Spotlight on Manchester: Changing demographics require new solutions

Planning and funding challenges as mainstream Jewish population declines while the Charedi community grows


At Manchester Jewry’s major welfare charity, The Fed, CEO Mark Cunningham is enthused by the response to FedEx, its new London social group for young expats.

The previous night, its inaugural event in Camden had attracted a turnout of 160 and raised both awareness and £5,000. Recognising that “traditional boundaries are changing”, Mr Cunningham is keen to win the support of capital-based “kids who grew up in Manchester but still have family here” — particularly at a time of ever-dwindling statutory funding.

And over in the café at The Fed’s impressive care complex, Heathlands, the president of the city’s Jewish representative council, Russell Conn, muses on the difficulties of engaging with the Charedi families who are replacing the young leavers from the mainstream community.

Projections suggest that by 2030, the strictly Orthodox will account for half the Manchester Jewish population (they currently make up around a third of an estimated 30,000 total).

“It creates a tremendous challenge,” reflects Mr Conn, a lifelong Mancunian who took office in May. “As a community, they only want to engage when it suits them. They’ll come out for shechita, brit milah and Ofsted [issues with Charedi schools] but not otherwise.”

If the changing demographics of the UK’s second largest Jewish community are a concern in terms of future provision, Mr Cunningham has enough on his plate dealing with current problems. “We have a 10-year vision,” he explains. “A detailed plan is not worth the paper it is written on because of changes in social care.”

A passionate Northerner — “the world doesn’t end at the M25” — he is proud that The Fed touches the lives of around 1,000 people every week, around 170 of them in residential and sheltered accommodation. “We are supporting people in every one of the ten local authority areas.”

The strictly Orthodox are among those benefiting from The Fed’s range of services. “You can see the need from the Charedi community is growing but the same is true in the mainstream community.”

Expanding its fundraising reach through initiatives such as FedEx is essential given that the charity has to raise £1.2 million from the community towards a budget of £8.5 million. “We cover costs but only just.”

It has had to think creatively to unlock new revenue sources and Mr Cunningham highlights Discharge to Assess, a partnership with Bury Council and the NHS. The scheme allows patients awaiting an assessment before discharge from hospital to be housed in vacant premises on the Heathlands site, thus preventing bed-blocking.

As well as benefiting the wider community — having provided more than 6,000 bed nights and saving the NHS a substantial sum — the partnership has also boosted The Fed’s coffers.

“It’s a virtuous circle,” says Mr Cunningham, who declines to divulge the payment to the charity, citing commercial sensitivity. “The money helps us to provide care for people in financial need. We’re seeing mainstream families on the periphery of the community struggling financially in a way reminiscent of the situation decades ago.”

Another additional earner has been hosting an administrative base for Bury’s integrated care team, with the revenue in this case supporting The Fed’s volunteering service, “our jewel in the crown”.

The Fed has 490 volunteers, assisting almost as many families. “The value to the community is enormous,” Mr Cunningham declares. Volunteers undertake tasks such as home visiting and befriending, also keeping people connected with their GPs and dentists, a vital tool in detecting signs of deterioration.

“Many of the statutory services available years ago are no longer there. The effect is to push these services down to the voluntary sector.” And with cash-strapped councils less willing to fund residential care places, more people are forced to remain at home, increasing the strain on both families and charity resources.

The Fed has also secured £500,000 from external funds for its latest dementia care facility, Willow Tree House, which will open in spring.

A small household of 11 beds, it will be “bright, modern and homely with a lot of design features which make caring for someone with dementia easier. We have to be prudent but we also have to keep pace with changing demands.”

To the outsider, Heathlands is an oasis of calm, with pleasant and airy rooms and inviting outdoor spaces. Mr Cunningham’s own “go to area when I’m having a bad day” is The Pier, adjoining The Beach, another of the dementia units.

However, not all is relaxed at executive level. For while the demand for nursing care is increasing, the workforce to deliver that specialist care is not. The charity has not managed to recruit a nurse from Manchester in 18 months, despite offering wages higher than the local NHS hospitals. And with Brexit killing off the supply from the EU, The Fed has been forced to look further afield, registering with the Home Office to bring in nurses from countries such as Zimbabwe, India and Jamaica.

Four have already been recruited with three more set to follow. All have to pass stringent tests. “It’s not a cheap solution to the nursing crisis but the alternative would be that we stop doing it [nursing care].

“We are shaping to changing and very complex needs. You have to be agile and responsive and we roll with the punches.”

The Fed has also been part of a dialogue around the mental health needs of young people, something the rep council’s Mr Conn feels is a major issue within the Charedi community and another reason why he feels strictly Orthodox leaders should engage more.

“We’ve reached out and will keep trying. We have to find the right people to have the conversation with. You can’t have a community that will soon be half ultra Orthodox and not have a joined up approach.”

He hopes that the conduit will be the “big influx” of what he describes as “modern frum” professionals. “The men wear the black kipah but are cleanly shaven or have a light beard. The wives wear designer clothes. They are media savvy and probably have a TV, if only to watch sport. They straddle both worlds.”

Marc Levy, the Jewish Leadership Council’s North-West regional manager, observes that as the Charedi populace spills out from Salford into Manchester, the Bury, Salford and Manchester councils should work together to provide the necessary services.

Since leaving the legal world to join the JLC three-and-a-half years ago, Mr Levy has put the community’s case to 140 MPs from the North-West, North Wales and the West Midlands. “They’ll meet me to hear what I have to say and the vast majority have been receptive.” Just one has refused a meeting (he won’t name names).

More generally, Mr Levy notes the return, often based on financial considerations, of some of those who migrated to London. “For the cost of a one-bedroom flat in Edgware, you can get a decent family house.”

Mr Conn also highlights the trend, suggesting that people can enjoy a better quality of life in the city — and that Jewishly, North Manchester “has got all the infrastructure on its doorstep”— schools, shuls, shops and restaurants.

Although it’s too late for the FedEx crowd, he hopes the revamp of the Maccabi centre in a joint project with UJIA will be a selling point for the new generation.

“It’s a great facility and there is no reason why it can’t be transformed into Mamlock House mark two [Mamlock House was the city’s former base for Zionist groups].

“Everybody tells me there is no infrastructure for young people. If we can get this dressed up correctly, it will have a major impact. Worst case scenario, it will be turned into a sport and fitness centre.”

Mr Conn further explains that the role of the rep council is to act as a facilitator, putting organisations in contact.

“We cannot be political,” he adds. But in the light of the choices facing Jewish constituents at the upcoming election, “we would be derelict in our duty if we didn’t encourage people to vote — and urge that when they do, they consider very carefully the implications of that vote for the Jewish community.”

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