Fiona Sharpe

We do like to see a care home beside the seaside

Instead of closing Hyman Fine, now is the perfect time to market it and fill the empty rooms with people who don’t want to retire to London

August 02, 2022 12:59

There’s an old Borscht Belt joke that talks of Florida being God’s waiting room. If that’s true for America, then the UK’s equivalent would certainly be the South Coast — namely Brighton and Bournemouth.

While demographics ebb and flow, there is currently a revival happening in Brighton with younger Jewish families being attracted by the lifestyle and what living by the sea has to offer.

But many people still retire here. They may be healthy when they first arrive but our community welfare and support services, including the Hyman Fine care home, certainly figure in people’s long-term planning.

Hyman Fine has been part of the local Jewish community since 1954, albeit earlier under a different name. It is as much a central part of communal life as the synagogues. Indeed, it proudly contains its own beautiful shul for residents and family members to use. I fondly remember going there many years ago when my father conducted the High Holy-Day services.

It’s in an inconvenient and possibly incongruous location in the middle of Kemptown, a more bohemian part of the city, away from the main community facilities. But for those of those of us who have had loved ones there, it is an extension of our family with warm, friendly staff, some who have been there years, who care for residents with kindness and good humour. During the height of the pandemic, they took extraordinary measures to ensure the safety of our loved ones.

But we have been told all of that is coming to a rather abrupt end. The home, which has been run by Jewish Care since 1997, is to close in the very near future. The explanation for this can be found elsewhere in the paper and it feels almost immaterial at this point — a Jewish “they say, we say” — which threatens to leave the 20 residents without the stability and security of the place they now call home. What is important, however, is the role that homes like Hyman Fine have in the future of Jewish communities outside London.

We cannot be a Jewish community without our elderly. They hold our history, our communal memories and wisdom. So much of what makes us a community is embodied in how we treat them. It is important they are a vital part of everything we do, showing them the respect they deserve.

We know from research that as people get older, often with Alzheimer’s or dementia, they benefit greatly from being in familiar surroundings, enjoying food and traditions they remember from their childhood. It is even enshrined in law, in the Equalities Act, that those requiring care are entitled to it being “culturally appropriate”. It’s not just about kosher food, it’s about being able to celebrate the chagim, having Shabbat services and a party for Yom Ha’atzmaut. These things matter. Offering kosher food in a non-Jewish setting often just makes people feel self-conscious at a time in their lives when we should be doing all we can to minimise their stress.

If communities like Brighton cannot offer appropriate Jewish care for our elderly, what does that say about us? That provincial communities are only for the young? That the wisdom and experience of the older members of our communities can only be held in London?

Brighton is about to open a wonderful new Jewish facility — BNJC — offering an Orthodox shul, a kosher restaurant and social space. It is hoped BNJC will attract new younger families.

But those families will have parents and grandparents, some of whom surely would be enticed to move with their children and grandchildren if they knew there was high-quality Jewish elderly care in the city. Instead of closing Hyman Fine, now is the perfect time to market it and fill the empty rooms with people who don’t want to retire to London. Let’s ensure the inter-generational continuity of Brighton and Hove Jewry, and indeed of all South Coast communities. After all, we do like to be beside the seaside.

Fiona Sharpe is chair of Brighton and Hove Jewish Welfare Board

August 02, 2022 12:59

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