A place to welcome all communities is the aim of a £2million+ project to renovate a Cliftonville synagogue building into a café, events and arts space and function rooms.
The building in Albion Road was rescued from auction in December 2020 by community group Cliftonville Cultural Space following a campaign to raise £300,000 to buy the historic shul from previous owners Margate Hebrew Congregation.
Since then members have received grants totalling £91,692 from the Architectural Heritage Fund and have had concept designs drawn up by London-based architects, Witherford, Watson and Mann.
A bid has now been submitted to the Community Ownership Fund to carry out some works on the toilets, a lift and making the upper floor usable ahead of major renovation.
Plans include a retractable wall which will give some 8ft more space in the main area than is currently available, creating an archway for people to enter the space through, heating and lighting, fully accessible lift and then the creation of the community café, event and arts space and function rooms.
The shul was built in 1929 and has been deconsecrated since it was last used in 2017. Since that time the building had been shut but Cliftonville Cultural Space has this year been opening the site up for workshops and for people to come in, take a tour and share their ideas.
A further consultation event is taking place next month and visitors will be able to take a look around during Open Heritage Days, also in September.
One of Cliftonville Cultural Space’s lead members is Jan Ryan, a theatre producer and festival director and a co-founder of POW! Thanet’s women’s festival.
She said: “At the moment we are limited in what we can do in the space. We are writing a bid for the Community Ownership Fund and if we get that money we will do a bit more to the space including work on the toilets, get a lift and making the top floor usable until we raise the money for the build which will be in the region of £2million.
“Realistically we are going to have to close in the winter because we haven’t got heating at the moment. I think we will carry on until the end of October for our Cliftonville Voices exhibition and then over the winter hopefully we get the funding and we can make some small changes and reopen again in the April.
“That will be the situation for around 18 months while we raise the money for the build and then, I think, we will open properly from late Summer/Autumn 2025.”
Elinor Seath, whose role includes engagement and publicity, said: “We want what happens here to come from the community, so anyone can come in and share their ideas for the space. We have already used it for children’s dance classes, rehearsal space and East Kent Mencap and Age UK have been bringing members along. A lot of people have walked past without even knowing this place existed so it has been good to open up and get people in here.”
The Cliftonville Cultural Space team say that community programming is to play a big part in their plans and events will still be held, but off-site, once renovation gets underway.
The main aim is to create an inclusive, cross-cultural, multi arts space, which will reflect the diverse communities of the neighbourhood. The group says removing cultural, physical and financial barriers will ensure the building is accessible to everyone.
Jan said: “I want this to be a space to bring different communities in Cliftonville together.
“We are tussling with the fact it is an old synagogue and how we can retain the Jewish character of the space while making sure it is accessible to all. It is about understanding and identifying with other displaced people and being a place to welcome migrants, refugees and all the other Cliftonville communities, that is really important to us.
“We want to do that through a strong artistic programme, really broad community engagement and with the community themselves deciding what they want to see in here.”
Function room hire, alongside an affordable café, will help make the project financially sustainable. There will also be a programme of music, theatre and dance; exhibitions, film, talks and workshops.
Community Consultation on September 6 at 3pm Book Here and 6pm Book Here – An opportunity to meet the architects, see the updated plans, chat to consultants working on the build and have your say about how the project will develop.
Heritage Open Days on September 10th/11th and 17th/ 18th from11am – 4pm.
Oral History exhibition – Running over three weekends from October 28 through to November 13, 11am- 4pm.
Cliftonville Voices Oral History exhibition will take a look back over 100 years of Cliftonville, tracing the changes the neighbourhood has seen over the life of the synagogue – itself nearly 100 years old – and celebrating the diversity of Northdown Road, with its Polish, African, Turkish, and Caribbean stores, its corner shops and its new galleries and cafes.
Funded by National Heritage Lottery and created in partnership with Westcoast Kent CIC, the Margate Museum, Arts EdEx, and University of the Creative Arts.
Winter art sale – date to be confirmed