The inside story on £44m Jewish Care campus

The exterior of the Wohl campus

The exterior of the Wohl campus

As the saying goes, it is good when a plan comes together. And giving the JC a pre-opening tour of Jewish Care's £44 million care campus in Golders Green, the charity's chief executive, Simon Morris, has the look of a man who knows he is on to a winner.

Barely four-and-a-half years from concept to completion, the 160,000 square feet Maurice and Vivienne Wohl site has its first occupants - Jewish Care employees are adjusting to their new surrounds as part of a gradual move of over 160 staff.

In August, community centre members will start holding activities and residents will begin transferring to the Otto Schiff care home from Osmond House in Hampstead, which will close in a few months. Osmond House has been run by Jewish Care on behalf of the Otto Schiff Housing Association, which has donated £10 million to the campus project.

By early next year, 60 or so tenants should be settled in at Selig Court, an independent living project for Holocaust survivors which Mr Morris believes signposts the way forward in care provision for the Jewish and wider community.

An imposing mural in the campus reception area is testimony to Mr Morris' desire to prominently site "something that says, 'I'm in a Jewish building'". It depicts symbols of Jewish life - Star of David, shofar, kiddush cup, dreidel, menorah, the Ten Commandments and the 12 Tribes of Israel.

As with other areas of the premises, the community centre space has been designed with the flexibility to accommodate large or more intimate gatherings, depending on demand. "One of the shifts we have made as an organisation is working in partnership, having a dialogue with the community to meet their needs," he explains.

At the outset, an estimated 400 people will use the building, but the hope is to build on links fostered with local groups to have evening and additional daytime activities. "It would be great to have a mums and tots group," says Mr Morris by way of example.

An arts and crafts room will offer pursuits including pottery and quilting; a unisex hairdressing salon reflects the thinking that looking good enhances a person's sense of well-being. A shop will stock kosher favourites, essential toiletries and items such as simchah greetings cards. A number of congregations are in discussion with Jewish Care about using one of the two synagogues.

Although sound insulation keeps out much of the Golders Green Road hubbub, the garden areas are particular oases of tranquility. There is even a "secret garden" for Otto Schiff residents - "they can feel free to wander but we know they are safe."

The home is divided into four sections, on the premise that smaller units are more calming for those with dementia and make life easier for staff. There are also features to improve care and comfort - electronic monitoring, adjustable sinks - and reminiscence aids like a gramophone and records.

Mr Morris says the independent living facilities will keep Jewish Care "in the forefront of social care in Britain. The welfare state, while it is great as support, has stifled creativity and innovation in social care. If you look at America, Israel or other parts or Western Europe, there are far more options for older people in terms of living.

"We wanted to provide an environment for older people that meets their needs, rather than the funders' needs, so that people live independently, having their own front door, kitchen, bathroom, living space. There is care on-site to support those people and that care can be built up as people's needs get greater. I hope that people will be able to live there for as long as they want to."

That tenants will be Shoah survivors is "another example of listening to what service users want. One of the most important services Jewish Care provides is the Holocaust Survivors' Centre. Members said to us: 'We are getting old, we are no longer able to live in our own homes. We would like to live together in an environment where the care comes to us when we need it.'"

Survivors sat on the working group and the importance to them of light and a feeling of space has been translated into the design.

Catering is under London Beth Din supervision and the communal cafe will give some of the charity's administrative staff a first opportunity to interact with clients. "It is important they don't lose track of what we are about."

The project has also allowed economies of scale by integrating two previously external facilities - the KC Shasha Centre for talking news and books and the Karten CTEC Centre, providing computer access for those with disabilities. With an on-site studio, there is even the potential for a campus radio station.

Around £6 million still needs to be raised for what Mr Morris says is "the biggest capital project ever undertaken in the Jewish community. There have been schools projects but they have had government money. This has been totally funded by the community.

"For me, this a statement which shows very graphically where Jewish Care is at." Another £10 million came from the Wohl Foundation and there have been additional major donations.

"I couldn't list the people who have made this project work because there are so many of them. We spend a lot of time in our community complaining, bitching and arguing. But if you step back and look at what we've achieved over the past few years - be it schools, support for Israel, welfare, social care - it's tremendous. A community that cares for itself and supports itself."

    Last updated: 12:15pm, July 15 2010