The Architectural Heritage Fund (AHF) has awarded a Project Viability Grant to Development Trusts NI (DTNI) to enable them to test their idea of converting the Annesley Street synagogue in north Belfast into their own offices; a centre for participative democracy; and the venue for a semi-permanent exhibition on Belfast’s Jewish community.
image: AHF website
Built in 1904 and designed by the well-known local architectural firm, Young and Mackenzie, the brick and stucco built B1 listed synagogue is of substantial cultural importance, being the oldest surviving synagogue in Northern Ireland. It was opened by linen merchant and one-time Lord Mayor (1889-90) Otto Jaffe, who paid for its construction, and was attended by Dr Hertzog, whose son Chaim became the President of Israel. The synagogue is largely unchanged, and has some interesting features, including a small single-storey projection which was used as a ceremonial bath, or Mikvah. The synagogue is now in poor condition, having been empty for some years following its use by the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust as a physiotherapy gym and storage facility.
Development Trusts NI promotes community management, ownership, and the enterprising use of public assets to support sustainable community development and to deliver social and economic wellbeing priorities. It assists the Department for Communities in the delivery of Community Asset Transfer policy in Northern Ireland. The proposal to acquire and redevelop the Synagogue in Belfast complements existing activity that is looking at catalysing the regeneration potential and the social and enterprise value of the rich built heritage of North Belfast. This includes the National Lottery Heritage Fund supported Great Place scheme, led by Belfast Charitable Society and Ulster University.
Should DTNI’s plans for the synagogue appear sound, the organisation could be in a position to take on this special building for the benefit of the local and wider community, thus leading by example.
Matthew Mckeague, CEO of the Architectural Heritage Fund said:
‘We’re really pleased to be able to fund a Project Viability Grant for this important synagogue, one of a number AHF has recently helped. And we are very glad that DTNI is taking forward the project to help showcase their work with assets and communities. We look forward to seeing the outcome of the study.’
John Meehan, Chair of Development Trusts NI said:
DTNI strongly advocates for putting communities in control when it comes to physical regeneration and developing services that deliver public good. Our members across NI have successfully responded to and developed heritage assets including police stations and courthouses, providing employment opportunities in the arts and hospitality and continue to seek new opportunities using our built heritage. The Synagogue in Belfast is an exciting opportunity for DTNI and its members. The proposal will create a semi-permanent exhibition of the Belfast Jewish community, adding another jewel to the local heritage tourism trail and act as a social hub for the many anchor businesses nearby. And importantly, it allows DTNI to deliver services for the local community and to build a new space to advance community development in NI, bringing development practitioners and academics together to explore community rights, planning & regeneration, public service, well-being and community wealth building through the continued work of DTNI and its members. In a post Covid landscape the need to support communities to lead in shaping their local places and providing the services that advance their development is more important than ever.