South Manchester's Morris Feinmann home is weathering a tough financial climate by using its financial stability to accommodate increasing numbers of Jews unable to attract local authority care funding.
The buzzing atmosphere - and cake - normally associated with a synagogue kiddush greets visitors to the newly-modelled glass atrium and living room at the Didsbury premises. In an adjacent activity room, residents in an art class dissect colourful photographic landscapes of New Zealand. Describing the images, they are as physically expressive as other residents will be in the subsequent exercise session.
This hive of activity reflects that all 57 residential places at Morris Feinmann are filled. It is the first time the home has been full in its 55-year history.
Yet 18 months ago, Morris Feinmann had unhealthily low financial reserves and a £250,000 drop in donations from the previous year. Its characterful converted Victorian premises required major maintenance to heating, electrics and an elevator, leaving a further £300,000 crater in its coffers.
It has transformed its fortunes through a mixture of good housekeeping, positive PR and by removing its £13,500 entry levy for standard rooms. Last year, Morris Feinmann's management made £200,000 in operational savings, mainly through a reduction to its staffing budget. New fundraising strategies and a rejig of fixed assets have given the charity's finances a clean bill of health. Chairman Alan Wilkins said it had been a major achievement. "We did it with no forced redundancies but reduced hours and shifts."
However, manager Heather Naylor pointed out that local authorities have slashed the numbers of elderly people they are prepared to fund for residential care. "It has noticeably increased the numbers of families burdened with privately funding care at Morris Feinmann, money we sometimes have to find."
Deputy chair Helen Lister said the stereotype of wealthy self-funding south Manchester Jews as Morris Feinmann residents was changing.
"One recent applicant had a daughter who'd had a heart attack, her carer son had suffered a stroke and she had not a penny to her name. She so desperately wanted to be in a Jewish care home. I cried after the interview but thankfully we are now in a position to help."
A one-to-two staff-to-resident ratio is maintained - the government guideline is one-to-eight. But savings have allowed new investment. Full licensing from the Manchester Beth Din is being sought for its "traditionally kosher" kitchen and the home is adding specialist dementia care to its nursing and residential wings.
"It will be the only Jewish dementia care facility in south Manchester," said Mrs Lister. "Specialist staff retraining is currently ongoing and we have already invested in a sensory room which uses lasers and lights to reduce dementia symptoms. Our next investment is a sensory garden."
Looking to the future, Mr Wilkins urged the south Manchester community to maintain charitable support for Morris Feinmann. Investment was needed in the light of demographic changes in the middle-aged bracket. The Bowdon and Hale synagogues were filling with those moving from smaller northern communities.
At 102, Bianka Fraser is an example of the longevity the home plans for. She said it had changed for the better, adding: "I couldn't imagine being in a non-Jewish home. There is such a Jewish atmosphere here and I'm close to my children and two grandchildren."