38 Carr Street, the former Co-operative Store and Administrative Offices

Architect’s visual of Carr House, Carr Street, Ipswich

A couple of members of the Society have just had the pleasure of being shown around Carr House by Joe Fogel of the House Group.  The former 

Co-operative Administrative Offices, Co-operative Hall and retail outlets have been converted into 22 residential apartments. The development also includes 14 units in Avery House which was the 

Co-operative warehouse in the rear yard of the building, the first building within the complex to be converted.  

The developer, the House Group are known to the Society in that in 2019 we gave them an award for the conversion of the First Floor Club (later Fire and Ice) into Charlotte House, Tacket Street.  Together with main contractor TLC Homes they also converted the Dolce Vita club (Prince of Orange public house or Bar Fontaine) in St Margarets Plain.

Carr House, a Victorian building of 1884, was a major development by what was then the Ipswich Industrial Co-operative Society (mergers and acquisitions have led to the local Co-op becoming the East of England). It was initially known as the Central Premises but has also been referred to as the Drapery Store and generations of youngsters will remember the toy department (and Santa’s Grotto) on the first floor.

You will probably remember the building either from the first floor banking hall from where you collected your divi, or from the individual Co-op outlets on Cox Lane; the opticians, chemist and Co-op Travel. More recently Brighthouse were in a large part of the ground floor facing Carr Street.

This £2.4 million development has taken longer than planned because of the pandemic but the outcome is spectacular. Previously, both the first and second floors had extremely high ceilings, essential in the top floor Co-operative Hall which was the 800-seat meeting place for flower shows, political rallies and members’ meetings. This gave the developer the opportunity to insert a mezzanine floor overlooking the apartment’s lounge (and external windows) as a balcony, bedroom and ensuite. This has ensured that the one-bedroom apartments are different, spacious and because of their central location, desirable.

Interior of corner room of Carr House

We were shown a corner flat with an interesting window seat with views along Carr Street to Major’s Corner and a couple of less desirable, but considerably cheaper, units overlooking the rear yard. There is no on-site parking but the 500 space Cox Lane car park is adjacent. However the town centre location with access to shops, restaurants and public houses together with Ipswich’s cultural offer, transport links and Christchurch Park is ideal. It is also interesting to note that Carr Street, despite a couple of years in the doldrums is regaining its reputation for shopping.

The ground floor will remain as retail or similar commercial units although the Brighthouse shop has been sub-divided into two smaller units – suitable for local independent shops. The Co-operative pharmacy is still operating from a unit in Cox Lane and Armstrong and North, who purchased the Co-op opticians, are on the Carr Street frontage.

A couple of the apartments are still available to rent (none have been sold) from £875 to £1250 per calendar month. If these sound-like high prices there are people out there willing to rent, the House Group are getting in excess of 90% occupancy across their range of properties.

Conversion of this Co-operative building was achieved under the planning condition known as Permitted Development; the conversion of former offices and or retail premises into homes simply requires the developer to inform the Planning Authority of their intention. Providing that the building is not listed, is not in a Conservation Area and that there are no external alterations, work can start immediately.

Elsewhere this has resulted in some pretty small ‘studio flats’ (less than 35 sq. metres), occasionally without external windows. The developer will argue that if all the single occupant is doing in the flat is sleeping, external windows are unnecessary. I might disagree, such tiny units are already becoming the slums of tomorrow and Ipswich planners agree, refusing development of undersized conversions. This is not the case however in Carr House and we were suitably impressed by the spaciousness, the quality of fittings and finishes and their accessibility to the necessary services.

John Norman

Next article