Newcastle’s United Hebrew Congregation is ready to activate downsizing plans after reaching a deal to sell off part of its property to a retirement development builder.
Under the terms of the agreement, the synagogue building will be sold, with part of the proceeds funding the refurbishment of the adjacent community centre.
Anthony Josephs, president of the congregation, confirmed that the shul had “exchanged contracts on a conditional sale”, dependent on “acceptable planning permission.
“The shul was built in the grounds of a large house,” he explained.
“We still have the house and that is the hub of the community. It is used on a daily basis for the morning and evening minyans and for a variety of social activities.
“We’re intending to refurbish that house to include the shul, which will accommodate our regular needs.”Mr Josephs added that the current shul — inaugurated in 1986 with 300 seats — had become “cavernous, lacks atmosphere and is a financial drain on the community”. Around 50 people attend on a regular Shabbat and the average age of the congregation is “well into the 70s, if not higher”.
In such circumstances, Rabbi Aaron Lipsey “is doing a terrific job in sustaining interest and activity.
“For a very small community, I’m sure we’re the envy of many large communities. We have a daily minyan with a little help from our friends in the Gateshead community.”
As for the capacity of the replacement shul, Mr Josephs said, “the thinking was 68. But we’ve had a rethink since Rosh Hashanah, when we had 130 people, which was very nice.”
A revised plan could see something closer to 100 seats, “possibly with some partitioning so it doesn’t feel too large”.
Although the current mikveh would be demolished, the intention was to build a new one.
Mr Josephs cautioned that “it’s not a done deal by any means. Gosford [the local neighbourhood] is a conservation area.
“It’s not a listed building and we have had preliminary discussions with the planners.
“One hopes the planning permission will be granted and then we can move on.”