How is Alice Williams making a difference? – Exclusive interview

We spoke with Alice Williams the visionary behind Luminary bakery, a social enterprise that helps disadvantaged Women in London with social and economic opportunities.

The East London based charity provides a six-month training to develop and empower women starting with a bakery course.

In our interview with Alice, we find out how she developed compassion for helping people, and how her Christian faith has contributed towards her success.

Alice also shares with us how she was able to get the project funded in various forms including crowdfunding.

I am sure that reading this interview will be a blessing to anyone whether you run a NGO or a startup.

1. What inspired you to start Luminary Bakery?

The inspiration for Luminary came from meeting women in East London who were experiencing disadvantage and hustling to get by. Getting to know local women living like this helped me to see that, although there were some complex issues they faced – one of the main things they really needed, was for someone to give them a chance.

Imagine trying to apply for jobs as a single mother, having survived domestic or sexual violence. What about trying to make a future for yourself, when living in poverty has led to you getting a criminal record? For many women these factors are so overwhelming that they don’t have the confidence to try. I’ve met lots of women in East London living in these situations, there are currently 180,000 unemployed women in London. A study showed that an estimated 20,000 mothers in London have the earning potential to lift their families out of poverty through employment, but they they haven’t had the opportunity. London also has high rates of violence against women – 3,000 rapes and 45,000 incidents of domestic violence were reported to the police last year alone.

Survivors of these situations face many barriers in getting in to work, but they have so much potential. Our charity, Kahaila, runs a café on Brick Lane and wanted to create something that would help bridge the gap for these women into legitimate employment. So we started offering training, employment opportunities and a key aspect – community, to support them. We chose to use baking because we had skilled bakers on our team, it can be a therapeutic activity for the women to engage with, and from a business perspective it made sense as we had Kahaila café as a customer who could stock and sell our baked products.

Luminary Bakery - Charity

2. What were some of the early challenges you faced in launching Luminary Bakery?

Starting a social enterprise is really hard and there are many challenges, particularly with a lack of finances & resources. We’ve all had take on many different roles, I remember in the early days doing deliveries in the rain on public transport, trying to keep the boxes of baked goods dry! On our first employability course all the trainees were crowded around 1 bench mixer to teach, and were only able to get 2 trays in the oven at a time. There’s obviously the constant worry of whether we will be able to pay staff, and always having too much to do for the woman-power we have! There have been and still are lots of struggles – and we’re now 2 years in. Starting anything is hard work 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. 

3. What are some of the ways your social enterprise empowers disadvantaged women to reach their maximum potential?

We provide a safe and professional environment where women can grow holistically – encouraging ambition, restoration and second chances. We use baking as a tool to take women on a journey to employability and entrepreneurship, equipping them with practical and transferrable skills for the working world. We offer courses, work experience and paid employment within our bakery, empowering women to build a career and a positive future. By investing in and releasing them to realize their dreams, through training, employment and community, we aim to break the generational cycles of abuse, prostitution, criminal activity and poverty, which currently hold these women back from reaching their potential.

4. You recently launched a successful crowd funding campaign, what do you think is the key to launching a successful crowd funding?

Crowdfunding is an amazing tool, particularly if you have a wide reach of supporters for your project. It seems to be most effective for capital costs – eg funding a building or large piece of equipment. Our campaign took a lot of work in the lead up, we researched other successful campaigns to learn from them, and the crowdfunding platforms have loads of tips on how to ensure your campaign is successful. It takes serious planning! You need a really good video and great rewards that people would want to pay for, but it’s really important to factor in the cost of producing those to ensure you raise enough to cover that too.

Luminary - Crowd funding

5. What were you doing before you founded Luminary Bakery?

This time 4 years ago I left my temp marketing role to volunteer in Thailand with an NGO that offers employment to women trying to get out of working in the bars in Bangkok. I had qualified as a Youth & Community worker but wanted to explore supporting vulnerable women, so decided to volunteer to get some experience. In Thailand 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 – running their café, with the understanding that I would research & develop how Kahaila could support & provide opportunities for the women in vulnerable situations in East London.

6. What advice would you give to young people who feel led to start their own ministry (i.e. business, church or outreach program)?

I would recommend getting some experience in the area you want to work in. Volunteer for a while, as a chance to serve and learn from people already doing it. Also do lots of research, read up about the issues, watch loads of documentaries, find out what the laws are and what other organisations are already doing. Whatever way you’re hoping to do to help people, don’t come into it thinking you’ve got the answer, try to be humble. I’m sure there will have been people working in those areas of need for years, so find people who are already doing it and serve alongside them. By working behind the scenes or finding ways to support or compliment those organisations, you’ll become more exposed and can learn about what you’re good at and what you can offer.

7. Do you remember when you gave your life to Christ, If so – please share that moment?

I remember being 7 years old at a Spring Harvest event my inspirational parents had taken me to, and deciding that I knew enough to know that the best decision I could make with my life would be giving it to God. I’ve obviously grown in my understanding since then but the simplicity of my decision to follow Christ every day is the same.

8. Do you have a favourite Bible verse, if so, what is it?

There’s a lot of good ones in there! But I actually have one tattooed on me because it reminds me of God’s heart for the world and what he requires of me. Sometimes Christianity can complicate things and we can feel like it’s hard work to be in relationship with God, when actually all he asks us to do is:

Micah 6:8 English Standard Version (ESV)

He has told you, O man, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,[a]
and to walk humbly with your God?

9. What books would you say has impacted you the most?

Just Imagine by Danielle Strickland Campbell Roberts is amazing, and Girls Like Us by Rachel Lloyd is a really helpful one for understanding the issues women in prostitution face.

10. On our website we highlight the lives of some individuals who have changed and made an impact in the world, who are some of the history makers you admire?

There are too many to mention! Anyone who has stood up for justice and human rights is a hero of mine. Dietrich Bonhoffer, Emily Pankhurst, Elizabeth Fry, are all people who have bravely stood up for what they believe in and brought social change.

11. How can women enrol into the Luminary Bakery scheme?

We take referrals to our courses through support workers, if you know of a woman who is keen to apply please ask someone who is currently supporting them (key worker, charity staff, or even Job Centre advisor) to get in contact for a referral form. [email protected]

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