I have spent quite a bit of time in Manchester and Leeds in the last month. Being a native Mancunian, I always enjoy my trips up North. I enjoy meeting old friends. And, from my perspective as Chief Executive of the Jewish Leadership Council, it is very useful to immerse myself in the issues and challenges that the community faces outside of London and the South East.
I think it is important for me as a community leader to get out of our so called “ivory tower” in London and visit regional communities. As an organisation committed to addressing the strategic challenges for community structure and funding, there is much that we can learn from the regional communities.
I admire the way that community organisations have begun to operate from community hubs so as to make the most efficient use of community property assets. I admire how, in Leeds, all of their major services are grouped around the Marjorie and Arnold Ziff Centre and the Brodestsky School site. This allows for the efficient delivery of community services. In Manchester, The Fed’s Heathlands Village also contains a number of other communal services, such as Camp Simcha and Chai Cancer Care, allowing complimentary services to be housed at the same location. London and South East communities have much to learn from this efficient use of community resources. There is no reason why it should only be a solution for communities facing demographic change.
The JLC has also started to professionalise and expand its engagement with Local Councillors. Many of the issues that have caused concern to Jewish communities have been decisions taken by Local Authorities to boycott Israeli goods or services, such as by Leicester City Council and attempted by Dudley Borough Council, or by Preston Council to fly a Palestinian Flag above the Town Hall. So, we have increased our engagement with Local Council Leaders and CEO’s. Along with the Board of Deputies, we jointly held a seminar at the Nicky Alliance Day Care Centre, attended by nearly 50 Local Councillors from all over the North West. There were sessions on the structure of the community, housing, social care, education, Anti-Semitism and Israel. All of those who attended remarked that they had found it very valuable to know more about the community and that it had helped their understanding. We have further such sessions planned in Birmingham and London.
I also attended the Local Government Association Conference in Harrogate. The aim was to launch, in conjunction with We Believe in Israel and The Board of Deputies, Local Government Friends of Israel. The aim is to promote fair and balanced discussion of Israel related issues, and to talk to Local councillors about how they can be supportive of the Palestinian people without being anti Israel, if they feel that this is appropriate business of a local authority! Whilst I was there, I met with a number of Council leaders and CEO’s and probably made more positive contacts during a few hours in Harrogate than I would have done in months from my office in London. Those conversations were extremely valuable and have formed the basis for positive conversations if ever issues arise in the future. I intend to visit many local councils in the North to try and promote a more balanced discussion of Jewish related issues.
I also admire how local Pro-Israel activist groups have thrived in the Regions, with distinct identities, clear remits and dedicated activists. I have enjoyed dealing with these groups, because they recognise the importance of a strong partnership between established organisations and grass roots groups. We all have different roles to play, but can achieve so much by working together.
That is why we at the JLC have for the last 18 months been supporting some of these groups to combat delegitimisation of Israel. Through We Believe in Israel, we have helped the foundation of numerous Friends of Israel groups and stood behind local projects which have brought the community together.
And we are soon to step up our ability to support activist groups to work locally with their local policymakers by putting in place six regional fieldworkers. They will provide rapid, on the ground support to the local groups, working with established local organisations and help to build relationships with local policymakers.
It really is good to get out of London and into the regions. There is so much that we at the JLC can learn from regional communities. There is so much good practice that we at the JLC can help to share across the country. There is so much support that we can give to help to improve dealings with local government and policymakers. And there is so much more that we will do to support regions in the months ahead.