If you’ve ever been to Kahaila cafe in East London, chances are you’ve tried their delicious baking, you can thank luminary for that!
Read Alice’s interview and learn more about the heart behind this shop.
Tell us about yourself. Where are you from?
I grew up in South London. When I finished school, I studied Youth and Community Work. While I was doing that degree, I was becoming more and more exposed to women and girls being exploited, as well as the violence they live with. I wanted to focus on that sector of the community, so I did a bit of volunteering with different organizations which support those women in Bangkok and Thailand. When I came back to London, I started working at Kahaila Cafe and a local organization called Door of Hope, which works with women who sell sex in the area. Through that, I started to learn of the issues these women in East London have. That’s where the idea of Luminary started – meeting women who hated selling themselves and who were homeless. There was so much need, and not having an alternative means of income means they could never break out of that lifestyle.
What is Luminary, and what is its vision?
Luminary is a social enterprise bakery. Our vision is to support women who have been disadvantaged with the opportunity to reach their potential. The reason we started was because we’ve been exposed to women in the sex industry, but we support women who have been in the criminal justice system, who are homeless or have been in an abusive relationship. Any of those things make it difficult to build a future for yourself.
We run an employability training program, which is a six month course at our bakery where women learn baking skills, life skills, personal development and food hygiene. We also aim to build community along the way, so they can find new friends and a new network of women who are also trying to accomplish things with their life. So often, they’ve been quite isolated, so community is important. Once they finish their training, they have their graduation event. For many, that’s their first chance to celebrate a life achievement. After that, they can applied for paid work within our bakery, or we support them in finding work elsewhere in partner businesses like Kahaila Cafe or those who we’ve built links with. Some build their own businesses as well, which have been successful.
We’re not just a baking club, rather we can teach women what it’s like to work in a professional bakery. We can equip women that way to produce commercially viable products.
What has the process been like so far in building it?
I feel it’s been slow at some times, but looking back I see we’ve done a lot. Having limited resources, we’ve had to be creative in how we work with little funding. Now, being three years in, we’re fully staffed and a bit more financially stable. So the business is generating income and we’ve had some great funders donate, which makes it feel more sustainable. It has been a hard journey to get here, though.
What benefits have you seen in social enterprise?
Two things – it can create income, which is really important for charities to diversify from just crowd funding. It also creates a professional environment for what we do. We’re not just a baking club, rather we can teach women what it’s like to work in a professional bakery. We can equip women that way to produce commercially viable products.
Can you tell us a story of one woman who went through the program?
I’ll use a pseudonym – Elizabeth. She was trafficked to the UK at a young age, and hid from authorities which means she didn’t get much support even when free from her trafficker. It wasn’t until she was in her 20s till she reached out for support, and the people who she received support from referred her to us for training. She’s the kind of person who’s happy place is in the kitchen, and despite having experienced trauma, that’s the place in which she processes it; she loves providing food for people. She didn’t have the right to work in the UK when she came to us, but we supported her in her immigration process and she now works at Kahaila. She also has her own cake decorating and catering business. We’re also supporting her in building her business and finding funding. Next week, she’s training some of our program applicants in cake decorating. She’s really inspirational for the new women in the program.
How would you define success?
A few ways… for the business to be making profit which we can then invest in training. For women to be thriving in all aspects of their lives. Not just in employment, but to have housing and good physical and mental health. Also, for them to be contributing to others in some way, to see them maturing other women or children.
What are Luminary’s goals for the future?
Our goals are for our current site to be busy and making a profit, as well as to be known as a hub for the community. In the future, we’d like additional locations to provide more training for more and more women, which will create opportunities for them.