Making the case for Leeds' staying power
Question time: Susie Gordon (front) taking part in a local quiz night for younger community members
Leeds Jewry's new development executive Susie Gordon is adamant that young people can be persuaded to ditch the bright lights of London in favour of life in the north. They just need some encouragement to tempt them up the M1, she feels.
"Once they are here, they have every reason to stay. This is a really successful community and I think you can have a better quality of life."
Mrs Gordon is developing a three-year strategic plan to both reverse the trend of young people leaving the community and strengthen its demographic base.
Her selling points are the availability of modern, affordable property for first-time buyers through the Leeds Jewish Housing Association and the promotion of local job opportunities.
She speaks from personal experience, having come to Leeds six years ago.
‘We need modern apartments for first-time buyers’
Originally from Pinner, Mrs Gordon, 33, moved with her partner - now husband - Joel, a native of the city.
"We came back from travelling and had no money and no roots. Leeds offered us a nicer lifestyle. It has affordable housing and we live near friends and work. It was a place to build a future.
"It wasn't such a big deal to move. I didn't feel like I needed to make a commitment to stay here forever. But I made a really great group of friends and settled in quickly, found a job with Leeds City Council and we got married, so we stayed."
She says Leeds gives them access to a lifestyle which would have been unaffordable in the capital.
"We bought a three-bedroom house with massive garden. We would probably be living in a bedsit in Stratford for the equivalent money in London. I think I have better quality of life than friends in London, apart from those who are mega rich. I'm commuting around an hour a day instead of three hours in London. I think I'll definitely live longer in Leeds, out of the rat race."
Her new role, created in October, is funded by a voluntary levy on synagogues. Her brief includes reaching out to those living in Leeds who are not part of the community.
She cannot put a number on the young people who leave the city and are lost for good. "It has never been studied but it's safe to say everyone knows a lot of people whose children have moved away."
The estimated Jewish population is around 8,000 and synagogue numbers have held up for the past two years after a period of decline. "We are not like Liverpool or Sunderland. This is still a very viable and strong community and we're just preparing for the future."
She appreciates the difficulty in persuading graduates to leave London, particularly those who feel there are not the same opportunities outside the capital. Indeed, Mrs Gordon once pursued a career in theatre management, working for Sadler's Wells. But she came to realise that quality of life in Leeds was equally important.
"I've been looking at opportunities we can give job-seekers. There are so many businesses in our community where there are opportunities. We are planning on setting up apprenticeships and graduate schemes. We are actively promoting the big corporations hiring in Leeds to young people considering moving back." The Union of Jewish Students is also promoting Leeds as an option for graduates.
On the property front, she reasons that "one of the most fantastic housing associations in the country can support younger people, too. We need to build modern, affordable apartments for first-time buyers, who can have a stake in the property. It might be a year or two years, but this is the beginning of our future.