North Manchester’s Prestwich Hebrew Congregation is attempting to reverse a membership decline by using its 1.5 acre site as a community centre offering mother and baby groups, soft-play activities, adult education and cafe and banqueting facilities.
The shul’s executive has joined forces with outreach organisation Seed and local kosher food supplier Shefa Mehadrin to transform provision in the buildings adjoining the 650-seat synagogue.
“Not everyone wants a conventional shul service,” explained Clive Moss-Barclay, vice-president of the congregation, which is better known as the Shrubs. “We’ve started to see a reawakening of interest within the community, particularly from young families.”
The process began with the renovation of dilapidated classrooms two years ago, funded by donations from the 600-strong membership. The shul’s banqueting hall has also been modernised and is used for a variety of events. Children can win anything from free ice-cream to a family weekend away by mastering skills such as leading a service or understanding a prayer’s meaning.
A pre-Shabbat Playlounge attracts 50 mothers and their children, some travelling 20 miles to attend. One such mum is Elise Ordman, who wants to ensure her 11-month-old daughter Anya enjoys the right Jewish experiences. “The Shrubs is offering something nowhere else is,” she said.
Seed’s Manchester co-ordinator Vanessa Broder says there are plans to expand weekday activities. “We’re hoping to have the Playlounge open most days, offer parenting classes and first-aid courses. We also run the Think-lounge — Jewish education for adults. It’s a response to many who want an authentic and vibrant Orthodox Judaism but feel disconnected from the shul service.” Shefa Mehadrin caters the shul’s “deluxe kiddish” and offers discounted simchah rates at the banqueting suite.