Hundreds express interest in living in Brighton's ground-breaking community hub

Hove development to revitalise Jewish life will include homes, a shul, nursery, restaurant, bakery and deli and mikveh


Anglo-Jewry’s most ambitious development, geared to revitalising the Brighton community, has attracted 500 expressions of interest from potential residents.

Entering its final stages of construction at a prime Hove location, BNJC (Brighton and Hove Jewish Community) will offer a complete Jewish experience on the one site.

There will be a new synagogue for project partner Brighton and Hove Hebrew Congregation, a restaurant and café, a bakery and deli, a nursery with “a Jewish curriculum”, a co-working area and a mikveh, plus space for educational, social, leisure and cultural activities.

All will be available to the local and wider community. But they will be on the doorstep of the buyers or renters of the 45 on-site properties.

At the top end of the market, there are 10 five-bedroom mews houses which will be sold at market rate, around £1.5 million, BNJC chief executive Marc Sugarman told the JC on Monday.
At the other end of the price structure will be five affordable housing units and Mr Sugarman added that some purchasers would qualify for the government’s Right to Buy scheme.

“It’s great that we are including key workers,” he stressed.

“Teachers are very important to us. If we can fill the nursery [there will be up to 30 places], it heightens the case for a Jewish school.”
Many young families are among those who have registered interest in the new homes and around a third on the list are from outside the Brighton and surrounding area.

To give people the opportunity to try out BNJC before committing, many of the two-bedroom properties will initially be available for rental.

A further selling point is the inclusion of parking spaces — which are at a premium in Brighton and Hove — and the homes are being promoted as “500 yards from the beach”, a point enforced by a bracing stroll to a windswept Hove seafront.

But Mr Sugarman first gives a tour of what is very much still a building site.
Although the din of construction makes conversation difficult, he conveys pride in the attention to detail, not least in the mikveh, which is benefitting from the input of four senior rabbis at home and abroad.

To an outsider, BNJC looks some way off completion. But project leaders remain confident of an October or November opening, with the shul hopefully in its new premises for Rosh Hashanah.

On a standard day, the shul will operate in “small mode” but the flexibility of space will allow for larger festival attendances — and similarly for weddings or barmitzvahs for 200 guests.

The dedicated co-working floor will have 34 seats, some in offices, with further on-site options doubling that total. BNJC is being advised on this element by employment charity Work Avenue.

A show house is set for completion by the end of the month, allowing groups of potential buyers to visit.

The first discussions about BNJC took place in 2015. Two years later, Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis addressed the launch meeting, praising Brighton on a “courageous, wonderful plan”.

He liked the idea that the project would benefit “the entire community while maintaining the Orthodox ethos”.

There were numerous objections to the plan from local residents and a judicial review pushed the programme back.

Construction had barely begun before the pandemic hit — “and now we are suffering inflation”, Mr Sugarman observed.

However, one upside was that the pandemic had popularised remote working, increasing the appeal of a seaside location, as well as a city with “iconic buildings and amazing culture and nightlife. There’s been a big migration to places where work/life balance is better.”

He claimed that relations with BNJC’s neighbours were now much improved, citing the example of the building of two classrooms for the adjacent St Christopher’s School, which revert to BNJC use outside of curriculum hours.

The support of non-Jews for the restaurant and bakery will help the venture’s viability, although the food aspects will be a bigger gain to a community largely starved of kosher options.

And patronage of BNJC by members of the city’s Reform and Progressive congregations will be vital.

Mr Sugarman said both were on board and there would further be provision for Brighton’s big Israeli community — “the WZO will send speakers”. Another possibility would be joint events with JW3.

BNJC’s key backer is businessman and Brighton and Hove Football Club chairman Tony Bloom, a friend of Mr Sugarman from childhood.

“Tony is passionate about making this a success and our four goals are important to him,” he said.

Those goals are the revitalisation of Brighton Jewry; the creation of an asset for the national and international Jewish community; a contribution to wider Brighton life and for BNJC to be financially sustainable.

Towards the latter, the sale of the high end properties would be a start. And once the site is fully up and running, Mr Sugarman envisages it as a venue for organisations from other Jewish centres to hold Shabbatons or away days: “We’re 50 minutes from London and there are hotels within walking distance.”

However, “our bullseye target is young couples, so subsidising nursery places for those moving to the city is important”.

Residents would get the best deals on BNJC activities with a secondary membership level for “heavy users”.

But he stressed that anyone could pay a small amount to receive restaurant discounts and priority event booking. “Everybody in the city should see that this is for them.”

Brighton boasts 250 years of Jewish history and a tour has been designed incorporating the Grade II*-listed Middle Street Synagogue building in the city centre.

Mr Sugarman believed the project would create a new lease of life for the shul, which like many outside of London, has experienced dwindling membership and attendances in recent times.

“It’s really important for BNJC to be open on Shabbat,” he said, adding that a surprising discovery had been the high number of Jews with holiday homes in the area. They could well be interested in joining services or booking meals.

To prospective arrivals, his marketing pitch is the prospect of being in at the outset of an adventure, enjoying enviable facilities in an attractive environment.

“It’s better than being a small fish in a big pond.”

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