Last edited 16 Jan 2021

Historic Synagogues - at risk updates

In August 2016, Jewish Heritage UK published a new report into the state of repair of synagogues which concluded that general improvements have been made overall in their condition, and flagship projects have helped repair those most at risk, however falls in membership and poor maintenance are still risk factors UK wide.

Jewish Heritage UK wrote:

Britain's historic synagogues are in better shape than they were five years ago, according to Jewish Heritage's latest report published this week. This is especially the case in London where all but one historic synagogue are now rated as ‘Good’ or ‘Fair’ in terms of the key indicators by which ‘Risk’ is measured in the Heritage world: ‘Condition’ and ‘Usage’. The biggest threats to historic synagogues are poor maintenance and redundancy because of falling membership.

Big repair projects have been carried out at Sandys Row on the edge of the city and at Golders Green, thanks in large part to the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF). Both buildings are now experiencing a new lease of life, contrary to many expectations.

Britain’s oldest ‘cathedral synagogue’, Singers Hill in Birmingham, that for years fought closure, is also enjoying a renaissance. Now finding itself In the centre of a regenerated city centre quarter, this building has undergone renovation largely funded privately by members and has acquired a dynamic rabbinical couple who are turning the shul once again into a hive of activity.

Leicester’s Orthodox congregation have opted to sell off their 1950s hall across the road and to hang on to their distinctive late Victorian synagogue, shown on the cover of the Report. Their foresight has paid off: since 2012 they have landed no fewer than three publicly-funded Heritage grants, totalling almost £145,000, for repairs to the building, development of educational resources on site, as well as for a documentation project of the turn-of-the-20th-century Jewish Section at the city’s Gilroes Cemetery, that was opened soon after the synagogue (in 1902).

The Report’s author, Dr Sharman Kadish, commented, ‘All these examples demonstrate the fact that well-maintained buildings stimulate more activity inside them. Jewish Heritage’s aim is to preserve the powerful link between Binyan [building] and Minyan [community] for the benefit of future generations.’

Challenges remain. The Report highlights a group of highly graded Victorian synagogues: Liverpool’s Princes Road (Grade I), Bradford’s Bowland Street (Grade II*) and Brighton’s Middle Street (Grade II*) as in need of urgent work to arrest further deterioration. This is especially true in Bradford, where an HLF Repair Grant has been awarded for the first time. In all these places small enthusiastic congregations have worked hard not only to make their shul a widely recognised hub for local Jews, but also a magnet for many non-Jewish visitors, including school parties, especially during this month’s national and European Jewish Heritage Open Days.

‘At Risk’ synagogues are most likely to date from the early 20th century and to be located in the North of England. Sunderland, Blackpool and Liverpool’s Greenbank have all now closed and are seeking appropriate new users.

The recently announced capital development grant for the Manchester Jewish Museum, housed in the city’s Victorian Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue, is set to bring the amount of public funding contributed to historic synagogues to nearly £5 million.

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