Alice Williams is the founder & CEO of Luminary Bakery, an award winning social enterprise supporting the UK’s most disadvantaged women to reach their potential by providing training, employment & community.
Luminary runs two bakeries in London, their most recent store in Camden was opened by HRH The Duchess of Sussex. They stock venues such as Ben & Jerry’s Soho scoop-shop, and have been featured in Vogue, TimeOut, The Telegraph & Vanity Fair.
Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role
In 2011 I left my temp marketing role to volunteer in Thailand with an NGO that offers employment to women trying to exit the sex industry in Bangkok. I had qualified as a Youth & Community worker but wanted to explore supporting disadvantaged women, so decided to volunteer to get some experience. When I moved back to London I knew that sadly this wasn’t just an exotic problem that happened overseas, and there is so much gender-based violence & disadvantage that holds women back here too. So I got involved with a local community church – running their café on Brick Lane, with the understanding that I would research & develop how we could support & provide opportunities for local women in disadvantaged situations. There we created Luminary Bakery, which is a social enterprise offering training, employment & community to some of the UK’s most disadvantaged women, of which I’m now the CEO.
Did you ever sit down and plan your career?
Not at all! I grew up wanting to be a youth worker so went down that path, but became more & more passionate about supporting women so intentionally moved into that sector. And working the odd retail job to pay the bills in the meantime which was all really great work experience. I’ve always wanted to make a difference with the roles I have and to do something purposeful, but I didn’t have a planned out route of what that would exactly lead me to.
Have you faced any challenges along the way?
Of course, starting and growing a social enterprise and keeping it afloat is incredibly challenging. We’ve done everything on a shoe string budget and all decisions are much more stressful when money is tight. In everything we do we seek to create opportunities for the women who need them the most so we push ourselves hard to achieve that mission.
What has been your biggest achievement to date?
It’s hard to pinpoint 1 specific achievement as there have been lots of great wins along the way. I think the Luminary cookbook is something we’re all really proud of as it’s a beautiful symbol of what we’ve created here and the community of amazing women we’ve built up.
What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?
Other people! I am personally so grateful to everyone who has taken time to invest in me and my vision for Luminary. We have such loyal team members, advisors, supporters, customers, funders and Luminary champions who make what we do possible.
How do you feel about mentoring? Have you mentored anyone or are you someone’s mentee?
I have had multiple brilliant women who’ve taken me under their wing and given me the time and space to process, to reflect and to grow in my professional and personal life, which I’m so grateful for – both in a more structured mentoring arrangement and informally too. I’m not sure I’ve ever formally been someone else’s mentor but through youth work / support work and volunteering I’ve put coaching and mentoring skills to use. I set up a mentoring programme at Luminary because I think it’s such a brilliant way for professional women to help someone starting out in their career.
If you could change one thing to accelerate the pace of change for Gender Equality, what would it be?
Free childcare for under 5s. I don’t have kids but have just seen so many women held back in their life / career due to childcare responsibilities falling unfairly to them, or having to make the sacrifice between work & raising a family because childcare is too expensive.
If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self what would it be?
Don’t overpluck your eyebrows!
What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?
Our current challenge for Luminary is to overcome the post-pandemic challenges the hospitality sector is facing and build strong foundations of successful operations (both commercially and also in terms of our social impact) that we can expand upon. We’re ambitious and we’re keen to grow – wherever there are women who need the opportunities Luminary can offer, we want to be there!
WeAreTheCity has a back catalogue of thousands of Inspirational Woman interviews, including Cherie Blair, Paula Radcliffe MBE, Caprice Bourret, Anna Williamson and many more. You can read about all our amazing women here.