The Early Years
The Leeds Jewish community has always been proud of the way it has cared for its elderly. The community’s involvement with elderly care dates back to 1918 when an aged Leeds Jew who had fallen on hard times died friendless and penniless in an attic lodging because he was unable to care for himself. The case shocked the Leeds community and businessman and Talmudic scholar Nathan Silverman joined forces with Rabbi Moishe Fass to take up the plight of people in similar situations and formulated the idea for a home for the elderly Jewish community in Leeds. The idea was mulled over for two years but no practical step was taken until a Leeds Jewess who chose to remain anonymous gave a donation of £50, an enormous sum in those days, to Mr Silverman and urged him to make some progress.
After enlisting the support of the Merrion Street Friendly Club, many public meetings were addressed by leaders Hyman Morris [who was to be the first Jewish Lord Mayor of Leeds 1941-42] Joe Wurzal and Moses Sclare, and a canvassing campaign was launched under the chairmanship of Philip S. Ellis.
In the meanwhile in 1923 a spare ward was set aside to care for the elderly at the Herzl Moser Hospital in Leopold Street in Chapeltown, an area where most Jews resided. It was decided to form a new charity to be known as the Leeds Old Aged Home. This room, which catered for seven residents, soon became inadequate as prospective residents were by now coming forward in droves. The first officers of this enterprise were Chairman, Hyman Morris [who later was appointed Hon. President] Vice-Chairman Nathan Silverman and Treasurer Maurice Stross. The committee appointed two secretaries, Emmanuel Cohen and Isidore Brill.
The cause of aged, needy and infirm Jews became a number one priority in the community and the caretaker committee, realising that more extensive premises were needed immediately to meet demands, urgently sought funds through the generosity of local benefactors. Premises were eventually obtained at a large house in Cowper Street in 1928.
A year later the Leeds Home for Aged Jews and Home of Rest opened at 62/64 Cowper Street and Maurice Myers became chairman, a position he held until 1956 when Mark Zermansky was elected. The Home accommodated 12 men and 10 women and although residents were often referred to as `inmates` their welfare and well-being became paramount. Despite the basic facilities the Master and Matron ruled with a rod of iron. A sign discovered some years later stated that inmates may only spit in the spittoons provided by the Master: by the end of 1943 the home had 48 residents. In 1956, at a time when the charity desperately wanted to move out of the Chapeltown area, the Donisthorpe estate in Shadwell crept quietly on to the market. But the Leeds Home for Aged Jews and Home of Rest committee lacked the necessary funds to make a viable bid.
It was an enviable site. The land stretched almost from Moortown Ring Road down to Street Lane, where the Judean Club was later to be built. It was left to one local man Todd Goldberg, who eventually masterminded the purchase of the Donisthorpe domain.
Todd, along with his brother Dick, had a well known cloth business in Leeds and traded under the name of Todd Richards, and both were highly respected members of the community. Todd had been a relentless worker for the Home and fortunately knew the owner of Donisthorpe Hall. He arranged for Shutes the builders, who were to finance the acquisition, to purchase the estate and then to sub-sell the Hall with seven acres of land to the charity. This left sufficient acreage for Shutes to build their planned housing estate. Later on the charity sold approximately one and a half acres to the Leeds Jewish Housing Association in order for them to build flats for the needy in the Jewish community.
The Exodus to Moortown
The late Sam Goldman, who was not associated with the charity at this stage, knew the Trustees of the Home quite well. However, Sam was involved with another charity which provided respite care for the Jewish elderly. This was the Leeds and District Convalescent Home, situated at Knaresborough Road, Harrogate and Sam was to become the charity’s Chairman and first trustee. The Harrogate building was eventually sold and the convalescent home was relocated to the grounds of the Donisthorpe estate.
This close association with Donisthorpe Trustees allowed Sam to attend their monthly meetings to present reports on the progress of the new convalescent home.
In 1956, after the home moved to Donisthorpe Hall Chairman Mark Zermansky wrote: “We have achieved our first object, which was to transfer our residents and patients from the dismal terrace house property in Cowper Street to the beautiful parkland that surrounds Donisthorpe Hall.” After praising the Building Committee, under the chairmanship of Louis Harrison [the home’s Vice Chairman], Mr Zermansky laid out plans for the future. “Our immediate task is to assure that we provide extra accommodation for about 100 beds, which is a little more than double our present capacity,” he said. At this time the Building Committee had started to get plans off the ground for the extensions that were to prove so essential to the home’s requirements. “We should then be able to take in all who are hoping for admittance and so eliminate any waiting list of applicants,” Mr Zermansky added. For Jack Cohen, Chairman of the Whist Drive Dance Committee, 1956 was to be his first term of office. “The dance comes at the end of the year during which we made our momentous move from Cowper Street to Donisthorpe Hall. “The improved amenities and beautiful surroundings are giving the old folks a new lease of life,” he said. At the end of the 1956 Maurice Myers, President of Donisthorpe Hall, was presented with an oil portrait of himself in recognition of his 30-year services to the home. The Building Committee, headed by Louis Harrison, consisted of Irvin Buntman, Dan Brown, Louis Brown, Jack Bird, Manny Cussins, Joe Cameron, Abe Glynne, Todd Goldberg, Joe Overton and Mark Zermansky. Louis Harrison praised Manny Cussins for his financial aid and said the Committee’s remit was to repair and rebuild the new home, to transfer the residents from Cowper Street and to house and resettle them in their new surroundings. This had been accomplished without a hitch, he remarked.
