Based in the shiny new Maurice and Vivienne Wohl Campus, the Michael Sobell Community Centre in Golders Green is at the heart of both the Jewish community and of Jewish Care, writes Stephen Oryszczuk.
It is barely recognisable from the kind of community centres I’d grown up with ‘up north,’ with their draughty function rooms, creaky floorboards and lack of imagination. Lovely Leeds-born Lindsey on reception would no doubt agree.
If you spend £40 million on a building, you can expect it to be fairly self-contained, and the campus very much is.
There is a reminiscence room, a shop, a hairdresser, a beauty salon, an arts and crafts studio, a restaurant, a library (it’s beginning to sound like a Cluedo board…), a printing service and a computer room with kosher internet options.
Located on Golders Green Road, this campus is a world within a world.
The PR person is Marilyn, and I’m as grateful for her good nature as I am her willingness to feed and water me, since she’s my all-day chaperone.
Then there’s Belinda aka The Boss of the community centre. We share northern roots and bad habits, so hit it off. This means she too now wants to feed me.
Next door to Belinda’s office is Joel. His ‘print-box’ is the cupboard-sized base for a social enterprise he set up late last year, where people with physical and learning disabilities staff a business producing all manner of print resources.
Alongside Joel is Robin, who’s tucking into his lunch and mentally preparing for an afternoon grilling by campus residents on all-things-Jewish.
Upstairs, in the KC Shasha Centre radio station, there’s Jon Kaye, whose voice would soothe even the most wracked of nerves. I suggest they have Jon manning the phones on the helpdesk.
Supporting this central cast is a wild array of care home managers, including Antony at Selig Court, Susan at Rela Goldhill Lodge and Ernest at Otto Schiff care home. During my day on campus, I spend time with all of them, and meet residents of widely differing ages and experiences.
We start with the community centre, and get involved in the activities. Marilyn suggests a bit of Zumba, but it’s too early in the morning for that, so we head instead to the arts and crafts centre, where residents and members are making something ceramic and glazed.
Thereafter, and on our way to meet Belinda, we stop by the computer room, where a young mother surfs the web for child car-seats while a man from the kashrut service scrolls through photos.
With ten paid staff and almost 90 volunteers, Belinda has a lot of co-ordinating to do, but over a coffee she explains that the volunteer co-ordinators manage and supervise the staff on a day-to-day basis, which takes a lot of the burden off her, and for which she’s forever grateful. “Without them, this place just wouldn’t function,” she says, adding: “All the volunteers are superstars.”
Love aside, I ask Belinda what it is she does all day, especially now I know that the volunteers do a lot of the work for her. She resists the urge to throttle me, instead explaining her last hour.
After taking a call from a member of the community asking whether the food had a Beth Din licence, she spent ten minutes completing review forms for the Borough of Enfield (where Jewish Care has a satellite day centre), recording latest user figures etc. Following that, she met with the lead of Am Segula, the Sephardi youth group with a synagogue upstairs, to talk about developing a teaching programme for the Sephardi community. Fine – I’ll let her off.
After lunch, we head upstairs to sit-in on Robin’s Q&A. Residents and members ask him to explain: whether two blades are needed to cut facial hair; whether organs are allowed in shuls; whether eating meat and fish from the same plate is acceptable; and why – if honey is kosher – insects are not.
His answers don’t satisfy everyone (he is at one point challenged for telling a different answer with his face…). They do however kick-start lively group discussions, which the chairman struggles to control.
In the midst of one of these intellectual brawls, an old lady turns to me and says: “They should have had my husband here, he’s ever so knowledgeable.”
We leave Robin to get mauled, and head over to Rela Goldhill Lodge on Lime Avenue, where we meet residents Frank, Matthew (pictured left), Carole and Marietta (pictured below right), as well as staff members Irene and Alessandra.
Mobility is a key issue for Lodge residents. Matthew, who has cerebral palsy, kindly takes us on a tour of the rooms, explaining how access could be improved. He has a point: the building does seem designed for another purpose.
In Otto Schiff, we join a musical session in the lounge, during which an enthusiastic lady with a guitar stands at the front and gets us all singing Edelweiss and Shalom Chaverim (Marilyn’s got a good voice, and is wasted in an office environment).
And in the third floor library in Selig Court, tenants tell us about the service provided by the charity, ahead of their dinner downstairs.
We’re coming to the end of the day, but before leaving I stick my head in the sound booths and ask DJ Jon how his day has gone. He’s been putting together Sunday’s show, which includes a round-table discussion on Jews in journalism.
I suddenly realise that a newspaper journalist (me) is asking a radio journalist (Jon) about journalists appearing on a show about journalism.
I take that as my cue to leave this mercurial world within a world, but struggle to find the exit.
Once they’ve got you…