Beacon Town Conference
University Campus Suffolk, Friday 24 February 2012
A blatant attempt to sell more newspapers or a real effort at moving Ipswich forward? Although there was some of the former, probably created by the fact that the conference was organised by the Ipswich Star and led by its editor Nigel Pickover, it was much more about the future of Ipswich and what the 100+ key decision makers in the audience could collectively do about it.
Ben Gummer led the way by bemoaning the constant criticism he has to endure from sceptics who suggest Ipswich isn't up to it. Terry Hunt, editor of the EADT, gave a lively and compelling address on the perceptions of Ipswich as held by the good folk of rural Suffolk, suggesting Ipswich's problems started when it became the County Town of the whole of Suffolk (upstaging Bury) in 1974. The acrimony between Bury and Ipswich is only one way. The people of Ipswich love going shopping in Bury (and the other major towns of East Anglia). Terry suggested that if he asked the question of the good folk of Suffolk why they never visit Ipswich the most likely answer is why should they? Thus it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Ipswich's shopping offer is poor, but will not get better until it can attract customers from a wider catchment, who won't come whilst the offer remains weak.
Perception is always the reality and the perception of Ipswich amongst the people from the market towns and villages is low, so low that Ipswich does not exist on their radar. For those from the coast north of the Alde, from the towns in the north of the county, and from a very short distance up the Al40, Norwich is their town of choice. Is Ipswich part of Suffolk? Yes, for the football, Yes for the Theatre, but otherwise No, and a very resounding No from a two-thirds majority.
Mark Bee (Leader of Suffolk County Council), David Ellesmere (Leader of Ipswich Borough Council), Ben Gummer and Nigel Pickover also spoke. We broke out into workshops, made pledges as to how we individually would contribute to improvements (in the perceptions) of Ipswich and generally ended the day feeling much more positive about the future. Thus the Ipswich Star had delivered the first round of improvement. We look forward to part two in mid-summer when some of the pledges should have come to fruition.
John Norman (I really do love Ipswich)