In 1956 the home had a House Committee with Dora Gordon and Sheila Glynne as co-chairman. This committee played an important part in the internal running of the home. Care was taken over the diets and menus and weekly discussion were held with the Chairman, Sister and the House Matron.
Also included in the Committee’s agenda were consecrations of memorial tablets, bed endowments, and special dinners for the residents. A Comforts Fund had already been set up in Cowper Street and was functioning well in the first year of Donisthorpe Hall. This had been founded in 1948 by a few young married women who decided to form a group known as the Comforts Fund of the Leeds Home for Aged Jews and Home of Rest. Their aim was to provide small luxuries and extra comforts for the residents and was the forerunner of the current Friends of Donisthorpe Hall.
During this period the women provided garden seats, footstools, bed-jackets, aprons, cardigans, slippers ties, headscarves, sweets and [dare one say it] cigarettes. A large-screen television had also been provided. The provision of cakes and pastries, as well as wine and whisky for each Sabbath Kiddush, were a regular feature. Concerts and film shows [arranged by Manny Freeman] were given at intervals and outings became a regular feature during the summer months. There were also card evenings and afternoons and social evenings as the main fundraisers. Residents who were well enough were sent to the Southport Convalescent Home for a fortnight’s holiday. Mrs B. Lindley and Mrs P. Gorwits were co-chairmen. A dinner and social evening organised by Mr and Mrs Baker raised the magnificent sum of £190.
The Chief Rabbi Dr Israel Brodie consecrated the home in June 1960, in the presence of Manny Cussins, who was the official opener.
Businessman Manny Cussins had been a tremendous inspiration to Donisthorpe Hall. Born 1905 in Hull, Manny was an incredible businessman and made his fortune in the furniture retailing trade by becoming chairman of Waring and Gillow. He joined the Board of Directors of Leeds United AFS in 1961 and served as the club’s chairman between 1972-1983. He died in October 1987 at the age of 82 and Donisthorpe Hall went into mourning.
Manny was charismatic — a man of the people who enjoyed helping the aged and infirm whatever their creed or nationality. He was able to communicate with everyone and at all levels. Mostly he had business acumen and galvanised people into action which became noticeable in the projects he steered through during his tenure.
He had been associated with the home for more than thirty years, from the time prior to the purchase of the Shadwell Lane property. He was also one of a consortium of influential people who had donated money to the home. Before being elected chairman he served on the executive committee. He was a dynamic force, assisted by vice-chairman Joe Overton and Philip Silverman, Joe Overton, and Louis Harrison. Other trustees were later appointed including Leslie Refson, Jack Saville and Harry Sugar.
In this period the rebuilding of the synagogue took place with the addition of a memorial hall to hold the increasing number of Kaddish tablets in a more appropriate and hallowed atmosphere.
Following the policy of modern expansion to cope with increasing demands the home erected a new geriatric wing in 1965 which housed up to 120 residents. This however was not enough and a further new build consisting of one extra floor area and another storey above that — and as many single rooms as possible were required. The trustees were looking at nearly fifty rooms and sixteen on a ward, as well as a nursing wing and a new hospital wing. Also it was planned to create a new reception area an important factor when the public came to visit.
For the last 4 years of his life Stanley was the Administrator of Donisthorpe Hall, he was previously involved on a voluntary basis. He began his work for the Home after the death of his father in 1965 – he considered it as a hobby at first, but as the years rolled by he became passionate about the welfare of the residents.
He was first associated with Donisthorpe Hall in the days when the Gift Fair was the yearly attraction. He and his then close friend, the late Lionel Kaye, would contact many local businesses, including Burtons the clothing manufacturers, for items to sell at the Fair.
