Meghan Markle's favourite London bakery wins a Queen's Award for more than just great cakes

·4-min read
Meghan Markle opening the Camden branch of Luminary Bakery in 2019  - Rii Schroer 
Meghan Markle opening the Camden branch of Luminary Bakery in 2019 - Rii Schroer

In 2019 it was hailed by the Duchess of Sussex for its “exceptional” work and “absolutely delicious” baked goods – and now the London-based Luminary Bakery has been awarded the Queen’s Award for Enterprise for excellence in promoting opportunity.

The social enterprise is one of 205 winners of the business award, given to companies for their work in international trade, innovation, sustainable development and, since 2017, promoting opportunity. Previous winners across the categories include Jaguar Land Rover, Airbus and Regatta and, in the food world, Tyrrells crisps and Fever Tree.

“It feels incredible to be recognised by such a prestigious award,” says Alice Williams, Luminary Bakery’s founder and CEO. “It’s recognition for the team’s hard work during a challenging year.”

Luminary Bakery was founded by Williams in 2014 and since its onset has supported women with disadvantaged backgrounds – as well as producing incredible cakes. It runs intensive courses for women who have experienced homelessness, violence or sexual assault, have been involved in criminal activity, or are suffering from mental health issues, offering training in baking as well as general life and employability skills. In 2016, the first permanent bakery was opened in Stoke Newington, with a second following in 2019 in Camden – at which Meghan Markle was on hand to cut the cake.

The enterprise shot to fame in late 2019 when the Duchess of Sussex featured Luminary Bakery in a guest-edited issue of Vogue. Markle praised the bakery’s work at the time, saying, “The work you do, what you represent to the community, the spirit of the women here – you all embody what it means to be ‘forces for change’. Thank you for being part of this special project.”

“She’s been such a brilliant supporter of our work, it’s been really beneficial for us,” says Williams. It "catapulted" them into the limelight, she explains, "exposing us to people who would never have heard of us otherwise. Our women were really honoured to meet her.” Markle has remained in contact with Luminary, and only last month made a sizeable order of cakes from Luminary for an International Women’s Day event at Grenfell Community Kitchen.

Like all hospitality enterprises, Luminary Bakery has had a tough time over the past year, dealing with lengthy enforced closures and social distancing measures. But its educational arm has taken a huge hit, too, since the course relies on such direct contact.

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When the pandemic hit the class was moved online, which brought about its own issues. Many students didn’t have access to the right baking equipment or technology, though Luminary did its best to provide both for online bake-alongs. After a year with no new recruits, who are referred to Luminary by the likes of charity workers, councils or shelters, a new cohort began last week.

“For a lot of women, home hasn’t been a safe haven,” says Williams. “Either they live with someone violent, or in a hostel with lots of people in a small space. [The pandemic] has exacerbated a lot of issues that were already there, we’ve had to provide much more emergency and crisis support than usual.”

On the business side, Luminary Bakery has adapted to the past year like many in the industry, ramping up takeaways and deliveries, which has kept some of its apprentices in full-time employment, though some had to be furloughed. Nationwide delivery was something the team were considering before the pandemic, but Covid-19 spurred them on. Across the country, individuals and corporations can now access brownies, mini celebration cakes and more. “Our reach is much bigger than just London now,” says Williams.

In 2019, the Telegraph spoke to one graduate who was working part time at Luminary alongside launching her own initiative, Bake Yourself Better, a cupcake business focusing on positive messaging. It is still going strong and Sarah, its founder, who until last month was working as a teaching assistant at Luminary Bakery, has just taken it full time.

Recently, the team enrolled its 100th trainee on the programme; as of December 2020, 59 per cent of women who undertook training were in employment or further training within 24 months. That the pandemic has exacerbated certain issues, such as domestic violence against women and homelessness, means there will be a need for Luminary Bakery’s services in the coming years.

While Luminary Bakery has long-term plans to go nationwide, which would allow the team to help more women across the country, Covid-19 has put a spanner in the works. New openings are on hold for now, with online sales the focus. But “expansion is definitely still on the horizon,” says Williams. “Watch this space.”