How to make £57 million in sales

March 3, 2011
Ashley Mitchell

Ashley Mitchell

The Otto Schiff Housing Association held a London reception this week to celebrate the potential raising of £57 million from the sale of its assets, the bulk of which has benefited 18 communal charities.

Established in 1933 as the Central British Fund to rescue Jews from Nazi Germany, the association raised the money from the sale of four properties.

Jewish Care and World Jewish Relief are the biggest bene-ficiaries, receiving more than £15 million apiece. The Association of Jewish Refugees, Jewish Community Housing Association and Jewish Blind and Disabled all benefited by £500,000-plus.

Funds also went to the Beenstock and Morris Feinmann homes in Manchester, the Brighton and Hove Jewish Centre and the Holocaust Centre in Nottinghamshire.

The charity set up World Jewish Relief in 1985 to undertake international aid while managing residential care and sheltered accommodation as the CBF Residential Care and Housing Association. The name change to Otto Schiff in 1991 was in memory of a man who devoted his life to helping refugees to the UK.

I received letters telling me how awful I was

At the turn of the century, the OSHA was £1 million in debt and was threatened with the seizing of assets by the Housing Corporation. Its properties had been valued at £8 million, reflecting problematic planning restrictions. Over an eight-year period, £3 million was spent on architects and legal fees to maximise the properties' value.

OSHA chairman Ashley Mitchell said his decision in 2001 to sell the properties had been controversial. "I had a fair amount of opposition and received some extremely aggressive, hurtful letters telling me what an awful person I was," he recalled.

"We took the strategic decision that our resources could be better utilised. I felt we had fulfilled the objectives of our original founders."

Eleanor Rathbone House in Muswell Hill was sold in 2003 for £5.7million. Then Heinrich Stahl House in Bishops Avenue fetched £16.25 million, Leo Baeck House, another Bishops Avenue site, sold for £30.25 million and the final property, Otto Schiff House in Hampstead, is set to realise £5 million.

"From being on our knees 10 years ago, facing a catastrophic situation, we have transformed what we are doing," Mr Mitchell observed.

He feels domestic Jewish charities should be doing more to maximise donations. "I think there are quite a number of people in our community who could ask themselves whether their contributions to charity should be a lot more generous," he said.

"We gave the money to Jewish Care on the condition they had to commence the building of the Golders Green campus in three years. I stood in the new building when it opened and thought: 'This wouldn't have happened if I hadn't negotiated this.'

"Some donors like their names in lights. If someone has given for 20 years to a charity, it might be nice to say they are a lifelong patron."

Last updated: 2:17pm, March 3 2011