Stanley joined many of the committees at the time that were involved with fund-raising, but he still yearned to be more involved with the residents directly. His hands-on methods caused many a row with the old Matron. He would happily bring an old person into the Home if he thought it was necessary, with no regard to where they were going to sleep – he would simply say “I will find a bed”. His main consideration was the welfare of the residents, believing strongly that all residents should have their own room, wherever possible. He also thought that the Home should be welcoming and inviting to residents and visitors alike. His single handed leadership kept the Home running smoothly most of the time, but his tendency to be abrupt at times meant that not everybody saw eye to eye with him. But he had a clear vision of what his job was, and he was going to do it.
He was a kind and immensely generous man, whose main priorities were his family, whom he loved dearly, and the wellbeing of Donisthorpe Hall and its residents, where for thirty years he tried to make the lives of all the residents happy without forgetting that Donisthorpe Hall was their home.
Sam Goldman was born in Leeds in 1924. Extrovert Sam was a prominent personality in the community, involved in golf events, charity concerts but best known as Chairman of Donisthorpe Hall. After his education at Leeds Grammar School Sam had started dental school but, volunteering at 19, he served as a sergeant with the Royal Army Pay Corps in the Second World War. Due to his training for dentistry, a reserved occupation, and his county-level skill at bridge, in which he partnered his commanding officer, he was also a champion ballroom dancer and sang a deep rumbling bass. He was never posted abroad.
His marriage to the vivacious Stella Ellis from 1947 until her death in 1997 led to his giving up dentistry and joining his wife’s father John in their Leeds family clothing business PS and J Ellis. In 1988 he became chairman of Donisthorpe Hall at the request of retiring incumbent Manny Cussins.
Faced with an urgent need for its updating, Sam eventually spearheaded a transformation that was to make Donisthorpe one of the finest homes in the country.
The New Era
Kindness, care and compassion for the elderly was to be the new mantra for Donisthorpe Hall — it was the beginning of a new era, a new mindset and a new set of values. It was during his tenure that Donisthorpe Hall had undertaken a three-year £3million regeneration programme that included a 21-bedroom extension.
Sam, who was appointed honorary life president, always maintained that the most impressive ingredient in running a nursing home was the kindness and care shown by staff — and he led by example. At Donisthorpe Hall that had been more than accomplished and he retired in 2006. He joked that with a cigarette in his mouth and a golf club in his hand, he could die happy, which he did. Before suffering a fatal heart attack on January 13, 2009, he waved to his two daughters, Liz and Linda, at Moor Allerton Golf Course. His ball landed in the water.
Michael Land’s early career was in television retail. He founded Northern Television and was a director of Granada Retail Ltd. He then moved on to build up two food companies, which included popcorn in cinemas and frozen Yorkshire puddings for supermarkets. His interest in Donisthorpe Hall stemmed from when his late father Manny (of ELJOS fame) was resident there.
This was in the early 1990’s and after his death Michael felt he needed to “do something” for Donisthorpe to show his and the family Land’s gratitude. Having been invited to join the Board, Michael set up an executive committee and became chairman of the finance committee which at that point held the purse strings. He subsequently handed over the post to accountant Jonathan Grant and Michael became chairman of the executive committee.
Michael’s era of influence was 1994-2006. It was quite well known that during that time he and Sam were at loggerheads on occasion. It wasn’t so much a clash of personalities but a clash of the titans. Michael was a cinema buff after being brought up in the golden age of films. It was his idea that the home should have its own cinema.
There was a room on ground level known as the banqueting suite where many functions were held and Michael thought this would make an ideal picture house with Pullman type chairs, a large screen and cinema posters dotted all over the walls.
Regina Waldman was asked to fundraise and together with Freddy Williams, who presented and designed the cinema’s programme of events and did research to provide the right equipment. The venture turned out to be hugely popular with residents who queued up just to see the “forthcoming attractions” board stationed inside the foyer and maintained by Freddy.
Michael then felt he had achieved as much as he could and retired as Chairman of the Executive Committee. Sam Goldman also felt it was time to step down and he was succeeded by Geoff Caplan, who had been the chairman of the building committee. Some years earlier Geoff had been asked by chairman Sam to join the Donisthorpe Hall board as treasurer.
Leeds-born Geoff was educated at Ingledew College prior to attending Leeds Grammar School. This led to university at Leeds where he studied and qualified as a civil engineer. When the Six-Day War erupted he was approached by the Israeli government to see if he was willing to be transferred to Haifa to stand in for the city engineer while he went to war. He readily agreed and walked around with a passport in his pocket, his cases packed and excitedly waiting for someone to tap him on the shoulder and give him the green light. Fortunately, the Israelis soon finished off that conflict but there was no question about it — given the chance Geoff would have gone.
