skills training, achieving qualifications and
character development. We have 48 graduates from our programmes with an 88% success
rate of graduates entering work, further training or starting their own business. 12
graduates have been employed within our own growing social enterprise. We offer
employability training to women in cohorts of 7 per programme. Each year we run 3 of
these programmes, supporting 21 women to reach employment & independence. Plus, an
enterprise course for women who are setting up their own businesses. We also provide
continuing support for our graduates to ensure longevity in the workplace by continuing our
support work and setting up a mentoring scheme where each graduate is paired with a
professional female mentor.
Besides Luminary Bakery, where in London can we find your delicious bakes?
We have our own café in Stoke Newington & are looking to open another very soon! We
also have a stall at Borough Market on Thursdays and Canopy Kings Cross on Friday,
Saturday & Sunday. Other than that, we stock both Kahaila cafes in Shoreditch & Aldgate,
Look Mum No Hands Old Street, Husk in Limehouse, Close Up Cinema and you can
sandwich two of our cookies with an ice cream scoop at Ben & Jerry's Soho!
What advice would you give to someone starting their own business?
Get a really good team as this will keep you sane and hopefully improve your chances of
success. And do loads of research before launching in. On a more personal note, being an
entrepreneur is hard – a wise person told me to adopt the idea that 90% is good enough.
As a perfectionist and self-critic (aren't we all!) I was continually feeling like I was doing a
bad job of everything I was doing. She helped me to understand that when there is so much
to do, as there always is as an entrepreneur, you cannot give 100% to everything – if you
burn out you're no good to anyone. That attitude has been a difficult mental shift but it's
really helped me sleep at night knowing that it may not have been perfect, but actually it
was good enough.
Can you walk us through a day in your life?
My role is pretty varied, I'll jump from having a 1-2-1 with a woman, to strategy meetings, to
running group employability sessions, to arranging an event, to checking fire extinguishers,
to analysing budgets, to fundraising, to dressing up in Wrap London clothing for a
photoshoot! With lots of troubleshooting thrown in too. I can honestly say no day has ever
been the same.
What are your go-to wardrobe staples?
Black skinny jeans, Vans and an oversized t-shirt or jumper. It's been really fun to push my
comfort zones by trying the Wrap London flares, I'm hoping I can pull them off!
How do you make your clothes work for you and your busy lifestyle?
I'm naturally quite a casual dresser which works when I'm doing a practical job at Luminary
like helping in the kitchen or DIY, but often I have to look professional for meetings so try to
wear a smart-ish top with jeans – I wouldn't do well in a traditional office! I'm on my feet a
lot so live in trainers unless I really mean business.
If I wasn't running Luminary Bakery... It's hard to imagine because it really is my life, but
I'm in a band so it would be fun to do that full time, or work in a cattery because cats are
my happy place.
The best thing about my job... Is having a direct impact on women's lives who would be
in such a different place if Luminary didn't exist, it's so exciting and rewarding to see them
thrive. There are lots of brilliant supporters of our work who don't get to experience that first
hand so I'm really lucky.
My favourite cake or pastry... Our cinnamon swirls are INCREDIBLE, genuinely think they
are the best I've tried.
A holiday destination I love... Barcelona
Words to live by... My Grandad always used to tell me "work hard, play hard, pray hard"
My favourite London hangout... Victoria Park is gorgeous on a sunny day, especially by
the water – or on a rooftop somewhere at sunset.