Dame Vivien Duffield, whose idea it was to build a JCC in London, was inspired by her visit to the Manhattan JCC in New York’s Upper West Side. She launched the idea at a power breakfast in October 2003, bringing on board some surprising people — such as Lord Brittan — who had not previously shown much interest in Jewish communal affairs, but were attracted by the idea of a JCC whose doors were open to all kinds of Jews, secular as well as religious.
The core idea, as Dame Vivien herself said from the beginning, was to have a building. Right at the start of the project, she said she “would be disappointed if we were not well on the way towards a physical building within five years”.
In December 2006, the JCC bought the former Mercedes showroom in London’s Swiss Cottage, only for it to be occupied by squatters twice in the following year. This week, a “very disappointed” Dame Vivien acknowledged that shelving ambitious plans to demolish the showroom and re-build a state-of-the-art JCC on the site was inevitable. “It was the only sane thing to do in view of all the circumstances,” she said, “but it is not a permanent measure. It is only temporary, and we are exploring versions of what can be done with the existing building.” Laughing ruefully, she said: “Maybe someone will come out of the woodwork and rescue us — but the cost was going to be simply too high.”
Dame Vivien said that it had not yet been decided which of the JCC ancillary projects — a planned nursery school, sports facilities, etc — were going to be put on hold. “Within what we are going to be able to do, we will do as much as possible.”
She added: “Perhaps we should have started by looking at the existing building and seeing what could be done with it, but if you don’t dream you don’t create anything. The Jews of England deserve a JCC and I don’t see why they shouldn’t have one.”