He built up a successful civil engineering business which was eventually sold to a small public company, which in turn was taken over by a large public corporation. He retired in 1994 at the age of 58. Donisthorpe Hall had always held a special place in his heart. His mother Betty resided there, unfortunately at a time when the home needed urgent refurbishment. Taking priority was the building of a new state-of-the-art wing called Silver Lodge – named after benefactors Sheila and Leslie Silver — which gave the ability to decant the residents from the old section into the new.
That was a turning point in Donisthorpe Hall’s history, and kick-started a complete refurbishment programme that catapulted the home from a hospital-based institution to one of the major care homes in the country.
Behind every great man there is a woman and Geoff’s wife Gill has been actively engaged by his side. Gill was appointed chairman of the quality Committee and was the first woman to be elected on to the Board of Trustees. In 2011, after sixteen years on the Donisthorpe board and six years in the chair, Geoff stood down and handed over the baton to Andrew Brown MBE.
Andrew was no stranger to high office. He’d been chairman of Blackpool-based Beaverbrooks for some twenty years and worked on some high-profile national charity committees since leaving school aged sixteen. Beaverbrooks, established in 1919 by the Addlestone family was the country’s largest privately owned multiple jewellers and Andrew hoped to bring his business acumen to the Donisthorpe Board Room.
Born in Leeds Andrew was three when his parents moved to St Annes-on-Sea. He had been involved in charity work since he was sixteen just after leaving school and joined Young JNF in Blackpool where he became chairman. A loyal supporter of the home for many years he took over at a challenging time.
During the notorious doom and gloom of the economic climate of the new Millennium, the Government had implemented drastic cut-backs in funding and the local authority was indicating cutting grants amounting to £250,000 per year.
And apart from the financial stumbling block there was another challenge — the changing demographics. The community was getting older and statistics showed that people were living longer, so Andrew brought on board Alexandra Myers as a fundraising manager looking for new ways of collecting money. Something Andrew was keen to initiate was to bring in a new age group focussing on the 40-50 age bracket. And not just for fundraising but for succession planning and positions on the committee.
Working with Sam, Michael, Geoff & Andrew was Carol Whitehead who started her career with Donisthorpe Hall in 1998 as director of care services. In March 2000, she was the first member of senior management to attain the status of Chief Executive Officer — hitherto the position was merely referred to as “general manager.”
Carol had a considerable background in health-care management, both for the NHS and the independent sector and was instrumental in supervising the £3million improvement of the 183-bedroom care home. Under her watch, along with strong backing from a committed senior management team, the home’s complete transformation was to emerge to take its place in the front line of care and compassion for the elderly in the north of England. Under her tenure the alleged “stigma” that the home had acquired through many decades had been lifted.
More positive media input to raise the home’s profile had been encouraged and she was immensely proud that Donisthorpe became the only independent care home to receive Health Quality Service accreditation as well as the Hospitality Assured standard for services and business excellence. Carol retired in 2013. Also in 2013, the home’s 90th anniversary year, a complete refurbishment of its spacious reception area gave the feeling of a five-star hotel lounge and plans for a major building extension to enhance in-house and community catering facilities are planned for 2014.
Regina Waldman MBE
Regina Waldman has a fundraising track record that stems some half a century.
After she met a volunteer on a train journey to Sheffield in 1963 she was head-hunted to raise funds for Donisthorpe Hall and for decades she fundraised to help provide the best care home in the country.
Her charity dinners and cabarets are eagerly awaited and she usually organises two a year. Apart from selling tickets, raising money in sponsorship and organising raffles and organising the menu, she likes to stage her events as if they were her own celebrations.
She also organises the annual brochure which brings in a vital part of the home’s revenue. Regina likes nothing better than meeting residents on a daily basis.
Regina’s biggest event was when international producer David King, a huge Donisthorpe supporter, offered his sensational show Spirit of the Dance to the care home. However, it was suggested that instead of the home going to see Spirit of the Dance, it would be more of a fundraiser — and a challenge — if the show came to see Donisthorpe Hall.
Working at extreme pressure Regina and her team had two months to prepare and organise the event. This was the show that had catapulted King to international success. A salute to Irish dancing it became a global hit and in his usual magnanimous way he offered it to Donisthorpe Hall free of charge. It was like bringing a corner of Las Vegas to Moortown.
As luck would have it the day could not have provided better weather conditions. Bright sunshine was matched with blue skies and a warm breeze. To celebrate the weather, free ice-creams in the interval were quickly provided. The occasion was enormously stylish and had all the bounce of a society event. It raised an astonishing £25,000 and provided funds for a much-needed replacement lift. As the champagne flowed at a pre-show gala reception the extravaganza was enjoyed by three hundred spectators.
Regina is the recipient of a Leeds Jewish Welfare Board Pride Award and in 2011 she was awarded an MBE for her services to charity.