We're all going to Stamford Hill-on-Sea

Priced out of Hackney, Charedim are planning a new community on the Essex coast


Within a few months, Joel Friedman hopes to be an Essex man.

As Stamford Hill's Charedi population continues to rise and house prices soar beyond the reach of ordinary families, the young Orthodox father of six is looking to move to pastures new. He plans to be among the pioneers of a Charedi community about to be set up an hour or so further east - in Canvey Island.

There has been talk before of Stamford Hill families moving out of their north London stronghold. Milton Keynes and the Thames Gateway were two previously mooted locations.

But whereas nothing came of those ideas, Canvey looks more promising. According to Mr Friedman, who works for the Interlink Foundation charity, half-a-dozen families have already bought houses in the pre-war seaside resort. Others are exchanging contracts.

Meanwhile, a family of philanthropists is aiming to buy a building in the town to serve as a community campus providing space for schools and shops. One Stamford Hill yeshivah is also considering relocation.

Houses are larger than average and prices start from £280,000

"If the yeshivah moves, that makes a move a lot easier because you are starting with a minyan," Mr Friedman said. "That would be a big boost. Hopefully, by then we'll have 10 families."

His top-floor Interlink office overlooks terraced houses in Hackney which now sell for up to £1.5 million - well beyond the affordability of most Charedi families. In neighbouring Haringey, where around 15 per cent of the local Charedi community now live, a three-bedroom house can go for £900,000.

"Absolutely bonkers," remarked Mr Friedman. "People haven't been buying for a number of years. The amount you'd have to borrow, you'd be in debt for all your life - and for a house too small for your family."

Planning restrictions introduced into parts of Hackney have also made it difficult for those lucky enough to have bought a property to extend it to accommodate growing families.

"I have a brother here with 12 children," Mr Friedman said. "He managed to buy a house and build a loft but he wouldn't have been able to build it today because the area has become a conservation area. You can't put in double-glazing without planning permission."

By comparison, Canvey Island houses are "larger than average with four or five bedrooms and plenty of space downstairs. Prices start from £280,000."

The planned community is being managed by a committee of Charedi activists. Instead of interested families buying properties themselves, they refer inquiries to the committee, which scouts for suitable housing for them. "If you start having hundreds of calls to local estate agents, then prices start going up and up," Mr Friedman explained. "They think so many people want to come. That damages everyone."

If all goes according to plan, the nucleus for "Stamford Hill-on-Sea" could be in place shortly after Pesach. Ten large families would mean a satellite community of 100.

But one coastal colony is unlikely to be enough. A recent survey calculates the north London strictly Orthodox community at around 27,000 - a few thousand more than officially recorded in the Census five years ago - with an average of 5.7 people per household.

"You have 250 weddings in Stamford Hill a year," Mr Friedman noted. "That's adding to the pressure on places for new couples."

A second Charedi group hopes to launch an outpost in Westcliff, around 20 minutes' drive from Canvey. This has the advantage of going into an established Jewish infrastructure with
an Orthodox synagogue and a mikveh.

Rabbi Binyamin Bar, minister of Southend and Westcliff Hebrew Congregation, looked forward to the new arrivals. "I think it's a wonderful thing. The leadership of the community are very enthusiastic about the project. It will be a Charedi kehillah [congregation] and will have a full partnership with us."

The synagogue would offer space for the Charedi start-up, enabling a Charedi "community within a community". One Stamford Hill man has already bought a home in the vicinity.

A third plan is being hatched by Charedi businessman Rabbi Asher Gratt, who is keeping details close to his chest. But he is understood to be looking for land to develop a Charedi estate from scratch, rumoured to be also somewhere in Essex. He told the JC last year he had "commenced discussions with potential institutional investors".

Ita Symons, chief executive of Hackney-based Agudas Israel Housing Association, said this week that another rabbi is exploring the feasibility of moving families to a new housing development in a fourth Essex location, East Tilbury.

The houses were cheap but small, though with the potential for extension.

But her preference remained more local. "I have visited most of the sites," she said. "Nevertheless I remain focused on procuring affordable housing in the areas where most of our great community already live - Hackney, Barnet and Salford."

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