Southgate 2020 – our strategic plan for the future. Read our Q&A

The community meeting on 15 March 2012, to discuss the ‘Southgate 2020’ proposals, was attended by well over 150 people in a packed room. At that meeting, as well as at the two earlier Q&A sessions, some questions and concerns were raised by members. We feel that they should be answered as best as we can, to keep the community well informed. 

Q. Why do we need to do anything?

A. We need to act now to secure the future of the entire community for the foreseeable future. Our communities are rapidly ageing. There are nearly twice as many members over 90 as under 30. Few families join CNSS. Our financial situation is not good and we have a building which will need a lot of money spent just on repairs and maintenance, as well as having high running costs. The demographic and financial situation at Palmers Green and Southgate is, we understand,  even worse. Twenty five years ago, we knew there was a problem: things have not improved since then.

Q. How much is this going to cost me?

A. We cannot give exact figures yet, as we have not even started to design any sort of revised facility for Old Farm Avenue. One suggestion made to us by the Strategy Group, a ‘cost neutral’ solution, might involve building flats on the front portion of the site and, with the income raised, completely refurbishing and remodelling the original synagogue building to be something like the multi use facility at Barnet, Bushey, Ealing or Kenton. This should, we hope, pay for itself and there should be no increase in your individual shul bills because of this plan.

Demolishing the entire complex (synagogue + classrooms and Maurice Tillkoff Hall) to build a ‘state of the art’ synagogue and Jewish Community Centre, a JCC, would be far more expensive and there would be no income to offset it. By way of example, a one form entry primary school, which would roughly be of the same size, would probably cost £3-4million to build. The United Synagogue has already indicated that it would be unlikely to lend us this money as we currently have no robust financial plan to repay any such loan. The current US Trustee policy for such redevelopments is that they will match fund on a loan basis, as long as the local community banks 50% of the required funds in advance for the total project.

Q. Can you explain more about what the future set up of the communities will be? Will there still be a community centre with a shul at Old Farm Avenue?

A. Whatever happens in the future, we expect that there will still be the main shul located at Old Farm Avenue. Although the community is widely spread, Old Farm Avenue is roughly at its centre, the US owns the site and, most importantly, that is clearly what our survey shows members wanted (even those who live some distance away).  Of course, it might become a multi purpose facility, with the shul space being adapted for use during the week by other regular, community wide, users, such as CLC, JACS, AJEX, the Ladies Guild, our youth groups etc. There might be other rooms which could be adapted for lectures, alternative services, kiddushim and a wide range of current – and future – uses. With a Shabbat lift and modern toilet and kitchen facilities, we could have a community centre to be proud of and one which is as ‘future proof’ as we can make it.  Once we have heard the community’s voice, held discussions with user groups, looked to develop plans and, of course, costed the ideas, we will tell the whole community.

Q. The meeting heard about a new ‘hub and spoke’ model. What does this mean? 

A. By building or maintaining a number of smaller facilities some distance from Old Farm Avenue, as we already do at Cockfosters and used to do at Hadley Wood, we will be able to provide local services where people live as well as at Old Farm Avenue. This is important in our ageing community. The centre will still provide joint administrative services (saving us money) and the many activities which are too large for smaller communities. The exact nature of each ‘spoke’ is, we feel, far less important than whether their members will support and contribute to the central hub.

Q. Will the sort of services we get on Shabbat and Yomtov change? What about the choir? A chazzan? 

A. We are clear that there are no plans to alter the number or style of religious services or leadership we currently have, unless the community wants it.  The services at Cockfosters (and previously at Hadley Wood) are already of a slightly different character and any future services in the Southgate Green area, whatever they might be, will no doubt in time have their own character, too. Of course, with children’s services, NOSH, Scamlite and explanatory services on the Yomim Noraim, we already offer a range of services at Old Farm Avenue, as do many other communities.

Q. Will there still be three weekday services at Old Farm Avenue?

A. Absolutely yes.

Q. If the future makeup of the Board of Management is to be with representatives from each part of the community, then members will have to choose to which they belong. How can this create a united Kehilla?

A. This was just one idea put forward at the meeting and we can assure you that nothing has been developed further. Whatever happens, it will have to been done with the full agreement of the United Synagogue. That is also the case with any future development on Southgate Green.

Q. What about the eruv proposals? Will they now change?

A. The eruv is potentially one of the most exciting and positive plans that we have had for some time and is similar to eruv plans in many other communities in London. The Southgate 2020 strategy can only have a positive impact on the eruv plans. We know that Rabbi Fine and a group of volunteers are working on detailed plans, together with experts from the London Beth Din and we are wholeheartedly behind them.

Q. How long will all these plans take to develop?

A. We all know that major redevelopment plans can take a very long time. Nevertheless, we feel that the communities and the US are now energised and, more importantly, realise that ‘do nothing’ is not an option.

If we adopt the ‘cost neutral’ solution, we feel that the project might be completed in 2-3 years. If we adopt the more ambitious programme, this would depend on how fast we could raise the millions of pounds needed. Clearly, we feel that this could take far longer.

Q. Who makes these decisions?

A. The constitution of the United Synagogue means that the Trustees of the US make the final decisions, based on recommendations from our Honorary Officers and the senior professionals at the US, in consultation with the Board of Management.

Q. What happens next?

A. We have now set a process in motion and, once the US Trustees have approved the strategy, we will start the exciting part of planning the best possible provision for all groups in the community, within our budget.  As we go through this next stage we will try to meet with as many people as we can to develop these ideas. It is inevitable that this could take some time.