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Meet the BNJC team: Bob Whittaker (Left) Project Manager

Construction update

21 March 2021

Meet the team: Bob Whittaker

Meet our Project Manager, Bob Whittaker. Bob joined the project in January 2017, and has been a fundamental part of our team right from the beginning. We asked Bob about his role and his experiences managing the construction of our site so far.

Tell us a bit about yourself and your role at BNJC?
I was invited to project manage the BNJC development back in January 2017. My first task was to appoint a professional team of architects, structural engineers, and other advisors such as cost and planning consultants, archeologists, ecologists, arboriculture specialists and many more. With this team in place we succeeded in securing planning consent for BNJC in August 2019. The next step was to select a building contractor to work with, and following a tender process, Osborne’s was appointed to deliver the project. After two years of planning the construction works commenced in mid January 2019 - look how far we’ve come far since then!
Watch the transformation of BNJC (Brighton & Hove Jewish Community) on New Church Rd, Hove.
Which bit of the site are you most excited about?
The core element in the project is the new synagogue and it’s also the area that excites me most. Before working on this project, my knowledge of the cultural and religious aspects of Jewish life was sadly rather poor. I was however lucky enough to visit Jerusalem in 2019, and my knowledge as a result is infinitely better. I was able to visit many beautiful synagogues in Jerusalem, but of course my favourite will always be the one I have been intimately involved with for the last four years here in Hove!

What has been the most challenging element so far?
The construction of the new Mikvah has been the most challenging by some margin (read more about our new Mikvah). I had the privilege of working with Rabbi Posen from Jerusalem, who visited our team in Brighton before the start of the pandemic. With his invaluable knowledge and patience we were able to produce the necessary plans for the Mikvah build. Brighton & Hove Hebrew Congregation’s Rabbi Rader, together with Rabbi Halpern from London, undertook the necessary witnessing of the construction works on site. It is not often you see two Rabbis in full construction PPE.

Any interesting finds?
During the demolition of the old synagogue, the contractors uncovered an interesting collection of historic photos under the floorboards (pictured below), which we passed to the Brighton & Hove Hebrew Congregation.
Also, during the planning process, we were told by several local residents that there was a watercourse running beneath the site which, if disturbed by the construction of our new basement, would cause the adjoining properties to flood. As we had already carried out an extensive ground investigation, we knew this was not the case, but it was interesting that when the bulk excavation was carried out that we did not encounter the mythological stream or indeed any ground water at all!
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This collection of photos appeared in the February 2021 issue of Sussex Jewish News Magazine. The origin of these photos is still unknown and all date after 1914.
How has Covid impacted the works?
We commenced our work on site in January 2020, just three months before the first Covid-19 lockdown. Fortunately, the construction industry has been allowed to continue working throughout the last year but we have set up strict working practices and safeguards to minimize the risk of Covid. With only one major sub-contractor working on the site and strict covid control measures in place, progress has been challenging but maintained. I hope that the successful UK vaccination programme will lessen any further effects the pandemic will have on the progress of our build.

What is coming up next on the project?
The reinforced concrete frame of the Mews Houses is nearing completion and the next stage will be the construction of the external walls to the mews houses and the two apartment blocks. These walls comprise of three elements: firstly the internal wall is built using a structural frame system in cold rolled metal, insulated and finished with cement particle board, secondly the installation of the windows and external doors, and thirdly the construction of the external skin of the wall in brickwork and cladding. The mechanical and electrical installations will also commence in the next few weeks.

What do you think BNJC will bring to the local community?
In addition to Brighton & Hove Hebrew Congregation’s new synagogue, BNJC will also provide fantastic facilities for the wider Jewish community to hold large events such as weddings and bat/bar mitzvahs. I think the new café and restaurant will provide a hub for everyone in the city, and the new central courtyard will be a really attractive place to meet people and have a coffee or lunch. The new homes, particularly the Mews houses with their own courtyard, will provide a very special environment to live in.

What’s your favourite thing about Brighton?
In the 1970’s I graduated from Brighton Polytechnic and I lived in Brighton for a few years. I loved the vibrancy of the city and in those days had an intimate knowledge of most of the pubs and nightclubs. Amazingly enough I still play bridge with four of my old university chums. We have known each other for well over forty years, which is quite frightening!
Just before lockdown I was in charge of one of my little grandchildren for the day, and when my granddaughter told me that wanted fish and chips for lunch I drove down to Brighton and had a wonderful lunch on the beach followed by a flight on the i360, could you have a more perfect day?