Vocational qualifications, baking and Vogue

Vocational qualifications, baking and Vogue

luminary bakery team

Luminary Bakery was founded in 2014 to respond to a need Alice Williams (Founder and CEO) saw for women who have experienced significant social and economic disadvantage. Luminary is a social enterprise, providing a safe and professional environment for women to thrive and learn new employability and transferable life skills through baking. 

Luminary BakeryRuth Carter (Stakeholder Relationships Manager at OCR) first contacted Alice four years ago after it came to her attention that Luminary were offering the OCR Life and Living Skills Introductory Award as part of their training. 

Since then, Ruth has built a strong relationship with Alice and the team; with an OCR case study being produced, letters of support received from Luminary in recognition of qualifications, and regular catch ups to see how they can continue to support each other. Having also had the opportunity to mentor one of their fantastic graduates herself, Luminary is very special to Ruth. And her Cambridge Assessment colleagues love hearing about how Luminary is going from strength to strength. 

Feeling it was important to share Cambridge Assessment’s commitment to supporting vulnerable and disadvantaged learners more widely, and to celebrate their successes; four years on, Ruth asked founder Alice a few questions about the impact Luminary has had, their use of the OCR qualification, and their plans for the future. 

Rather excitingly, we also featured in the September 2019 issue of British Vogue which was guest edited by HRH the Duchess of Sussex. She personally recommended Luminary to be featured and sent us a handwritten note to thank us for being #ForcesForChange.

Q. What was your starting point and why baking?

A. Luminary was set up to empower the UK’s most disadvantaged women to reach their potential. Baking is a therapeutic and creative activity which builds self-confidence and helps to develop other skills such as determination, precision, time keeping and even literacy and numeracy skills from following recipes. It’s also a trade which can open doors into a career. We are a team of specialist bakers, support workers and foodies, who are passionate about helping change the trajectory of women’s lives. 

Q. Why does Luminary Bakery use OCR’s Life and Living Skills Qualification and what impact does the qualification have on the lives of the women you support? 

A. Luminary was introduced to this qualification through our sister charity ‘Essence’ who run these courses in a local women’s prison. They proved to be a great way to practically support a woman and help her grow, whilst working towards a certificate she can be proud of. 

We have offered this qualification as part of our Employability training programme for many women over the years, and they go through the content in small groups - we have been able to help them choose topics they feel are relevant and have ended up focussing a lot on managing emotions, communicating differently, and the world of work. The resources help women reflect on their own lives and choices and leads to group discussions where women can share with each other and grow together. 

With a recognised qualification, as well as practical and transferrable skills behind them, the women are now far better empowered to seize the work opportunities that exist. The qualification provides the opportunity to learn essential skills from both a practical perspective as well as offering a formal qualification in important life skills which are often sought by employers. 

Q. What does the Luminary Employability Programme offer?  Luminary Bakery

A. We offer group programmes, 1-2-1 holistic support, and employment opportunities for women who have experience or are at risk of: 

  • Gender-based violence (including domestic abuse, prostitution/sexual exploitation, trafficking and ‘honour-based violence’); 
  • And multiple disadvantage (including homelessness, the criminal justice system, leaving care, mental health issues, substance abuse). 

Luminary provides a safe and professional environment where women can grow holistically – encouraging ambition, restoration and new opportunities. The course covers baking skills, food hygiene and personal development as well as offering the OCR Life and Living Skills qualification. 

Our training hub has now moved to our new larger Camden premises. This is really exciting because it means we can increase the number of women we can train each year. Every Luminary cohort has seven women coming to learn one day a week with the initial training course lasting for 6 months. Each woman also has an allocated Progression Worker who tracks each learner and measures the impact the training has. We look at independence outcomes too, this could also be after graduation, as Luminary continues to support each graduate for two years and has very strong alumni connections. Once women reach an independence threshold of 75% this goal is celebrated and they in turn can help to mentor new trainees. 

The women we have supported have reported a 96% increase in their skills and knowledge, and an 83% boost in self-esteem. 

Q. Can you share some of Luminary’s success stories? 

A. Jameila* was referred to Luminary by an anti-trafficking charity. She was trafficked at 9 years old and had been trafficked around Europe for a number of years so had not finished education in her home country. When she first started with us, she was experiencing high levels of suicidal thoughts and feeling hopeless. She’d never baked before but was so grateful for the chance to learn and quickly excelled. Once she graduated, she began to volunteer in our professional kitchen not only to increase her skills, but to give back. This gave her the confidence to start baking at home and we supported her to set up her own business. Now she’s well on the way to making a full-time income from her business and her family have seen a significant improvement in her mental health. Her children wrote to thank us for ‘looking after their mum’. *Named changed to protect identity 

We also had a new development earlier this year, originally, Luminary was incubated by Kahaila Ltd (as you know when you first came to see us we were crowd funding in order to open our first café in Stoke Newington, London and OCR contributed equipment to help us set up) now we have become our own independent entity with the Charity (Luminary Ltd) running the work that we do to train and support women and the Business (Luminary Bakery Ltd) running all the commercial elements, including the bakeries and cafes. They are closely linked and both work towards the same purpose of creating better futures for women from disadvantaged backgrounds. 

Luminary Bakery

Rather excitingly, we also featured in the September 2019 issue of British Vogue which was guest edited by HRH the Duchess of Sussex. She personally recommended Luminary to be featured and sent us a handwritten note to thank us for being #ForcesForChange

Q. You never seem to stand still, so what are the next big projects that you can share with us? 

A. We are growing! Our second location (bakery/cafe/training centre) has just opened in Camden. This will enable us to train 4x the number of women at any time. We know there are women all over the country who need opportunities, so our plan is to scale to reach as many as possible in the next 10 years. 

We’re also working on a cookbook! The team working on crafting the perfect recipes, alongside stories of the incredible women from Luminary, have been working really hard. We’ve got pre-sales happening already on Amazon, Waterstones, and wherever most books are sold! 

Q. What was the best piece of advice you’ve been given? 

A. The advice that springs to mind is actually from one of our graduates and, on the face of it, seems simple: “Never give up.” But this holds so much weight from someone who has lived through extreme violence and subsequent mental health struggles, when giving up would have been all too easy. She often says this to new trainees, and it is powerful, for all of us. 

Q. Your newsletters and training room have great incentivising quotes – what’s your favourite quote?

A. “We can’t be brave in the big world without one small safe space to work through our fears and falls” - Brene Brown. Luminary aims to be that space for the women we support. 

Watch the case study film celebrating the first Luminary cohort graduation:

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