As one door closes another one opens. The long, hard haul since the 2007-8 recession finally meant that an Ipswich Society Awards Evening 2015 would have only a handful of entries. The decision to carry these over to next year opened the way to a different sort of presentation. Our speakers were the Society's Vice-Presidents (our President being the Mayor): Bob Allen and Chris Wiltshire.
The wealth of images on the screen, many unfamiliar to members of the audience, took us through various aspects of the town in relation to conservation, regeneration, and planning. Unafraid to be a little provocative, the two speakers extemporised a fascinating commentary on the somewhat chequered history of our town. The Greyfriars, Civic Drive, St Matthews Street blocks and carriageways - very much a first phase in a planned major expansion of Ipswich to take resettled populace from London, which was eventually abandoned - was contrasted with the adjacent Willis Building, now Listed Grade I. The subsequent removal of the roundabout and subways here and the introduction of public spaces, seating and planting brought the story up to date.
Historic buildings were not ignored. The Society's role in saving The Sailor's Rest in St Peter's Street invoked the story of Peter Underwood and Don Chipperfield jumping up and down on flooring joists to demonstrate that the building structure was much more sound than claimed by those who wished to demolish it. The invaluable role of the Borough Council in saving and restoring The Ancient House was praised; is it possible to imagine what would have happened if the then-owners had let its dilapidation result in the ultimate demolition of that key site in Ipswich? The story of the saving of The Ancient House is worthy of a talk of its own.
Opportunities missed and taken: pressures from the drive for profit have been either acceded to or resisted in the interests of the culture of our town. Chris Wiltshire made the point that Ipswich wears its history very lightly in comparison to, say, Norwich or Cambridge: in its own way this is rather admirable. However, it seems sometimes to have led to a lack of confidence in the town when crucial decisions are made about the nature and quality of regeneration.
To finish on a high note, Bob Allen reminded us that Ipswich is the first Anglo-Saxon town, possessing a unique heritage and place in the story of our nation. Challenged, amused, entertained and informed, the audience broke up to enjoy a glass of something and admire the reshaped interior of St Peter's on the Waterfront with the Charter Wall-hangings now well displayed and lit. Many thanks to the speakers and to John Norman and Tony Marsden et al for putting together such an interesting presentation.