Muswell Hill Synagogue
Shabbat Behar 20/21 May 2022 8.39pm 9.54pm

An update on the MHS 2020 Building Project

Dear Friends,

In July we updated the community on the progress of the project to remodel and improve the synagogue building (‘MHS2020’).  At the time we said that we would endeavour to keep the community updated through the process, and this is therefore a short update on what has been going on, and our plans for the next few months.

Firstly, a Recap

Strategy work led by the board during 2016 identified a number of key improvement projects for the building – most notably; creating a flexible larger Bet HaMidrash;  renovating the Rose and Harry Epstein Hall; improving the main entrance area for the Synagogue; upgrading the kitchen; redesigning and securing the side entrance; improving classroom space; and adding a rooftop play area for the nursery.

Subsequently we embarked on a community-wide consultation to ensure that as many members as possible had opportunity to express their view on these ideas.  The consultation ran between January and July 2017 and consisted of (i) parlour meetings with potential donors (ii) an online forum (iii) a presentation and discussion at the AGM (iv) an open community meeting held.

The key feedback coming out of the consultation was that:

1. The projects should be looked at as a coherent whole. Given the flow between the foyer, the main sanctuary the hall and other spaces in the building, the design should look to create a consistency and optimise flow between them.

2. The project should be ambitious. As the first major renovation project that has been proposed since many current members joined the shul, a clear appetite emerged to go beyond individual projects and into a more comprehensive refurbishment.

3. Some moderate renovation of the main prayer sanctuary itself should be brought into the remit. The other key focal points of the shul are the hall, the lobby and the downstairs common areas. It was generally felt that in these three spaces investment in renovation could have maximum impact.

4. We run a wide range of activities in the building, and this is growing as the community expands. So flexibility should be paramount in our thinking.

5. The basic utilities of the shul should be looked at as part of the process, notably ventilation, heating and lighting.

Having considered this feedback the board created a new ‘Buildings Committee’ with a remit to consult with designers and experts to explore ways in which the feedback from the community could be turned into a more ambitious plan.

Update on Activity since July

We are pleased to report that good progress has been made in a number of areas:

– We started by holding extensive conversations with the team that led the successful renovation of our neighbours at Highgate Synagogue, learning from them about their approach to fundraising and project management of a larger, more integrated project.

– We were subsequently introduced to Murray Levinson, an architect with the established and international architectural firm, Squire and Partners. Murray has worked for Squire and Partners for over 20 years and in that time he has successfully delivered a significant number of commercial, residential and mixed use projects on a variety of scales, both refurbishment and new build.  Murray is a member of Muswell Hill Synagogue and his children attended Cheder so he has a familiarity and affinity to the building.  The Building Committee met with Murray to understand his ideas and concluded that his professional input would be extremely beneficial at this design stage.  We were delighted that Murray agreed to work with us on a pro-bono basis to create a design and plan that could respond to feedback from the consultation and help us to cost this accurately.

– A range of ideas has now been professionally drawn up by Murray and these are now being validated and developed in more detail with a small team of experts, in particular a Quantity Surveyor and relevant Mechanical and Engineering and other consultants. All of these individuals are working with us on a pro-bono basis.  Those in the community with experience of any large projects, and in particular building work, will understand that this is an iterative process, and one of our key principles is to keep the cost of this phase at an absolute minimum.

– We have also held extensive discussions with the United Synagogue to update them on our progress and plans, and to begin developing some financial scenarios that might work for both them and us. These discussions are progressing well.

What Comes Next?

The clear focus of the next few months is now to refine the ideas further until they form a single, fully costed, coherent and detailed plan.  At this point we will decide if we feel that can be presented to the community (and United Synagogue) for approval, or whether we need to go ‘back to the drawing board’.  There is still a lot of work to do and our broad estimate is that we will arrive at this position in around three months from now.

As stated in our last update, no actual building or construction work (barring urgent maintenance activity) will take place whilst this process is ongoing.

Once again we hope that this letter, though rather long, is informative.  We are committed to giving updates as regularly as we reasonably can.

If you have any questions or comments please do not hesitate to contact any one of us, either in shul or via the office.

With best wishes

Marc Rubinstein and Greg Swimer, on behalf of the Building Committee


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