I first came across Luminary Bakery while doing my daily rounds on social media, I was fortunate to have clicked a link that took me to a video that touched my heart. There are truly some awesome women out there making the future for other women better and stronger. It was a pleasure to interview Alice Williams, Founder of Luminary Bakery. It’s not just a bakery but it is a place that supports women to leave their vulnerable situations and inspiring them on towards a positive & empowering future. Enjoy & be inspired!
Name: Alice Williams
Location: East London
Current title | Company: Project Manager / Founder of Luminary Bakery
Education: Degree in Youth & Community Work
Website / social media pages : www.luminarybakery.com @LuminaryBakery
Can you give us brief outline about your career background, the first job you landed and how it’s been up to date?
My first ever job was actually in a bakery! I was a Saturday girl at 14 in our local bakery, it’s funny how things come full circle. I went on to a retail job during school and worked up to assistant manager. Whilst studying Youth & Community Work at University I was placed in a church as the Youth Worker, so run youth projects there for 4 years. After graduating I worked for an events marketing company for a bit, then helped to launch & manage Kahaila Café on Brick Lane. Whilst working in the café we developed the idea for Luminary and my hours became increasingly more Luminary focused, eventually giving up the café entirely & going full time!
Can you tell us about Luminary Bakery?, how did you get the idea and how did you start?
This time 4 years ago I was volunteering in Thailand with an NGO that offers employment to women trying to get out of working in the bars in Bangkok. I worked in the jewellery business they had and also did outreach to the bars to see if any of the women wanted (and were ready) to leave. It was amazing to build up friendships with these women when they told us how much they hated sleeping with men for money, we were able to offer them a job – it was the perfect combination of emotional support, but also a practical route out.
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, to support theirs or a partners drug habit – right on our doorstep. So I got involved in Kahaila with the understanding that I would research & develop how Kahaila could support & provide opportunities for the women in vulnerable situations in East London.
I began getting involved with a local charity who provided outreach to the women working in street prostitution and goy to know some of the issues the women faced by talking to them that way. Then, a colleague at Kahaila Café started running some cooking & 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 & we’re now on our third training cohort of women! We have now built a community of women who are looking to leave their vulnerable situations and inspire one another on towards a positive & empowering future.
What challenges have you faced since starting?
What challenges haven’t we faced?! So many… lack of finances & resources, doing deliveries in the rain on public transport! All crowding around 1 mixer to teach, only being able to get 2 trays in the oven at a time, constant worry of whether we will be able to pay staff, having too much to do and not enough staff. There have been and still are lots of struggles – and we’re now 2 years in. Starting anything is hard because there is no template, you have to create everything & learn all the mistakes the hard way! We’re in a much stronger position now and have grown significantly, but I’m sure there are still more lessons to learn.
How did you get the funding, if you have any?
We received £5k from Kahaila to start which enabled us to buy the ingredients & equipment we needed. We then received a £12K grant from The Evening Standard Dispossessed fund to run our first employability training programme. We now receive larger grants from a number of different trusts, including Comic Relief who fund mine & another worker’s salaries.
How do you stay organized and on top of your game?
With difficulty! I have to write everything down otherwise the days & tasks that need doing just run away with me and I would forget things. I like to be organized but sometimes limited time to do everything means admin & filing etc fall to the bottom of the list. It’s also tricky because we’re in temporary premises so we don’t have a fixed desk space / storage space etc – I feel like I’m a travelling office/bakery a lot of the time!
What’s a typical day for you on the job like?
Each day looks a bit different – Monday mornings I deliver a group Money Management life skills lesson in Holloway prison with a colleague, Tuesdays I do a ‘Relating to Others’ one to one with a woman, Thursdays are a full day of the employability training programme and asides from that it’s meetings, admin, press stuff, emails, fundraising, planning sessions etc wherever they fit in.
What do you love most about your job and what do you dislike the most?
I really love helping the women to grow, and delivering life skills lessons is a tangible way to do that – so I enjoy running those sessions and getting to know the women better. Obviously it’s fun getting to be around baked goods all day too! I think the most frustrating thing is constantly battling the situations the women are in, with cuts to benefits and the housing crisis etc their circumstances are really difficult and you feel helpless. It’s really sad seeing these women trying to move forward with their lives but being held back by the system.
What inspires you, what drives you?
I think there are a number of things that inspire me and keep me going; my faith plays a big part, seeing glimpses of the changes that you’ve made in someone’s life is also really encouraging, and also having a wonderful and supportive team.
What is the future for you and Luminary?
We’re about to move into new premises so we’re focusing on developing business & the opportunities we can offer women there. I’m looking forward to giving up having to deal with builders etc & concentrate on what I love doing! We want this new space to be a real hub of activities where women can come to find training, employment and community.
What advice would you give to people wanting to start a social enterprise like your own?
I would recommend getting a few other people around you who are also passionate about the idea – whether they can be involved practically or in more of a supportive role, make sure you build a team. We all need people encouraging us and sharing the load, plus it’s much more fun to do it together!
What’s the most important advise you have received that you would like to share with other female entrepreneurs?
Recently my professional supervisor 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.
If you could go back and make any changes, what would they be?
I can’t pinpoint specific things, I’ve learned so much and I’m improving the way we do things all the time. But I actually think it was important to go through those lessons so even if we could go back I really don’t know if I would change anything!
What would you tell your 20-year-old self?
Alice, you have a lot to learn.
One thing that makes you | your business ” Younique”
I think the sense of community that we’ve built is really unique, we don’t just offer training or employment for women from vulnerable backgrounds – but there is an extra element / atmosphere that you can’t put your finger on, but it is the part the women value the most.
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