Luminary Bakery: The One Where Rachel Bakes

Ever since a good friend of mine introduced me to the Luminary Bakery, I’ve been obsessed – especially with the cinnamon swirls. In today’s post I’ll be giving you a little bite into the journey of Rachel Stonehouse, a baker at the increasingly popular 

Luminary Bakery. The bakery is a social enterprise which helps empower women by teaching them baking and life skills. We talk about it all, from baking measurements, to faith and purpose and much more. Who would have thought purpose could taste so good? 

(P.S: Excuse the cheesy title. Her name is Rachel, I love the show Friends, so I just had to)

Life Bites is a series that aims to inspire through the art of story-telling. Each story is a reflection of the experiences, lessons and successes of the people I meet along the way.

Strolling to the end of Allen Road in 24°C of humid heat, I finally arrive at the bakery, where I am greeted with some live baked goods. After a three-minute deliberation between the blueberry slice cake and the cinnamon swirl, I decided to go for the latter, accompanied with an ice cold glass of fresh lemonade and a sprig of mint (all £5.00). Waiting for me at the table was Rachel, one of the bakers, who greeted me with a hug before we commenced on a rather interesting discussion.

On Luminary Bakery

Before we get to Rachel’s journey, let’s start with the bakery, which is increasingly growing, and has gained attention from the likes of Vogue, The Times and Huffington Post. Not like your everyday bakery, Luminary Bakery is a social enterprise, which was designed to help women who deal with social and economic disadvantage.

Luminary Bakery is a social enterprise, which was designed to help women who deal with social and economic disadvantage.

The majority of women who are introduced to the bakery tend to have dealt with homelessness, sexual exploitation, domestic violence or criminal activity, meaning that many of these women may not have the skills and confidence to enter the working world. As a result, the founder Alice, alongside a group of bakers including Rachel Stonehouse, came up with the idea of setting up the bakery which uses baking as a tool to enable the women to learn core life and employment skills.

On the graduates

Half way through my cinnamon swirl, Rachel begins to explain to me how the bakery is run (I promise at this stage, I am multitasking). She explains that the the team at the bakery meet the women they work with through support workers who give the bakery referrals. She explains, “We’re the last step in the chain”, meaning that before the women arrive at the bakery, they have dealt with core issues such as drug addictions and finding a place to stay. Subsequently, this allows the team to simply focus on teaching the women the culinary and life skills they need.

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We start with less complex baking skills like tray bakes, then to loaf cakes, then more technical skills such as soda bread, layer cakes and Danish pastries.

Using a simple structure, a six month programme is run, which is split into two parts: baking, which is led by Rachel; and living and life skills, which is run by Alice. Each programme takes on six to eight women per cohort, with one class held per week. Throughout the six months, Rachel takes the women through key baking skills, “We start with less complex baking skills like tray bakes, then to loaf cakes, then more technical skills such as soda bread, layer cakes and Danish pastries”. During this part of our discussion what I found most impressive, was how relevant the classes were for the current  market. An example of the relevancy I speak of, is the one month teaching session that purely focuses on specialty baking such as gluten-free and vegan recipes. Once the culinary part of the programme is completed, Alice holds the second stage which focuses on life skills, helping the women embark on a journey of self-reflection, as well as information on money management and how to handle and deal with emotions. Once the program is completed, a graduation ceremony is held, where the women are handed a certificate and celebrate their achievements. 

After spending a few seconds pivoting our seats to hide away from the heat of the sun, Rachel shared some of her most rewarding moments. Reflecting on past programmes, she said that when the women first arrive, they tend to be shy and lack confidence in the early days, but what she found most rewarding was watching the women grow in confidence, support each other and offer advise. She added: “Most of them have been through similar experiences.”

If you want to help contribute, the bakery are always looking for support such as mentoring, or help with CVs and interview preparation.

Even after the program ends, the bakery still offer support to the women, helping them with their CV’s and housing allocation or issues with their right to stay. If you want to help, the bakery are always looking for support in the area of mentoring, or CV and interview preparation, which would only require your assistance once a month. So do get in contact with a member of the team by clicking here.

On Rachel’s journey

Rachel has been at the bakery from the very beginning – alongside the founder, Alice – and when I say beginning, I mean from when it was just simply an idea. The birth of the bakery’s team, was a match made in heaven, with Alice bringing her experience of working with sexworkers in Thailand and London, whilst Rachel brought her expertise in baking.

As you’ll see with many successful chefs and business owners in the food industry, everyone has a completely unique different path into the kitchen, and Rachel is no different. Born and raised in Cambridge, Rachel has always had a passion for baking. From 14 years of age, she began practising from home, whilst teaching herself via YouTube videos and recipe books. However, in 2015 a pivotal moment for Rachel occurred, when she took part in Cambridge’s Great Bake Off, in which she came 1st out of 100 entrants. This played a massive role in building her confidence, especially as she hadn’t undertook any sort of culinary training. 

Despite this great success, by the age of 18, instead of attending university like her peers, she decided to take the bold step of leaving her home town for London. Reflecting on that moment, with a warm smile on her face, she spoke on how supportive her family were: “My family were so supportive. I didn’t want to spend money going to uni when I knew it wasn’t what I wanted to do.”  Talking about her mum she laughed saying: “It’s funny my mum tries to play devil’s advocate now and again, and ask ‘So when are you going to university?”  Despite the confidence Rachel had garnered along the way, once she arrived in London, and had to start holding classes, she decided to attend culinary school and train as a pastry chef at Westminster Kingsway, once a week, to gain proper professional training. 

Do something that has a purpose behind it

For Rachel, purpose is something that is clearly of major importance. Listening to her story, it just seemed as if everything fell into place. When I asked her about how she knew baking was the right path for her she responded: “I’ve always wanted to be where I am supposed to be and I felt I was given a specific skill set to use.” Interestingly, she began to speak about the conflict she felt during her journey, as she wanted to find a purpose where she could combine her love for three things: baking, helping people, and her faith into one place. She eventually found this in the bakery.

On faith

Rachel had openly shared her faith towards the beginning of our conversation, so I was intrigued to find out how it may have played a role in her work at the bakery. Talking about God, she said “You have someone to turn to on rough days”. Explaining further, she expressed how as a Christian, she felt a duty to make sure she brought her best to every piece of work she engaged in. After we both spent a few minutes trying to remember the Bible verse that speaks on this, we figured it out, it says: “Whatever you do, work from the soul as for the Lord and not for men.” (Colossians 3:23) 18519978_1298550753515620_5574046872976142320_n

On future plans & final thoughts for the readers

After thinking deeply, Rachel responded that she’d love to write a cookbook and expand the bakery. Wrapping up our conversation, I asked her for any last wise words in which she responded: “Do something that has a purpose behind it”. She explained that even if you hate your job, try and find the purpose behind it.
Heading home at 5pm following our conversation, I felt full, not only from my cinnamon swirl, but from the contentment of knowing that Rachel had found her purpose and was using it to help many around her. It became more apparent to me how special this bakery is: Luminary Bakery is the love child of Passion and Skill.