A synagogue fit for 21st century worship and community

Maidenhead synagogue acquired its building nearly 20 years and while some minor refurbishments had been undertaken it was becoming clear that a more significant investment was going to be required to meet the needs of the growing community.

The initial impetus for the project came from a member of the community who was passionate about creating an entrance to the building that had impact on those coming to worship but also conveyed a welcome. This first phase delivered approximately 275msq of space that also incorporated an office, the kitchen, toilet facilities, and a shop selling kosher products.

Working in conjunction with Sedgman Noble Architects, Vicky Tallon of Tallon Perry Interiors came up with an updated design for the Kiddush and prayer halls to create a warm, welcoming and friendly space that was vibrant and joyful in design. Vicky recalls;

“There were several challenges including: the budget, satisfying the needs and desires of a disparate community, manpower and experience to manage the project on behalf of the synagogue – oh and the late discovery of asbestos!”

Despite these various challenges the six-month project was completed in July 2016.

The new look synagogue
The previous entrance was a small door into a corridor and the aim was to create an entrance which made people feel proud to be a member and that was attractive for welcoming for guests. The Rabbi often hosts visiting schools for talks so the new space needed to provide an appropriate space for large groups of small children. In addition, the synagogue has a large and active religion school for children and adults, and hosts a weekly lunch both for older members of the community as well as homelessness guests from within the wider Maidenhead community. There are interfaith groups, yoga and zumba classes, lectures and film nights all held in the community setting. Like many private homes, the kitchen is a focal point which is used both for providing light refreshments as well as catering for big events with 80-150 people. Vicky explains more;

“We also wanted to create an entertaining space to encourage members to host weddings, bar-mitzvahs and other celebrations there. It had to be completed within six months ready for a booked bar-mitzvah on 2nd July – there was no room for movement.”

A temporary prayer hall and new entrance were put into the Religion School during the period of the works and the site had to remain accessible, safe and in constant use. A refurbishment of the Religion School was de-scoped from the project purely on the grounds of budget but is still on the community’s wish list.

Maidenhead Synagogue is the biggest non-metropolitan synagogue in the UK with a vibrant and growing community covering the whole of the Thames valley area and beyond. Currently, it comprises 800 households and has a wide range of social, cultural, educational and religious activities. There is a large Religion School, an active youth club, a Kosher Shop, Judaica Shop and Jewish Library. The community is led by the charismatic Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain, MBE, who is also a well-known writer and broadcaster.