Duffield’s plan hits a red light
The JCC for London shelves its ambitious building project
After a long day's work, a smart City lawyer takes a short journey by Tube. She has time for a quick swim, and hurries down a kosher salad, before catching a class on kabbalistic meditation or a new stand-up act from America.
Or imagine the mother who drops her toddler into the nursery, goes upstairs to enjoy a mother-and-baby yoga session with her youngest, and then shares a coffee with some friends.
Welcome to the Jewish Community Centre, the all-purpose social and recreational complex that has long been a feature in cities from Dallas to Sao Paolo.
Until five years ago, such a centre seemed a pipedream in metropolitan London. Then British Jewry's leading female philanthropist, Dame Vivien Duffield, entered the scene.
At a breakfast meeting in the restaurant at Bevis Marks Synagogue, she unveiled her ambition for an "all-inclusive" US-style JCC in the capital with the potential to "transform the British Jewish community".
Little more than a year later, the Jewish Community Centre for London was starting to make its mark on the cultural map, albeit without a building. Even those who privately believed a multi-million-pound new centre would be an unaffordable white elephant now praise the imaginative programmes that the JCC has since laid on in venues across London.
From chocolate-tasting sessions to multi-media presentations of the Haggadah in clubs, it has developed a reputation for high-quality, innovative events. Its social-action Mitzvah Day for families has become a regular fixture on the calendar. This month's activities have ranged from learning to make sushi to the Kvetch Choir, where participants were invited to "vent their grievances in harmony".
In December 2006, the project shifted into a higher gear under new chief executive Nick Viner, with the acquisition of an 80,000 sq ft building on one of London's arterial roads, in the heart of an area popular with Jewish singles.
Architects Lifschutz Davidson Sandilands were chosen to draw up plans for converting the former Mercedes showroom on Finchley Road into the new JCC to open, probably, in 2011. Only a few weeks ago, the former publisher of the Spectator magazine, Kimberley Solomon Quinn, joined as development director to spearhead fundraising. The diverse board, chaired by publisher Andrew Franklin, includes philanthropists such as Sir Trevor Chinn and Jennifer Moses.
Clive Lawton, a board member and consultant to the Limmud educational organisation, says: "London Jewry has no idea what a JCC is. Every other major building - such as a school - is designed to be used by a fraction of the community, for a fraction of the time." In contrast, a JCC is designed to be used all day, every day, by all sorts of people from across the Jewish spectrum.
Until a few days ago, the JCC's website held out the promise of a building with "multi-purpose performance space and rehearsal rooms, a library, community meeting rooms, health and fitness facilities, a nursery, classrooms, restaurants and a lot of other amenities."
Now the website's amended "vision" section says that the JCC will "not be proceeding with plans for its new building on the Finchley Road site" and has asked its architects to "explore other options".