A Royal connection

06 Aug 2019

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. Eighty years on, the centre welcomed its latest royal visitor for a lively anniversary celebration.

From the moment you enter the doors you are welcomed with open arms. This may explain why this small and in many ways unassuming centre, has received several royal visits since its opening, including three visits from Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother in 1956, 1974 and 1987. Its ability to attract and impress the Royals continues, as earlier this year the centre welcomed HRH, The Duchess of Cornwall to mark the centre’s 80th anniversary.

Despite being the only remaining Jewish service left in the area today, a big change from 50 years ago when the East End was the focus of a lively and bustling Jewish community, the centre remains the heart of this ageing but close-knit community.

One of the first to greet HRH to the centre was 92-year-old Lilian, who told the Duchess how the centre had been a central part of her life since its opening in 1938: “I came to live with my aunt in Stepney after my mother passed away, I was one of the centre’s very first members. In those days it was there to support local young Jewish children like me. I used to go to the centre after school. I needed love and a mum and that’s where I got it, here at the centre”.

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. It is also the first place she turned to when her husband of 49 years passed away. She continued “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: “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”.

During the lively tea event, HRH took the time to meet every centre member, volunteer and member of staff chatting to them about past royal connections, the changes the community has experienced and the centre today. She clearly felt the warmth of this unique centre commenting: “This is one of the most uplifting centres I have ever been to. It is so important to have places like this”.

After presenting HRH with flowers, 86-year-old centre member and avid dancer, Abraham David, linked arms with HRH for an energetic traditional dance to Chava Negila.

When Queen Mary opened the centre in 1938 the to support local children, little did she know that 80 years on the centre would still be providing support to those very children. They are the last, but not forgotten generation of Jewish east enders. A generation with a long standing and proud royal connection.

Timeline of royal visits:

 1938 - Centre opened by Queen Mary

1956 - Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother visits the centre

1974 - Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother returns to the centre

1987 - Another visit from Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother

2019 - HRH, The Duchess of Cornwall visits the centre to mark its 80th anniversary

Today’s Brenner Centre, located at Stepney Jewish Community Centre at Raine House - Open from Monday to Friday, as well as regular evenings and weekends, the Stepney members call it their ‘second home’.

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 offers a wide range of stimulating activities, from art to creative writing, keep fit, reminiscence groups, entertainment and regular outings, as well as 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.