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A year after reopening to the public, Manchester Jewish Museums shares highlights of its first twelve months in the new building in Cheetham Hill.

Image: Manchester Jewish Museum, photographer: Philip Vile

Manchester Jewish Museum officially reopened on Friday, July 2, 2021 after a two-year redevelopment project. A large team of specialist organisations and contractors, including architects, structural engineers, exhibition designers, conservation consultants, historic painters and stained glass window restoration experts, have been involved in this major project, funded in part by a £3m grant from The National Lottery Heritage Fund.

Our Chief Executive, Gareth Redston, commented: “This has been an amazing year for the museum. Our brilliant team of staff and volunteers have worked so hard and it’s been an absolute joy to see our fantastic visitors finally getting to enjoy the spaces and activities that we’ve dreamed about for so long.”

Image: Manchester Jewish Museum’s Chief Executive, Gareth Redston, welcoming visitors to the museum, photographer: Chris Payne

The new building includes a modern extension housing a new vegetarian café, gallery, shop and learning studio and kitchen. It was designed by Citizens Design Bureau in collaboration with Buro Happold as lead consultant and H.H. Smith & Sons as lead contractor. Other contributors included All Things Studio, who designed the gallery as well as BuroFour, Appleyard & Trew, Smithers Purslow, Cubic, Roof glaze and Britain & Co. The museum building has since won prestigious awards, including the Civic Trust Award 2021 and ‘Cultural & Leisure Project of the Year’ and best ‘small project of the year’ at the annual Building Construction Industry Awards.

The redevelopment project has not only transformed the building in terms of its size and architectural design, but also in terms of sustainability. Despite doubling in size the museum managed to cut its carbon impact and energy use by around 20%, mainly thanks to retention and re-use of the synagogue building.

Image: Manchester Jewish Museum’s Grade II* listed Spanish and Portuguese synagogue, photographer: Philip Vile

A key part of the new extension to the building is the modern gallery, which allowed us to present our impressive collection of over 31,000 items documenting the story of Jewish migration and settlement in Manchester. The exhibition is presented in three themes: Journeys, Communities and Identities, which frame the stories of Jewish Mancunians and make them relevant to all of the museum’s diverse audiences. Our curator Alex Cropper, who has been heavily involved in the redevelopment project, reflects on some collection highlights of the last 12 months:
“It’s been so great being able to accept new donations again and seeing the collection grow. We’ve accessioned some amazing objects since we reopened last year and we’re excited about sharing them with our visitors”.

Image: Manchester Jewish Museum, Helen Taichner cabinet, photographer: Chris Payne

The last 12 months have also been a very busy time for our programming team. Since reopening in July, we have welcomed over 12,900 visitors and organised 35 events, ranging from klezmer nights in the synagogue to morning challah baking sessions in the Learning Kitchen. We also co-created two major festivals, Manchester International Festival and Cheetham Cultural Festival. Our Programmes Manager, Gemma Meek, commented:

“We are so excited to be celebrating one year of the museum’s new building – and what a year it has been! We started the year with a beautiful exhibition The long waited, weighted, gathering by Turner prize winner Laure Prouvost, which explored historical stories and voices from Manchester’s Sephardi Jewish Community. We got creative in our learning kitchen, making everything from challah to hamantaschen with local families, school groups and adult learning groups. From the Ladino music of Ana Silvera to the rich autobiographical storytelling of Victor Esses, we have worked with over 30 artists on our live event shows with a range of theatre, music, poetry and performance that draw out Jewish experiences and stories around journeys, communities and identities. On Saturdays, visitors can experience a captivating audio installation created by Ben Osborn and No Ordinary Experience, with clips of Jewish Mancunians talking about how they mark the Sabbath. We have also met incredible, talented and generous people along the way, including the many supportive organisations and individuals involved in Cheetham Cultural Festival, the talented array of artists in our Artist Network, and the many participants of our textile, song writing, foodie and Culture Club groups, who continually bring brilliant creative energy and ideas to the ways in which we understand the museum’s collections and the people around us. This feels like a great beginning to many more years of cooking, creating, storytelling and connecting – we can’t wait to see what the next year brings!”

Manchester Baroque performing at Manchester Jewish Museum synagogue during Synagogue Nights season in March 2022, photographer: Chris Payne

Finally, the museum wouldn’t be what it is now without its fantastic Café. With food being at the heart of the Jewish home and Jewish culture, the Café plays a very important role in the museum’s everyday life. Most of our visitors stop for a cup of tea, coffee or a hot meal when they visit the museum. One of the Café’s latest successes was winning the “Café or Restaurant of the Year” award at the Museum and Heritage Awards 2022. Kate Vandor, Head of Commercial Operations, who runs the Café together with two Café Team Leaders, Lisa Everingham and Joe Davey, Front of House Assistant, Bethan Holland, and volunteers, reflects on the past year:

“It’s been amazing to see the museum flourish in its first year, despite the uncertainty and challenges of Covid. Our Café Team Leaders, Lisa and Joe, welcomed 4,500 people into our cosy Café. We’ve served nearly 800 bowls of cholent and even more of our delicious bagels! We’ve plated up 1,300 pieces of cake and have made over 3,000 hot coffees. Our amazing Café volunteers have generously given over a thousand hours of their support to help serve our nourishing menu. They also bring great dedication, fun and knowledge to their roles everyday. It’s an absolute privilege to work with this team and I’m excited to see what the museum will do next!”.

Manchester Jewish Museum Cafe lentil soup and bagels, photographer: Chris Payne

The past twelve months have been an exciting journey for the whole museum and we would like to thank everyone who has helped us become the organisation we are today. This includes all of the fantastic supporters, suppliers, companies and organisations we have worked with as well as our brilliant volunteers who help us make connections to make things better. We are raising a glass for what the Manchester Jewish Museum has achieved so far and bravely looking into the future. Mazel Tov MJM!

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