Meet the women of Luminary Bakery: The London cafe Meghan Markle highlighted in Vogue

Danielle Stacey
Royal Correspondent
The Luminary Bakery team outside the cafe in Stoke Newington. [Photos: Luminary bakery]

The likes of the ‘Great British Bake Off’ has made the nation fall in love with cake-making again. So much so that Simply Business reported that the number of independent UK bakeries increased by 20% in 2017.

But what about a business that makes a positive impact on its local community? Step forward Luminary Bakery, the Stoke Newington cafe featured in the British Vogue issue Meghan Markle guest edited.

“We knew we were going to be featured but we didn’t know before that that we’d been picked by the Duchess of Sussex, which was a real privilege,” commercial director Rachael Coulson explains to Yahoo UK.

Meghan made a private visit to the cafe in North East London earlier this year, after hearing about the work that they do.

While working in Kahaila Cafe in Brick Lane in 2014, founder Alice Williams came up with the idea to set up a baking workshop to help disadvantaged women, who have been victims of sexual or domestic violence.

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Luminary Bakery in Stoke Newington. [Photo: Anna Stathaki/Luminary Bakery]

Rachael explains: “While working for that cafe, Alice was regularly meeting women who were facing disadvantage. Down the road was a women’s hostel, round the corner were the skyscrapers of the city.

“It struck her the injustice of those two worlds living right next to each other and the gap for some of the women she was meeting, for them to bridge that gap and for them to step into a better future.”

Initially, Alice ran a workshop every now and again, but then a church in East London allowed them to use their space so they could hold them on a regular basis.

The team moved into their permanent space in Stoke Newington in September 2016, where they run a six-month training programme that teaches women how to bake and educates them on food hygiene, time and money management and computer literacy.

Rachael says: “We use baking as a tool, but it’s also wider than that, we look at life skills. It’s called the employability programme and the vision for it is, that by the end, the women are ready to step into employment because we see that as the key to unlocking and tackling some of the barriers they’re facing. We look at things like managing money, writing a CV, getting ready for a job interview.”

After graduating from the course, each woman is allocated a progression support worker to help them reach their goals and find employment.

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As well as delicious baked goods, Luminary Bakery create bespoke cakes. [Photo: Luminary Bakery]

Allison Tash, Head of Sales, tells Yahoo UK that Luminary has supported 66 women since the programme’s inception in 2014, many of whom have gone on to university or now have jobs in the food industry.

A few graduates have also gone on to start their own cake decorating or catering businesses.

The social enterprise is even opening a second bakery later this year in Camden, which will have a bespoke kitchen to train more women.

As well as serving a selection of delicious baked goods and fresh bread in their cafe, customers can also order bespoke cakes for special occasions, from £45.

Rachael says: “We talk about purchasing with purpose because every cake that is bought at Luminary is going towards the amount that we can help women, the number of courses we can run, the amount of support we can give so it is literally changing lives. Buying a cake in this way can make a difference.”

Before British Vogue hit the newsstands earlier this month, the Duchess of Sussex sent Alice and the team a handwritten note and an embossed notebook with ‘Forces for Change’ - the title of the September issue.

It read: “Dear Alice, When I knew I would be secretly guest editing the September issue of British Vogue, including Luminary Bakery was non-negotiable. The work you do, what you represent to the community, the spirit of the women there - you all embody what it means to be “forces for change”. Thank you for being a part of this special project.”

The team also created a special personalised carrot cake for Meghan for her 38th birthday on August 4.

And since Yahoo UK’s interview, Luminary Bakery have announced that their cookbook Rising Hope will be released in August 2020.