Revealed: the secret life of a 50-year-old care home


Leon Smith is sitting on one of the benches at the back of the Clara Nehab House garden.

The verdant area is small by the standards of Nightingale House, where Mr Smith was chief executive for many years. But then the Golders Green home, currently celebrating its 50th anniversary, operates on a very different scale.

Mr Smith has been brought in as part-time chief executive by the Leo Baeck Housing Association, connected to a lodge founded by German refugees in 1943.

Located in a quiet side street, the premises are easy to miss. Indeed, Mr Smith was surprised to find how little it was known within the local community - "I've lost track of the number of people who have said to me they had no idea it existed."

Another surprise when he took charge was the building itself - four adjoining properties, the last added around 1985. "It was old fashioned and quaint." He will oversee a refurbishment comprising redecoration, recarpeting, enhanced lighting and roof and electrical work.

Funding will come from the sale of the housing association's other property in Swiss Cottage for a seven-figure sum.

Clara Nehab was established to care for victims of Nazi oppression. Some of those behind its founding are still involved in their 90s. "They feel attached emotionally to what was their baby."

Around half of its two dozen residents were refugees and Mr Smith accepts the views of relatives that the improvements should not detract from the home's intimate atmosphere.

"For the renovation, we'll find a way of working around the residents, although it will mean that it will take longer and cost more."

Mr Smith is also keen to increase awareness of the home, albeit not to attract residents - "we don't have a waiting list but we don't have any problems filling places." Although social links have been forged with the local Alyth Reform congregation and charities including Kisharon, there is a desperate shortage of volunteers.

"It is strange because we are in the heart of the community," he reflected. "The main need is for one-to-one befrienders. Residents want someone to talk to. We also need volunteers to help with outings to the park."

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