HRH, The Duchess of Cornwall visited Jewish Care’s Brenner Centre, located at Stepney Jewish Community Centre at Raine House, today to mark the centre’s 80th anniversary.
She met and chatted to the centres members and later joined them on the dance floor where she linked arms and danced to Chava Negila.
The centre has been at the heart of East London’s Jewish community since it was opened by Queen Mary in 1938. The centre offers a warm, relaxed and caring environment, where older people living in the area can meet up with old friends and make new ones. It is the only remaining Jewish service left in the area today, which is quite a change from 50 years ago, when the East End was the focus of a lively and bustling Jewish community.
92-year-old Lilian Lebby has been visiting the centre since the day it opened told the Duchess; “This place saves my life – it’s my life line”.
On meeting her centre member Marion Davies said; “I am so full of emotion meeting you, I could cry but my eye liner will run”. She spoke to the Duchess about how the centre saves lives; “it’s like my family”.
Lord Levy, Jewish Care’s President thanked The Duchess for coming saying; “What a fantastic occasion. We are so proud of this centre. For you to be here today is so special. The warmth you have showed to each of our ‘21-year-old’ members here today is tremendous. Thank you on behalf of all of us”.
The Duchess spoke briefly before taking to the dance floor saying; “This is one of the most uplifting centres I have ever been to. It is so important to have places like this”.
Background information about the centre and some of the members HRH met:
Jewish Care’s Brenner Centre, located at Stepney Jewish Community Centre at Raine House, has been at the heart of East London’s Jewish community since it was opened by Queen Mary in 1938.
This small centre in the heart of Stepney has received several royal visits since its opening, including three visits from Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother in 1956, 1974 and 1987.
The centre offers a warm, relaxed and caring environment, where older people living in the area can meet up with old friends and make new ones. It is the only remaining Jewish service left in the area today, which is quite a change from 50 years ago, when the East End was the focus of a lively and bustling Jewish community.
Open from Monday to Friday, as well as regular evenings and weekends, the Stepney Jewish Community Centre members call it their ‘second home’ with its busy and warm atmosphere. It offers a wide range of stimulating activities, from art to creative writing, keep fit, reminiscence groups, entertainment and regular outings.
Members can be taken to and from the centre by the ‘care bus’. For many of the members, their visits to the centre are the only time they leave the house. They tell us it is their lifeline. From the hot Kosher food they are served each day, to weekly sabbath meals and festival celebrations, the centre provides a culturally sensitive service enabling older members of the community to remain connected to their Jewish roots.
The centre also provides a programme of therapeutic activities for anyone who needs special care and is experiencing a bereavement or isolation.
In 2017, with demographic changes in the local community, Jewish Care decided to close their day centre in Stamford Hill known as the Brenner Centre at Raine House, in favour of providing a range of services that better meet the changing needs of the local community. All Jewish Care services in East London are now provided through the centre in Stepney. The Stepney Jewish Community Centre was renamed the Brenner Centre at Stepney Jewish Community Centre, Raine House.
These changes have enabled Jewish Care to extend opening hours for the centre and ensure Jewish Care can respond to increased demand from the community for outreach services, including home and hospital visits to the provision of a local Kosher Meals on Wheels service.
The Centre and its local outreach services would not be here if it was not for the support of its volunteers and generous supporters from across the community.
Jewish Care is the largest health and social care charity for the UK’s Jewish community, touching the lives of 10,000 people every week. The organisation provides a wide range of services for older people, people with disabilities, mental health needs, visual impairment, as well as Holocaust survivors and refugees. Jewish Care also offers support and guidance to families, carers and the bereaved, as well as programmes for children and young people.
Profile of some of the members of Jewish Care’s Brenner Centre at Stepney Jewish Community Centre at Raine House
92-year-old Lilian came to live with her aunt in Stepney after her mother passed away. In 1938 the Stepney Jewish Community Centre opened with the aim to “bring healthier and happier conditions into the lives of the Jewish children of the district”. Lilian was one of its first members. She commented; “I used to go to the centre after school. I needed love and a mum and that’s where I got it”.
Lilian has lived in Stepney ever since. The centre has been an important part of her life. It is where she met her husband, where her daughter met her husband and it is where she turned when her husband passed away after a 49-year marriage. She said “my kids wanted me to move away nearer to them, but I didn’t want to. I knew I needed to be near the centre. That’s when I began volunteering at the centre. Without that I would have given up”. Today Lilian comes to the centre as a member at least once a week. It gets her out of the house and provides her with the support she needs: “I couldn’t live without this place. If I were to phone and say I need something, I know they will organise it for me. As a child is was a home to me, my haven and it’s been my haven all my life”.
Lilian’s story demonstrates how, as the community has changed, so too have the services and support offered through the centre. The centre was established to support children, today’s members are those children. The last generation of Jewish east enders.
A lifelong east ender and former Mayoress of Tower Hamlets, at 101, Beattie is currently the oldest member at the centre.
Born in Aldgate, Beattie has always lived in the area. After leaving the local school, she worked as an over locker in a men’s trouser factory, but politics has always been her passion. Beattie fought the fascist Black shirts in the Cable Street riots and was later elected as a local councillor in Tower Hamlets. In 1966 her husband, John Orwell, served as Mayor of Tower Hamlets and they used their political influences to help shape the local area for the best. She recalls this as a marvellous year, when she met the Queen and the Prime Minister of the time, Edward Heath. She is proud to be the longest standing member of the Labour Party and in 2014, met ex-labour leader Ed Miliband and talked to him about the issues she feels passionate about, such as housing and care for the elderly.
86-year-old Abraham came to London alone from Bombay on the 5th May 1954. His first home was a small room he shared with four other young Indian Jewish men in St Marks Street. He has lived in the East End ever since, (aside from the two years he spent in the British Army from 1956-58). Abraham loves to dance. He met his wife ballroom dancing. He started coming to the centre 20 years ago with his late wife. He looks forward to coming. He especially enjoys the weekly singing group and regular afternoon entertainers – he is of course the first on the dance floor!
Recently in the news headlines for spearheading a campaign to stop Tower Hamlets from evicting her from her Whitechapel flat she has lived in for over 50 years. Sophie, along with residents of Treves House, were informed that due to spiralling costs of repairs the council felt demolition was the best option. Thanks to the campaign group she formed, with meetings held in her living room, Tower Hamlets withdrew their plans.
Sophie’s late husband Nathan fought against Oswald Mosley’s fascist Black shirts at the battle of Cable Street. She moved to the area in 1962, when there was still a thriving Jewish community. She said: “I would go to shul and to the Jewish shops. The Jewish life was everywhere and now the Jews have gone, I’m the only one left. My neighbours are Bengali, Muslim, white and Irish and I get on with them fine. They call me ‘Aunty Sophie’ and they make me food. My life is here in the East End.”
Marie Joseph, Volunteer
At 97 years old, Marie is the oldest and one of the longest standing volunteers at the centre, and for Jewish Care, with 30 years’ experience. She volunteers once a week, relying on her son to bring her to the centre, since she moved to Essex to be closer to them. Over the many years of service to Jewish Care, she can always be relied upon to organise parties and occasions. She is also a member of the centre’s fundraising committee.