Dame Vivien Duffield puts the final touches to her project

By Simon Round, February 28, 2013
Follow Simon on Twitter

Dame Vivien Duffield claims she is tired. The new Jewish community centre for London, to be known as JW3, is approaching completion and Dame Vivien, honoured for her massive philanthropic efforts, says that this may be her last big project.

However, when she discusses JW3 and the influence she hopes it will have on the community, she seems to lack nothing in energy.

Dame Vivien’s Jewish identity is bound up with the work she does. She sees herself as a builder. As such she hopes JW3, on the Finchley Road in Swiss Cottage, will have a transformative effect on the way we interact with each other.

“I’ve always worried about how fragmented the Jewish community is in this country. We all live in small circles and have nothing to do with one another at all. It’s amazing how few cross-communal things there are. Even the mere fact that synagogues are beginning to have their own community centres, I find rather sad. That means they are keeping things very much in their own sector.

“There aren’t that many Jews in this country. There is such a richness a variety of in our community it seems a shame not to bring it all together. It’s a rather idealistc dream, I suppose.”

Dame Vivien, the daughter of businessman Sir Charles Clore, now in her late 60s, has certainly put her money where her mouth is. JW3 is a huge enterprise and Dame Vivien’s Duffield Foundation has put up most of the cash.

Her identity is bound up in the work she does and the belief that charity is a very Jewish concept. “Philanthropy was part of the make-up of a certain generation of Jews, particularly in people like my father, and others like Isaac Wolfson and Marcus Sieff.

“But I’m not so sure about this new lot. They give very reluctantly – there are quite a few who don’t do much but on the other hand there are anawful lot who do and I believe the Jewish community gives more than anybody else.”

Her vision, which was inspired by a visit to the Manhattan JCC in New York, nearly a decade ago, is now nearing completion. JW3 London is due to open in the autumn and Dame Vivien is excited about how everyone will benefit.

“I’m hoping it will be a hub for the community. There will be a restaurant, serving vegetarian food, [under the eye of restaurateur Nicholas Lander] so the idea is that people will go there for coffee during the day, notice what’s for dinner and also that there’s something going on at the theatre and an interesting enamel painting class or a Jewish history class that their friends might be interested in going to.”

And that vision is also an outward-looking one – she wants the local Muslims, Christians and others to engage in debates and use the facilities as a way of fostering good inter-community relations.

However, when it has been constructed, although Dame Vivien plans to attend JW3 regularly, she will not play a part in running it.

She smiles: “I’m a builder. My intention is to bow out gracefully, having made sure the baby is OK and that there’s enough water in the bath.”

Last updated: 12:24pm, February 28 2013