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Meet Hackney’s social enterprise cafes


These days, starting a new business or a charity is not enough for some people. With consumers more inquisitive about where their charity money is going, and funding for start-up businesses more competitive than ever, a handful of businesses have gone down the social enterprise route: reinvesting some of their profit into charitable endeavours that in turn benefit the business itself.

Better Health

And several of these businesses are based right here in Hackney.

The Luminary Bakery is a wholesale bakery and cafe based in Stoke Newington which provides baking training and opportunities for women. They supply bread to local eateries, while selling cakes and sandwiches in their cafe, which has just extended its opening hours to seven days a week.

Founder Alice Boyle wanted to create baking classes for women, and with seed funding from Brick Lane’s KAHAILA – a cafe that takes an active role in community and supporting local projects – Luminary started out in Tower Hamlets before finding their Stoke Newington home.

Luminary Bakery

And Hackney has been a receptive audience. Alice says: “people get it. We’ve created a culture of selling diversity.” Locals are open to both enjoying cinnamon buns at the cafe, and supporting a local enterprise.

Baking seems to be a winning formula. The Centre for Better Health, a mental health charity based in Haggerston runs three social enterprises: the Better Health Bakery which has been around for five years; Better Health Bikes, a bike repair shop which has existed for two, as well as wholesale business Better Health Plastics. The enterprises have come naturally in Hackney where there’s a lot of eateries who will buy sourdough bread, feeding what assistant director Simon Hale calls a “trendy zeitgeist” in the area, and people who ride bikes, providing a good market for both businesses.

What marries this up so well with the mental health work The Centre For Better Health do is that both the bakery and bike shop provides trainee employment for adults recovering from mental health issues, adding another branch to that side of the charity. Assistant director Simon Heale says that activities like these are important because, for instance “baking is something people do together, where you get to see the results rapidly. It’s using employment as a way to recover from mental health problems.” In that respect, it’s a win-win situation.

Luminary Bakery

But keeping a business running while adhering to the values of the social side of the enterprise is not without its challenges. The Dusty Knuckle – a wholesale bakery based in Dalston which providing training and employment for young people – strive to practise what they preach, and not subscribe to the overworking London culture which can lead to burnout. Co-founder Max Tobias tells us “it’s a whole set of different challenges” to marry up the two sides.

Dusty Knuckle

But it’s important to have that business mind – Max says the enterprise “has to have legs” to survive: if you can’t compete, you won’t achieve your goals, adding responsibility to the social side. It’s important to be as business-minded as socially-minded. The Dusty Knuckle are “still trying to find the sweet spot”, but Hackney is the ideal area for that and the audience for the products they’re selling aren’t going anywhere.

Dusty Knuckle

The popularity of social enterprises is growing, particularly because of the community values supporting local businesses fulfils, which is so important to Hackney residents. Stoke Newington cafe The Lacy Nook source as much of their food produce locally, telling us “community is everything.”

Social enterprise businesses thrive in Hackney because of the unique positioning of the need for their work, but also a receptive community who not only want to buy the products these enterprises are selling, but also to take the choice to support a local charity.

Words: Victoria Gray