'As a welcoming, tolerant and caring community, we have all lost'

The Hippodrome at Golders Green

The Hippodrome at Golders Green - Credit: Harry Taylor

I was devastated when, as a small child, my brother Richard went on the stage at the Golders Green Hippodrome during our trip to the Christmas pantomime.

My upset wasn’t because he took part in the panto, an annual treat with my Grandma Esther and Grandpa Alic but rather, because unlike me and my sister Helen, he received a giant tube of Smarties. 

Fast forward to 2017 when Golders Green welcomed a Shia Muslim community who bought the building, previously a Christian centre, and opened The Centre for Islamic Enlightenment, aka, the Markaz.  

Since then, I have visited the Markaz, shared Iftar (the meal at the end of the fast at Ramadan) with their members at Alyth synagogue and, together, we have run Mitzvah Day projects, serving local charities. It’s been a pleasure and an education to meet the people, all volunteers, enriching the local community and adding to its diverse and rich culture. 

Over the past four years, much opposition to the centre has been vociferous, distasteful and dirty – playing on deep-rooted fear and prejudice.

At the recent final regulatory hearing, lawyers for the Markaz accused Barnet council of religious discrimination: “The Markaz has been treated differently because it is a Muslim institution.” 

Tragically, but maybe not surprisingly, this week we learned that the Markaz trustees have sold the building.

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Whilst we welcome the new Christian community and hope to be planning Mitzvah Day with them this time next year, I feel sure their cars will park in similar numbers to the users of the Markaz, and indeed of the existing churches, synagogues, shops and restaurants which serve Golders Green seven days a week.  

I expect (and hope) this building, too, will be in constant use. The only obvious and single difference between their presence and the Markaz, is their religious identity. 

More than 50 years later, looking at the landmark edifice of what I still call the Hippodrome, I am again, devastated.

Whilst the campaigners against the Markaz may say they have "won", as a welcoming, non-discriminatory, religiously tolerant, forward-looking, and caring community, we have all, including them, most definitely, lost.

Laura Marks is founder of Mitzvah Day, chair of the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust and an interfaith consultant – commongood.uk.com

Laura Marks OBE

Laura Marks OBE - Credit: Laura Marks