The future of the Tourist Information Centre (TiC) in St Stephen’s Church has been in the news recently. 

The Borough Council’s executive met in mid-July to discuss the planned emergency budget aimed at alleviating the impact of the cost of the coronavirus pandemic. The plans to save funds would mean, if approved, that among other measures to be taken, the TIC would be permanently closed but conversely more money for the Arras Square renovation might become available.

There are echoes, in this matter of a past TiC question which The Society had to answer, back in early 2011. At the time the Borough Council were keen to move it back into the Town Hall when the Suffolk Craft Society moved out. The Ipswich Society was then given a hint of an offer to explore taking on St Stephen’s Church on as our base. We were warm to the idea subject to certain caveats.

Our Chairman at the time, the late Jack Chapman, handed the examination of the feasibility over to John Norman who led a working group on the matter.

Chief Executive Russell Williams envisaged the move of the TiC, but only if a good use could be found for St Stephen’s. The reasons for the move were that the potential for a hi-tech future was poor and that it was ‘off the beaten track’.

There was a certain preference by the Borough Council for it to be used by a trusted local group and Councillors were in broad agreement.

It could become a ‘home’ for the Ipswich Society, but not to be kept to ourselves. St Stephen’s would become a conference centre, for displays of art, as a lecture hall for use by Ipswich community groups – the venue would be very useful and convenient.

Our working group spent a considerable amount of time examining the possibilities St Stephen’s might provide, preparing a detailed feasibility study. This included the financial and business planning over a three-year period, a request for ‘start-up’ measures such as grants from the Council, the installation of toilets and the acquisition of furniture for the place. After some time studying the matter – a serious reflection of the nature of our commitment to the project, the diversity of tasks involved and the financial considerations – we concluded that our Society revenue, reserves and human resources could not support a move to accept responsibility for the building.

The Council soon afterwards changed its plans and the Tourist Information Centre remained unchanged until the latest regrettable news about its future.

Tony Marsden

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