Stoke Newington’s Luminary Bakery show female empowerment is a piece of cake

Benjamina and Luminary Bakery

Benjamina and Luminary Bakery - Credit: Archant

Zoe Paskett talks to the Luminary Bakery founder Alice Boyle and Benjamina Ebuehi from Great British Bake Off about empowerment through baking

Luminary Bakery

Luminary Bakery - Credit: Archant

There’s a wonderful smell in the air when I step into Luminary Bakery on Allen Street in Stoke Newington.

The team are gearing up to open their new café and are in the final stages of getting the place in order.

Sitting down with founder Alice Boyle, all I can focus on is the smell of baking upstairs – until she starts talking about the project. This is about so much more than cake.

“I have always had a passion to see women empowered,” she says. “Inequality frustrates me, and its something I’ve always felt quite passionate about. I trained in youth and community work so I knew I wanted to do something in that field.”

Luminary Bakery is a social enterprise that provides opportunities for women to take control of their lives. Growing out of Kahaila, a church and charity with a café on Brick Lane that supports vulnerable women, Luminary is taking it one step further, teaching courses that will help them take their place in the professional world.

After returning from Thailand where she was working to help women out of sex work, Alice joined Kahaila, managing the café and spending time with local women and researching what was available for them.

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“There’s a lot of homelessness in Hackney,” she says. “East London is just such a span of really deprived and lots of wealth. Meeting women who were selling sex or begging on the street, it broke my heart and I thought we need to try and do something to enable them to provide for themselves, providing opportunities for work.”

And so with the help of some of the women working in Kahaila café and a church that let them use the kitchen for free, Luminary was born.

There’s the wholesale side, providing cakes and cookies to cafés all over London and there’s the social enterprise, using baking as a tool for the women in the programme – who have been through domestic abuse, homelessness, sex trafficking and the criminal justice system – to learn skills in employability and entrepreneurship.

Luminary Bakery

Luminary Bakery - Credit: Archant

And who better to help than a woman with her own burgeoning baking enterprise? Making it to the latter stages of the Great British Bake Off was a dream come true for Benjamina Ebuehi.

“I was a fan, I’ve watched it all and you watch it thinking there’s no way I can do that, they’re all so good, I just bake for fun!” she says. “Then to actually be on it was just insane. I was like, am I actually here? How did this happen? But I learned so much.

“It was absolutely amazing. Meeting the other bakers was a massive highlight. A lot of the time you forgot it was a competition. Because we got on so well, you didn’t want to see anyone flop or do badly so if you could spare a hand, you’d always want to make sure everyone had put their best foot forward.”

Now she is baking full time, blogging, doing food shows and working with charities. She is passing on the lessons from Bake Off to the Luminary women.

“I liked the idea that baking was being used for something bigger than stuffing your face with cake and I’ve always been interested in social enterprises so this really just takes my love of baking and uses it to encourage women, which is especially interesting for me. So I thought, women, baking, empowerment – yeah! It’s a good mix.”

Like on the Bake Off, each month they learn a different skill from Luminary’s bakers, starting with simpler things like cookies and tray bakes, moving up through cakes and bread to pastries. Benjamina teaches special workshops for each group.

“[Benjamina] is an amazing woman and really excited to be involved in something that uses her skill and her passion to help people,” says Alice. “She gets on really well with all of the women. She’s so natural, it’s really nice to have her.”

As well as the morning baking classes, the groups have employability training, building their confidence and awareness of the workplace and managing money – most haven’t been in work before.

“There are things we take for granted having been in different jobs that they might not know how to do,” says Alice.

Luminary Bakery

Luminary Bakery - Credit: Archant

“We have lunch all together which is quite a nice part of the day, because so many of them haven’t got friends or have been very isolated so we put emphasis on building community in the group as well.

“That community part of things, once they finish the training, that’s the part that they’re really scared of losing, so we try to make sure there are social things they can do together or additional workshops here and there that they can come back to.”

Some of the course graduates have gone on to start up their own cake decorating businesses or join the Luminary kitchen as apprentices and bakers – but the skills they learn are transferable and many go on to different jobs.

Alice also wants to maintain a strong network of support.

“Ideally they would over time need us less and less and that has happened,” she says. “A few will have a crisis at a certain point and it’s nice that they can access support from here. I think it’s also really important for the new ones to see and meet inspiring women who have been exactly where they were now running their own business.”

Having Benjamina as an ambassador and continued contact with these women inspired Luminary to introduce a mentor programme, teaming the course members up with professional females to extend their network.

With the café upstairs just opened last weekend, the main priority – aside from supporting the women – is to make it a self sustaining business. Then they can move on to thinking about new courses and skills to teach.

“There’s always something changing or something happening.”

You can donate to the Luminary charity via the website, or get in touch via email if you want to be involved in the mentoring programme or volunteer in the café.

Luminary Bakery, 71-73 Allen Road, N16 8RY.

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