JLife chatted to Liz Bradbury, CEO of the Leeds Jewish Welfare Board to celebrate the organisation’s 140th birthday.
There has been a real buzz surrounding the Leeds Jewish Welfare Board (LJWB) for the past 12 months. The organisation celebrated its landmark 140th anniversary year with a whole host of activities including a birthday dinner and a commemorative play, with fundraising teams also taking part in the London Marathon and Age UK Abbey Dash.
Aiming to reflect on the anniversary events with Liz Bradbury, the welfare board’s CEO, JLife coincidentally chatted with the Lancastrian exactly one day after the LJWB officially turned 140, marking an end to its year of celebration.
Despite Leeds being firmly in the jaws of the so-called ‘Beast from the East’ and with more than a flurry of snow outside, Liz was upbeat and full of warmth when asked about the highlights from the board’s extended birthday. “Everything has been quite special,” she says, but goes on to pinpoint All I Wanted Was a Doll, a play by local theatre producer and playwright, Brian Daniels, which was specially commissioned by the organisation. “I think the play was a great memorial because it built on the real life stories of families that came to live in Leeds, and their experiences,” she explains, “so for me that was probably the most pertinent as it told the history and the legacy of the board and how it has helped subsequent generations. I thought it would be great if we could use [Brian’s] method of writing plays and involve the local community. So the play was written and performed by people from Leeds.”
There was also a practical reason for putting on a show, as Liz continues: “Books and formal events are great but sometimes they can exclude members of our communities with mental health or learning disabilities. [The play] was more inclusive and we can also take the video to some of our services.”
What shines through in the interview is that, despite casting an eye over both its distant and recent past, the LJWB, which offers services including social, residential and community care to the city’s Jewish community, is now looking firmly to the future. “We’ve started all over again,” says Liz of the Purim celebrations that have been taking place, “I’ve walked into the office today and there’s someone dressed as Elvis – there’s never a dull day.”
Liz says she’s particularly proud of initiatives such as The Living Project, which provides support for people living with dementia, the 1,001 Days Project, which encourages the development of young children, and The Listening Line, a free helpline. Of the latter, Liz adds: “That was something we saw when we went to Israel and we thought we could do that here. It has been a great service in the recent bad weather – the team has been making sure everyone has enough to drink and eat and that people have heating, and are warm and safe.”
Despite introducing a bundle of services over the past two years, the LJWB isn’t resting on its laurels, as Liz continues: “Because we’re very close to the community, we want to be able to adapt to what people need. Something we’ve started to bring on board is special education needs sessions for children with disabilities, which was a direct response to requests. We also recognise the need to develop services for some of the younger members of the community, and people aged between 30 and 50. As the council is becoming more austere in how it offers services, we will be filling the gap more.”
As well as new services, existing ones will not be forgotten, as the CEO reminds that LJWB is “always trying to improve.” Liz also singles out the importance of the role of carers, adding: “Whether it’s for the carer of a child with a disability, an older person or a spouse with mental health problems, you’ve got to be able to provide that support.
“The challenge for us is getting care staff and promoting the value of the work that they actually do. Often it’s seen as a poor relation to healthcare and it certainly shouldn’t be. It’s about recognising the role of social care in our community – it keeps people out of hospitals, out of long-term care until they need it, and it means people can live in a community-based setting.”
Having first arrived in Yorkshire to study Psychology at the University of Leeds, Liz’s passion for her work in the local area is evident, as she admits in her self-confessed “Burnley twang” that she came to study and “never went home – I’ve lived in Yorkshire longer than Lancashire now!”
Liz, who previously worked for Leeds City Council, adds: “At the board we try really hard to punch above our weight and we do. The thing that gets me out of bed on a morning is that I can make a difference to somebody’s life. If I can go home knowing we’ve helped someone then it’s all worthwhile.”
It’s been a big year for both Liz and the LJWB but there’s still much more to look forward to in the coming months. The annual 1 in 4 Dinner will take place on 15th April, featuring special guest Jason Manford, and the annual Diana Nelson Art Award and Volunteer Awards are both set for early June. Stay tuned.
For more information, visit Ljwb.co.uk.