Members of Jewish Care’s Brenner Centre in Stepney prepared a royal welcome on Wednesday as the Duchess of Cornwall visited the East End facility to help celebrate its 80th anniversary.
The Duchess said it was a “pleasure” to visit the centre, which was opened in 1938 by Queen Mary and is the only remaining Jewish service in a neighbourhood which was once at the heart of Anglo-Jewish life.
“You sometimes go to places which are a bit sad, but this place is one of the most uplifting communal centres I’ve ever been to," she told members. "Meeting all of you wonderful inspirational people has been a real treat. How most of you look so young, I don’t know.
“I want to congratulate everybody who keeps the centre going – it’s just so important, in this day and age, to have places like this.”
The Duchess made her way around a number of tables, speaking to regulars at the centre, which operates on a daily basis for older Jews in the East End area.
Lilian Lebby, 92, has been going to the centre for many years. “I saw the Queen Mother when she was here a couple of times,” she recalled.
“I was upstairs when she unveiled the plaque, and as she unveiled it, it fell down on her. I was on the stage with the others, singing Hatikvah, and it fell down on her and I thought ‘ooh, that’s an omen’.”
Fortunately, the unveiling of a plaque by the Duchess at Wednesday’s ceremony went more smoothly.
“She asked me how long I’d been coming here,” Mrs Lebby said, adding that she was “surprised” at how “accommodating” the Duchess was.
Beatrice Orwell, a former Mayoress of Tower Hamlets, described the centre as “wonderfu"l.
The 102 year-old, who was part of the anti-fascist bloc at the Battle of Cable Street and has been a Labour party member for 67 years, initially responded “no comment” when asked for her thoughts on the current Labour leadership.
However, she went on to say: “I can’t run him [Jeremy Corbyn] down”.
“I’ll say this – if he was a bad MP he wouldn’t have been there for 36 years.”