New Chair of LJWB Helen Lewis speaks to JLife about her role at LJWB and future plans.
Helen Lewis, a Trustee and former Deputy Chair of LJWB and Chair of Community Engagement and Inclusion, has recently become the new Chair of LJWB taking over from Russell Manning. Having been involved with the Board for over 20 years when she first moved to Leeds, we asked Helen how she feels about the role and what’s on the horizon during her tenure.
Hi Helen! How does it feel to be new Chair of LJWB?
Hello! I am excited, though obviously I am also daunted. I have big shoes to fill after my amazing predecessors, and I am conscious there are lots of public expectations about this role which is one of the key lay leadership roles in the Leeds Jewish community.
I think I am the first person not brought up in the Leeds community to be in this role, and the first from a public sector background. I hope that this will encourage people to recognise that these institutions belong to the whole community and that we all have a part to play, whatever our backgrounds.
How long have you been working in the community?
I moved to Leeds about 28 years ago, and I guess I have worked for the community ever since. I come from a family where doing community work has never been seen as optional. I have been involved in Jewish educational ventures, school governance, and in social care since I moved here.
I think the mainstream established Leeds community has become more welcoming of people from outside Leeds, more accepting of people who are seen as ‘different’ in some way (such as single parents, people who are LGBTQ+, people with mental health needs), but we obviously still have a long way to go to be fully inclusive. There are some fantastic institutions and leaders, and we are working better together to meet our needs.
What plans do you have for your new role?
My goal as the Chair, is to support our whole Board of Trustees and our whole staff team to continue to make a difference to the Leeds Jewish Community. It’s an incredibly challenging time for all charities and for the people we serve, due to austerity, and the financial position of the public sector makes this all the harder. My goal is to ensure everyone knows what we can offer, but also that everyone knows there is something they can contribute. Now, more than ever, we need to widen the engagement of our community, and remind them we can use even the smallest contributions – an hour a week, or month. Volunteering or donating clothes or bric a brac to the charity shop if you can’t spare any money helps a lot.
What makes you proud to be part of LJWB?
We received a donation this week from a community member explicitly thanking us for the support of our mental health team, and their contribution to her wellbeing. Another example would be from our Chanukah party, where I had the pleasure of dancing with the residents of our homes for people with a learning disability, and witnessing the care and affection they have for the staff, and the staff for them. It was so heart-warming, in contrast to the lives these members of our community would have lived 30 years ago. We really do positively change lives, every day.