Life & Culture

Cancer support can be welcoming and chic

Kosher bagels and high design are part of the mix at a hub for breast cancer patients in London


It was the two large platters of mini bagels — heaving with top- notch smoked salmon and sealed to confirm that they were strictly kosher — that did it for me.

Yet this wasn’t a shul or simchah. What’s more I’d come to the heart of one of London’s least haimishe neighbourhoods: King’s Cross, best known for its sprawling railway terminus. And now home to a breast cancer charity that clearly understands the value of catering.

The organisers could have saved themselves a bob or two by going to any local bakery. The fact that they didn’t, showed a determination to ensure that Jewish women of any level of observance would be made to feel welcome.

The monthly “Bagel Deli meet-up” was my first visit to the Future Dreams House, a hub for those directly affected by breast cancer and also their partners and supporters. And I was struck not only by how welcoming the place is, but also by how luxurious it is. You feel pampered as soon as you step through the door.

CEO Samantha Jacobs is also an architect, and you can tell. A period building just across from the station has been tastefully transformed with a lounge, kitchen and sun terrace as well as rooms for meetings and treatments. The charity itself was set up by Jewish mother and daughter Sylvie Henry and Danielle Leslie. When they had breast cancer, they threw their energy into fund-raising to make sure “nobody should have to face the disease alone”. Their conviction inspired a small group to continue their work after their deaths in 2009.

The house opened during lockdown in 2021, and with a professional team of around 20, has slowly evolved into a thriving centre. There are groups for black and Asian women, book and film clubs, circles for knitting and creative writing, sessions about looking good and dealing with mental health problems, classes for yoga, ballet and Pilates. There’s a breast care nurse and a specialist bra fitter. The next step is the launch of online services for those who are unable to travel or who live outside London.

Furniture donated by is just one of multiple commercial collaborations that have helped to stretch the £8.5million that has been raised so far and keep more funds flowing in.
Having faced her treatment alone during lockdown, the project has been a revelation for marketing consultant Juliet Simmons. “They are warm and friendly and are really good at creating a community,” she says. “You don’t in any way feel you are in a hospital.”

Simmons is right. It is the alchemical combination of people and space that make the Future Dreams House special. By my second visit — a meeting for BRCA gene carriers — it had begun to feel like popping in for a gossip with a well-heeled best mate in her designer pad. There was a bucket of wine bottles on the expensive-looking worktop, proper glasses to serve it in, and a lot of smiling women’s faces.

Nervous about catching Covid, Simmons started by joining the book club online, “They sent me the book, which was a step beyond what other places had done,” she says. Now a frequent in-person visitor, she has just completed a Future Dreams fund-raising walk that brought in more than £45,000. For her, what sets it aside from other cancer charities is that there’s no cut-off when medical treatment stops. Women like me who are 20 years down the line are just as welcome as those still recovering from surgery and chemo.

My own cancer was caught early, I was surrounded by loving friends and family, three children and a wonderful husband, and my employer the BBC was entirely supportive.
And yet the feeling that I’d changed in some fundamental way gave rise to profound feelings of loneliness and isolation. Two decades on, those feelings linger. Of course I’d have loved a Future Dreams House when I was actually ill, but having it now is a wonderful reminder in these troubled times that sometimes things do get better.
The next Bagel Deli meet-up is on November 28 at the Future Dreams House, 61 Birkenhead Street, London WC1H 8BB

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