Hackney People: Alice Boyle - founder of Luminary Bakery

The Stoke Newington business that helps disadvantaged women rebuild their lives

"THEY call me the baking lady," says Alice Boyle. Adding: "The embarrassing thing is, I have no expertise in baking at all."

Alice is the founder of Luminary Bakery. Tempting smells of tray bakes, cakes and breads have been wafting out from its Stoke Newington premises since it moved there from Limehouse last year. It is, however, no typical bakery.

“My dream was always to provide a safe space for marginalised women to build their confidence and employability. Baking just turned out to be the best way to do that,” she says.

Growing up, Alice knew she wanted to do a job that was helpful. It was not until she travelled to Thailand that she saw a way to do that, however.

She explains: “I was volunteering for an organisation that helped former sex workers rebuild their lives. It seemed like such a brilliant, holistic way to support them. And I knew that Bangkok wasn’t the only place where women were being exploited. There were plenty back home who needed help too.”

Returning to London, she found a job at charity-run café Kahaila, in Brick Lane, and took every opportunity to canvass opinions from local women.

“I did outreach work among women in prostitution around Whitechapel,” she says. Adding: “I went to meetings to see what was already on offer. I even got to know the homeless lady who came into the café to use our loos.”

Slowly, her idea began to take form. Alice says: “Two members of the little team I built were talented bakers, so it made sense, we could teach disadvantaged women the professional skills of baking, empower them to build a career, and sell their products in the café.”

As an idea, it was brilliantly simple. The reality, however, involved blood, sweat and tears.

“Building contacts, getting funding, finding premises and equipment… It’s all extremely hard work when you’re a tiny team running on little more than passion. But it does mean we find creative ways around problems,” she says.

In September 2014, Alice and her team of four finally welcomed their first group of trainees.

“We get referrals from a number of different agencies, charities and hostels and end up with a cohort of up to seven women per group,” she says.

They can range in age from 18 to 65. For one day a week, over six months, they all learn how to bake professionally. Slowly, confidence and skills that have been eroded by abuse, crime, prostitution or poverty begin to bloom again. And on graduating, they receive a Food Hygiene Level 2 certificate, and an OCR entry level Life Skills qualification.

“One woman burst into tears when she saw her first loaf of bread come out of the oven. She just couldn’t believe that she had created something so perfect,” says Alice.

In fact, the goods that trainees turn out are so perfect that Luminary now supplies 12 cafés across London, caters for private events including weddings, and teaches classes to the public.

It was this expansion that prompted the bakery’s relocation to their new, bigger premises in Stoke Newington last year. It has a larger kitchen, an area for mums and children, and a training room for students.

Making it happen however, was ‘a struggle,’ says Alice. The team launched a crowdfunding campaign to fund building work, offered baked goods and master-classes in return for generosity, and accepted donated equipment.

Finally, however, the effort paid off. “In these premises we can take two cohorts of trainees at once, so we’re helping twice as many women,” says Alice.

In April, the last phase of building work is due to be completed, and the team plans to open a café, too.

Until then, however, we must make do with walking past and catching the tantalizingly sweet smell of success.

Luminary Bakery can be found on Allen Road in Stoke Newington.