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Manchester Jewish Museum set to double in size

Manchester Jewish Museum exterior view

The Manchester Jewish Museum has received a £2.89 million National Lottery grant towards a £5 million development project.

The original historic building is a Grade II* listed synagogue which will be repaired and restored. An extension will be built alongside the synagogue, housing new galleries, learning spaces, a shop and a café.

Manchester City Council recently gave formal approval to the development scheme.  With £1.5 million funding already in place, building work is expected to start at the end of 2018.  The new museum is slated to open in summer 2020.

“Manchester Jewish Museum is an extraordinary piece of 19th-century architecture, as well as the city’s oldest synagogue,” says Nathan Lee, Head of Heritage Lottery Fund North West.  “This is one of Manchester’s most important historic buildings and our investment of nearly £3m is set to bring it back to life for a new generation.  Visitors will get a greater understanding of why this Cheetham Hill site is so important as well as hearing moving and uplifting stories about one of the UK’s oldest communities.”

Visitor numbers have risen steadily since 2011.  Last year the museum was listed as one of the UK’s top 10 small museums by The Times.

Manchester Jewish Museum interior

The synagogue has been described as a “jewel” by architectural historians. The renovation project will restore the synagogue while new interactive displays, soundscapes and live performances will bring it to life for visitors.

The museum also preserves over 30,000 objects, from personal letters and photographs to Torah scrolls hidden from the Nazis during WWII.  

Fascinating stories

“In such troubled times it feels like the right step to develop the museum,” says Chief Executive, Max Dunbar. “The historic stories of Manchester’s Jewish community are also the stories of today. They tell of people forced to flee their homes, who settled in a new country to rebuild their lives. These stories remind us what happens when people, politics and religion drive us apart. How a city like Manchester can bring people together.”

“I’m delighted that this development is going ahead,” says museum patron and writer Howard Jacobson. “Manchester Jewish Museum is a vital resource, especially at a time when memories are shortening and histories are being lost. But a visit to the museum is also a hugely pleasurable experience. It’s a live museum, always showing you something that you didn’t know, always finding new ways to express what the city was and what the city is. I’m looking forward to discovering even more in the new museum when it opens in 2020.”

The building plans for the Manchester Jewish Museum have been developed by a broad design team.  This comprises architects Citizens Design Bureau, structural and services engineers Burro Happold, quantity surveyors Bristow Johnson and exhibition designers All Things Studio.

The design for the extension is inspired by the Moorish (Islamic) architecture of the museum’s Spanish and Portuguese synagogue.  “The combination of distinctly Islamic motifs in a Jewish building holds a poetic symbolism of the dialogue between these two cultures. We intend to reflect within the new extension,” says architect, Katy Marks

The Manchester Jewish Museum will remain open until autumn 2018, when construction and restoration work will begin. During the construction phase, Manchester Central Library will host a ‘pop-up’ Jewish Museum.


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