Anger and sadness as dream of "Jewish village" for Leeds dies

Proposed collaboration between welfare charities collapses after Leeds Jewish Housing Association withdraws from project


Plans by communal welfare groups to create a “Jewish village” in Leeds have been scuppered by the withdrawal of one of the organisations, to the frustration and anger of the project’s supporters.

Leeds Jewish Welfare Board (LJWB) and the Leeds Jewish Housing Association (LJHA) had been in talks for 18 months about relocating the Donisthorpe Hall care home — which has faced financial problems in recent years — to a new development on the LJHA’s Queenshill housing estate.

But following a board meeting of the housing association on August 12, LJHA chair Jayne Wynick announced that it would be withdrawing from the project. Three LJHA board members have resigned in protest.

In a statement, Ms Wynick said LJHA was “highly regulated by government” and that through the discussions over the proposals, “it became clear that progress on fulfilling these regulatory criteria as a joint venture had become impossible”.

LJHA CEO Mark Grandfield told the JC that the housing association code of governance was “black and white”. There was a threat of the association being folded into a larger one without Jewish-focused interests if it was considered to have breached regulations.

However, the LJHA decision had prompted “general disappointment, upset and anger”, according to welfare board chair Russell Manning.

“I felt that the progress we had made was significant and led us to a point where the project had every chance of success.”

In his view, Mr Grandfield and Ms Wynick “had become less and less enthusiastic about the project”, a claim Mr Grandfield strenuously denies.

Ms Wynick maintained that the LJHA board had voted against moving forward out of concern that “by failing to fulfil our statutory requirements, there was a risk of putting the whole housing association in jeopardy. Our primary concern is to safeguard the homes of our existing tenants.” The association currently administers around 500 homes, with plans to develop a further 85.

The three board members who resigned were finance trustee Daniel Myers, vice-chair Mark Manning and Lisa Baker, who is president of Leeds Jewish Representative Council.

In an open letter, the trio wrote of their sadness at their departures. But their position “had become untenable. Our resignations preceded the ballot and we were very disappointed to hear the outcome.”

The August 12 meeting — which was held via Zoom — was not attended by five members of the LJHA board, who gave their proxy votes to the chair in advance.

Mr Myers expressed disquiet that a vote on the matter had been held before every option had been explored — and that half the board had not been present at the meeting to hear the discussion.

Ms Wynick said that a ballot of the remaining seven members held two days later had voted “unanimously” to end involvement in the project. She was “very sorry it came to this”.

If progressed, the project would have seen a new, smaller care home built on the Queenshill estate to accommodate the fewer people currently residing at Donisthorpe.

In a statement, Donisthorpe trustee Ashley Cohen said it was “absolutely devastating that after two years of hard work, the project has been terminated by the LJHA board”.

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