Mission accomplished? The Ipswich Historic Churches Trust may not be quite ready to agree to that, with the future of St Clements nearly but not yet finalised. However, remarkable progress has been achieved, especially in recent months.
Five redundant medieval churches in the centre of town were handed over by the Church of England to Ipswich Borough Council which then entrusted them to the loving care of Ipswich Historic Churches Trust, founded in 1979. Whilst the fabric of the churches has been kept in good repair, there have been frustrations for the Trust - tantalising but disappointing negotiations with organisations which showed some interest in using the buildings but then backed out.
First St Stephen's was found a new use as our award-winning Tourist Information Centre. Then St Nicholas became the Diocesan Centre for their own public use. The Society's last two Awards evenings were held in this pleasant and comfortable setting.
Now, with very satisfying timing, both St Lawrence and St Peter's opened for new uses during May. St Lawrence in Dial Lane had long been disused and internally was in rather poor state. Thanks to funding from IBC and a Government Growth Point grant it has been sympathetically restored and becomes the St Lawrence Centre, a caf during the day run by Whitehouse Enterprises and Genesis and available for hire at other times. Age Concern seem happy with this new venue for their purposes.
St Peter's which Wolsey adapted and used as a chapel for his college, had been partly kept alive by the efforts of Roger and Stella Wolfe who, joined by Jill Freestone of the Over Stoke History Group, organised its opening to the public once a week in the summer months. But now it is St Peter's by the Waterfront a centre for music and the arts and home of the Ipswich Hospital Band. Their admirable vision and persistence, with help from Ipswich Historic Churches Trust, won major funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund. Those of us who were there at the opening on 15 May and also enjoyed the Band's opening concert on 24 May can vouch for the success of the refurbishment and its use as a concert hall. St Peter's also houses very fine new display boards describing the history of this important church, which is also the new home for the Ipswich Charter Hangings. Our Society has contributed towards the cost of the new guidebook to St Peter's. Dr John Blatchly, the fourth chairman of the Ipswich Historic Churches Trust, at the opening of both these 'retired' churches, spoke warmly about the churches themselves and all who had contributed to these admirable and useful conversions. He spoke like a man with a mission almost accomplished.