Manchester Hillel ‘hits rock bottom’

Manchester Hillel House is to close next year following a dramatic fall in applications from Jewish students seeking kosher accommodation.

Once one of the country’s leading centres of Jewish student life, the home has suffered from a significant decrease in young Jews moving to the city in recent years and has now “hit rock bottom”.

The building, which has 30 single bedrooms, kitchens, a small synagogue and activity rooms, will close to residents this summer and could be sold for development.

The decision to shut Hillel’s doors was taken after only two students applied to move in for the next academic year beginning in September 2013. Currently only eight students live at the centre. Two others have left for personal and academic reasons in the past five months.

It is expected that students who wish to live in kosher halls will be assisted by UJS Hillel and the Manchester Hillel Committee in collaboration with Jewish landlords of private student homes in the city.

A spokesman for the committee said: “We will not be open for residents next year. We have hit rock bottom. We have not had any complaints about our activities or how we treat the residents, but things have plummeted.

“We are beginning to contemplate the possibilities. The building could be sold but no decisions have been taken yet. It was a point of honour that we opened this year, but it is hard to know exactly what will happen to the building now.”

Census figures revealed that the number of Jewish students in Manchester has fallen dramatically in the past decade, from a high of more than 1,000 to around just 400 this year.

Many social and religious student activities now take place in the refurbished South Manchester Synagogue in Fallowfield, close to where the majority of Jewish students live.

Sources said the decrease had been caused by a double blow – the anti-Israel atmosphere on Manchester campuses in recent years has deterred many students from applying to the city’s universities, and the economic downturn and increased university fees mean many more can not afford to move away from home to study.

A significant number of Jewish students from London now stay in the capital to study, and live at home with parents in order to reduce the cost of their further education.

There has been a 30 per cent increase in applications for UJS Hillel’s student welfare fund — which aids those whose families cannot support them at university — this year, reflecting what one insider said was proof that “Jewish families are not exempt from the financial situation and the sooner people realise that the better”.

The annual cost of a fully-kosher-catered room at Manchester Hillel this year was around £7,200.

The Manchester Hillel Committee is run autonomously by Jewish volunteers in the city, with support from the national UJS Hillel network.

It had been hoped that the centre would follow the example of its Leeds counterpart, which stopped operating as a residential home and was turned into a social centre three years ago.

A UJS Hillel spokesman said the organisation was working to ensure students who apply to Manchester have kosher accommodation where possible. Meetings with Jewish landlords have already taken place and possible kosher homes have been visited. Further meetings are planned with the universities’ accommodation offices.

London’s Hillel student centre in Euston, which was not residential, closed in December 2011.

Last updated: 6:45pm, February 28 2013