‘It’s heartbreaking our centres are closed’

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‘It’s heartbreaking our centres are closed’

Jewish Care's CEO said: 'We’ve had to work out how to structure the workforce to allow us to deliver the services we have been since March. That has meant some tough decisions'

Jewish Care volunteers supporting elderly and vulnerable service users during the pandemic. 

(C) Blake Ezra Photography Ltd. 2020
Jewish Care volunteers supporting elderly and vulnerable service users during the pandemic. (C) Blake Ezra Photography Ltd. 2020

The chief executive of Jewish Care has reassured the organisation and those who rely on it that while the doors of its nine community day centres may currently be closed, its services are very much continuing..

It follows news last week that 128 staff members from the centres – roughly nine percent of the charity’s workforce – were now in a consultation process, with some job losses envisaged after eight months of ongoing coronavirus restrictions.

Despite the financial pressures that all charities are under, the vast majority of Jewish Care staff are not at risk of losing their jobs. Those in consultation will be redeployed where possible, in what bosses described as a rapidly changing landscape.

Speaking to Jewish News, Daniel Carmel-Brown said he was “committed to bringing people back” to the shuttered centres, which provide day care activities as well as meals but, even with new hopes of a vaccine, this prospect seems months away.

Daniel Carmel-Brown of Jewish Care

“We’ve had to think very carefully about how we approach the next phase of this,” he said. “Assuming restrictions will be in place for many months, we’ve had to work out how to structure the workforce to allow us to deliver the services we have been delivering since March. That has meant some tough decisions.”

At the start of lockdown, some day centre staff redeployed to the charity’s residential care homes. Others moved to the popular Meals on Wheels, while others helped with the in-demand befriending service. Only 18 staff were furloughed.

Outlining how the charity now needed “an interim structure”, Carmel-Brown heaped praise on staff for adapting so fast during lockdown and explained that while service users would one day return, where and what they return to may look different.

Meals on wheels delivered to service users during the pandemic. (C) Blake Ezra Photography Ltd. 2020

“We look forward to resuming activities and meeting in-person when it is safe to do so, but since that will depend on the pandemic,  government guidelines and public health advice, we don’t yet know when this will be.”

He said the opportunities thrown up by the coronavirus had also presented “an even wider offering of more flexible and outreach activities”, which allowed the charity to connect with “a far wider section of the community who also need our support”.

Central to this evolving picture is the charity’s online programming, with Carmel-Brown saying he was “amazed at the uptake”. He explained: “From what I’ve seen, it’s a bit of a myth that the older generation don’t do technology.”

Citing one example, he said the Holocaust Survivors’ Centre’s Wednesday morning Yiddish discussion group has now moved online, and, whereas pre-lockdown this was limited by geography to survivors in London, it is now open to anyone, anywhere in the world. 

“We’ve even had people from Israel joining in on some Zoom

Susan and Louise baking and delivering cakes for Jewish Care’s supportive communities tea parties

On the job losses, he said activities “transformed overnight” in March and that while the charity had hoped and planned for a return to normal this autumn, the increasing infection rates – especially in Barnet and Redbridge – meant they needed a Plan B.   

“It’s heartbreaking not being able to open them,” said Carmel-Brown of the centres. “I grew up in that part of the organisation and know the significance these services play in the individual communities where they operate.

“But it is not a situation of our making. It’s been imposed upon us by the environment we’re all living in. 

“We’re under huge pressure, with a large workforce, sitting on empty buildings. Hopefully our interim structure will even enhance what we offer.”

On his feeling of responsibility, he added that “my job and the job of the trustees is to make sure that we are custodians of the charity and its charitable resources, to make sure we are here for the future, and that has meant making some very difficult decisions recently”, citing a care home closure in September.

The growth of the charity’s digital programming, which began in earnest when relatives were forbidden from visiting, has expanded horizons and even led to talk of a “digital community centre alongside an actual community centre”.

Until then, safety is the priority, with the charity having spent £500,000 on personal protective equipment since March, when early lockdown posed gargantuan staffing problems, with one in four staff members unable to come into work at one point.

“We had to generate millions of pounds this summer just to see us through, and we’ve left no stone unturned for winter,”
said Carmel-Brown. 

“We’re wholeheartedly committed to bringing people back when it is safe, but I suspect it’ll look a little bit different. We may not do it exactly as we did previously. Let’s see.”

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