Raymond Simonson

Raymond Simonson

By Raymond Simonson, Chief Executive, JW3

“Our vision is for JW3 to be at the heart of a vibrant, unified, diverse community, inspired by and engaged in Jewish arts, culture, learning and life.”

It’s hard to believe that it has been just six months since we opened our doors to the public, motivated by our vision and inspired by the stunning new centre into which we had just moved.

We launched with a promise that JW3 would be a welcoming community centre in which people of every age, background, and persuasion would feel comfortable and at home. A place where anyone interested in Jewish life could walk through the doors and discover multiple entry points to connect and participate – through film, education, food, music, fitness, recreation, dance, drama, debate or discussion.

We proudly declared we would deliver a vibrant arts and cultural venue showcasing a rich, diverse range of events and activities, featuring the very best of Jewish and mainstream programming that London has to offer.

And I personally repeated to all who would listen – whether in the Jewish News and mainstream British and international press, or on the TV screens in the homes of millions who followed our Launch Days on the BBC, ITV and Sky News – that the combined efforts of everything we do at JW3 would increase the quality, variety and volume of Jewish conversation in London and beyond.

Comedy duo Rhonna and Beverly celebrate the opening of JW3 last September

Comedy duo Rhonna and Beverly celebrate the opening of JW3 last September

While we made these bold statements and promises with confidence, we really could not have anticipated how enthusiastically the community would respond, and how quickly JW3 would establish itself as a critical part of London’s Jewish and cultural landscape.

After hearing for the previous 18 months how “no one will come”, “it’s in the wrong location”, “Jews don’t use public transport!” and the like, in just six months, more than 120,000 visitors have crossed the bridge and entered our contemporary community centre and arts venue to enjoy the state-of-the-art facilities and dynamic programming.

You’ve enjoyed our first piece of newly commissioned theatre that received four star reviews across the mainstream press; joined more than 8,000 other skaters on our outdoor winter ice rink; expanded your mind, your culinary repertoire and your skill set with a wide range of renowned educators, instructors, artists, chefs and writers; got fit and healthy with Krav Maga, pilates, yoga and street-dance; been entertained and enlightened by Oscar-winning actors and award-winning television stars, historians, producers, directors, and comedians; enjoyed live gigs with celebrated jazz musicians, acclaimed Israeli bands and prize-winning singers; celebrated Jewish festivals with hundreds of other families; or simply met old friends, made new ones, or ate some of the exquisite food from our restaurant Zest, that has critics from The Times, Observer, Time Out and more raving about – whatever the reason for coming, you have continued to enjoy JW3 in your thousands, and we could not be happier.

With more than 10 times the anticipated number of phone calls and four times the number of visitors in our first few months, we know we weren’t able to keep pace with demand and our service levels were not always as good as we wanted them to be. We were disappointed by this, and so were some of you.

So we worked as hard and fast as we could to respond to the feedback, by upgrading our telephone systems and our web server, increasing the number of box office staff, evaluating and improving our internal systems and processes and training – all to provide a better service, to match the high quality of the programme.

We’ve made some mistakes, and we’ve held our hands up, apologised, and worked out how to fix them. All important aspects of running a start-up – or, in our case, half a dozen start-ups under one roof.

Beyond the sheer number of people making use of the centre, what has delighted me even more is the diversity of the people I see on a daily basis. From babes in Bugaboos through to seniors; religious to secular; across the denominations and no denomination at all; straight and gay; male and female; non-Jewish locals and Jews from Hampstead, Hendon, Hackney, Harrow and beyond; Jews with non-Jewish partners, families, Israelis, tourists, rabbis, celebrities, and coming-out-as-Jewish types.

I’ve seen Charedi families ice-skating and local Japanese 30-somethings sipping Goldstar beer while watching an Israeli film. I’ve seen Muslim community leaders embracing the Jewish value of hachnasat orchim (hospitality/welcoming guests) that JW3 embodies; Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis share a laugh with Rabbi Baroness Julia Neuberger; and Education Secretary Michael Gove get a public grilling from a JFS student.

And the thing that makes me happiest when I reflect on the first six months? The thing of which I am most proud?

That in six short months I can already see that we’re delivering on the promise I made in these pages last September – to increase the quality, variety and importantly, the volume of Jewish conversation.

The dial has been turned up – and it’s staying up!