By Kathy Bailes and Jodie Nesling
A campaign to save a stunning Cliftonville synagogue from developers after it was put up for auction has been successful, largely thanks to an anonymous donation.
The resplendent building in Albion Road has formed an integral part of Thanet’s rich Jewish history but was recently put up on the market for £300,000 after years of closure.
Campaigner Francesca Ter-berg was one of a group of isle artists and educators of Jewish heritage to set up the Cliftonville Cultural Space CIC in a bid to buy the site.
The 91-year-old building was no longer viable as a place of worship and the trustees of the Margate Hebrew Congregation had little option but to put it up for auction.
Despite lengthy negotiations the auction could not be postponed. However the campaign, launched last month, was inundated with support from the community, and allies nationally and internationally resulting in a successful outcome.
The team has worked tirelessly for the past six weeks to raise the money needed and now the future of the building is no longer in the balance, thanks to support from the anonymous benefactor who has bought the synagogue so that it can be transformed to an arts and cultural space for Cliftonville’s diverse communities.
The SOS Margate campaign gained huge celebrity backing from stars such as Miriam Margolyes OBE, Arnold Schwatrzman OBE- who was raised in Margate- Sir Ben Kingsley, Imogen Heap, Keith Bymer Jones and Steven Berkoff.
Local arts organisations and businesses put up SOS Margate posters in their windows; residents spread the word; and more than 300 people donated to the crowdfunder campaign.
Francesca said: “The Cliftonville Cultural Space CIC will shortly take over the synagogue and consult with local residents, businesses and arts organisations to ensure that the new space is a welcoming meeting point for everyone. It will reflect Cliftonville’s cultural pluralism and bring people together through music, theatre, dance, exhibitions and food, as well as celebrate the rich history and diversity of the area – past and present.”
Fundraising will begin in early 2021 for the conversion which will start later in the year. The aim is to have the space open to the public by late 2022.
At the time of the synagogue’s construction in 1928 Margate’s Jewish community was buoyant with many hotels opened to cater for holiday makers. But there were still many obstacles to overcome before the first stone was laid.
A report in a local newspaper recorded that “at the end of the war the community were very much depleted both financially and physically and the question had arisen as to selling the congregation effects.”
Since 1910 the congregation had increased substantially with plans to build a synagogue but the Great War in 1914 changed everything as a sharp decline in numbers made the situation financially untenable.
Following an appeal to the Jewish Press, benefactor Joseph Jacobs cleared the congregation’s £200 debt which allowed Jewish soldiers to worship in Margate before heading to France – many did not return.
At the stone laying ceremony in 1928, which was held at the Grand Hotel, the importance of the visitor economy was cited with tourists from London expected to support the fundraising initiative for the continued building work when they came to worship.
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