A day in the life of the Wohl Campus

By Charlotte Oliver, February 6, 2014
Vicky Minsky in the Michael Sobell art studio

Vicky Minsky in the Michael Sobell art studio

It is a quiet morning in Golders Green. But things are bustling at Jewish Care’s Michael Sobell community centre, part of the £44 million Maurice and Vivienne Wohl campus which has become an indispensable hub for both the charity’s clients and the wider

The campus offers activities and facilities for everyone from new-borns to great-grandparents — fitness, arts and crafts, support groups and religious services among them. “The main thrust of what we do here is around reducing isolation and loneliness,” says Jewish Care chief executive Simon Morris.

“When we built this, it was really important to me that this was a centre for the community. The idea is that it is used from eight in the morning to 11 at night.”

The idea has become a reality. In November for example, well over 5,000 people visited the campus to take advantage of its classes and social activities. The day club is finely tailored towards its elderly clientele. For a £24 yearly membership, and a fiver for daily entry, participants have a wide array of activities to keep them busy, stimulated and healthy.

Arts and crafts classes include embroidery, jewellery making and pottery; there is language tuition (French, Hebrew and Yiddish), exercise options (yoga, Zumba and toning), and even a computer club.

Card games, quizzes, films, discussion groups and musical performances fill any slack. At noon, 84-year-old Vicky Minsky is enthusiastically painting glass in the art studio. She travels to the centre every day on the Jewish Care minibus, and takes particular enjoyment in the keep fit and chair-yoga.

“I’ve been coming here for 19 years,” she says. “I have no family left in London because my son is with his family in Manchester. But I’m here meeting people all the time. This is my family.”

Another active day club member is 81-year-old Ruth Frei, who attends the N’Shei chair-based exercise classes every week, run in partnership with the Six Point Foundation, and is also a regular at the lunchtime computer club.

She says: “I’m learning to use the computer because I want to be able to Skype with my great-grandchildren who live in the USA and Israel.

“Vivienne Wohl was a great friend of mine. She was the most caring person — I know she would be so proud of what is happening at this centre in her name.”

Meanwhile, respite is on hand at the on-site cafeteria — one which turns into the campus shul on Shabbat — kosher food store, library and hairdresser’s salon.

It is often at these places where the hub is at its liveliest, bringing together day club and community members with residents from Jewish Care’s neighbouring Otto Schiff care home and independent living site Selig Court, as well as staff members from the upstairs head office.

Next door to the cafeteria, the KC Shasha Centre for Talking News and Books is busy producing audio books and newspapers for people around the country who suffer from sight problems, arthritis and Parkinson’s.

Volunteers read from a book or newspaper, and the recording is then made into a CD or USB recording — making the centre’s reach far wider than Golders Green.

Fast forward to 6pm and the activities remain in full swing for both members and non-members (at a subsidised entry price). These are run by outside organisations that use the complex as their base of operations.

On this particular day, young girls aged between seven and 11 are raising the roof at a Dancing with Louise “Frumba”, a Zumba dance class for Orthodox children.

Mother Yael Levy, whose two daughters attend the class, says: “It’s fantastic for the kids. I’m just starting to allow my daughter to walk home alone, so it’s very convenient having the classes at this centre.”
Downstairs, the 25-strong boys’ choir is in session for schoolboys aged between 11 and 13. “This gives the boys the opportunity to do something different,” says choir director Eli Flax.

“It is incredible to have it here, right in the nucleus of the community. One of the security guards, who isn’t Jewish, knows all the Hebrew songs — and we give back to Jewish Care by performing for them every few months.”

The services are countless — far too many to name, and do not end until the last person leaves the kosher internet services at 11pm (provided for Chasidic community members who require rabbi-approved computer use).

Only then will the hustle and bustle simmer — until another day rises for the Wohl Campus.

Last updated: 10:45am, February 6 2014