In late November 2020 we had a ‘virtual’ switch on of the Christmas lights in the town centre. No Christmas market, no people, no music, no snow machine. How times have changed in this last year. However, life goes on and there are still some positive things happening. You only have to stand on Cornhill and see the new Deichmann footwear store ready to open when ‘lockdown’ is eased. After months as an eyesore, the scaffolding and plastic covering is coming off the old Post Office, gleaming after its major clean up; also, once again we have a large Christmas tree with its thousands of lights and large golden baubles standing in its tub, not unlike the one in Covent Garden in London.
Above: the newly cleaned pediment on the old Post Office
Construction projects have continued and with the New Wolsey Theatre ‘NW2’ Pavilion now complete, work continues on the theatre itself and the landscaping and surfacing of the theatre concourse. The Ipswich Regent Theatre has been awarded £500,000 by Arts Funding for Suffolk.
‘The Hold’ on Fore Street is all but complete and has been partially open to the public for some weeks with its café already popular and regular use of the lecture theatre by the University of Suffolk. The Exhibition Hall is open but with booking online only. The Library and Reading Room will be opening early next year.
The Grade I listed Unitarian Meeting House, currently covered in scaffolding and corrugated iron, is nearing the completion of a major restoration project, partially funded by Historic England.
Work continues converting the former BHS store in Butter Market for the Mike Ashley retail group where it has been reported Sports Direct, Game, UCS and Flannels are expected to move in and open around Easter 2021.
The former shops along Grimwade Street have been demolished in preparation for the Council-owned Handford Homes to build new flats which will include some accessible homes for people with disabilities, changing the look of Grimwade Street quite dramatically (photographs p. 5).
The £3 million Phase 2 of the railway station project has started and will see office and staff accommodation redeveloped, a new ticket hall created and an additional shop will be built. New modern toilets will also be created as part of the redevelopment.
The former Botwoods in Princes Street, more recently a car wash, has been demolished with the hope that eventually the site will be developed as an office complex with a multi-storey car park of about 750 spaces behind on the former Livestock Market site on Portman Road. It has been reported that Travelodge have expressed an interest in the former Drum and Monkey site. Also on the Princes Street corridor an, as yet, unbuilt set of ‘striking glass-fronted offices is planned for the old coal yard on Chancery Road behind the RW Paul maltings/Hollywoods night club office conversion and are already attracting strong interest from potential tenants and buyers, according to agents.
An 18 month, £2 million project to replace the Port of Ipswich lock gates has just been completed.
The former Odeon Cinema at Majors Corner was bought by The Hope Church in 2018 and recently the building has been cleaned up and new signage added to the exterior as work is progressing converting the building into The Hope Centre which as well as a church will be used for community activities including a café.
It has been reported that the derelict Burtons factory on St. Peters Wharf has been given the go-ahead to be converted into an arts and media hub for the Gecko physical theatre company with a £3 million grant from central government with the condition that the site would have to be structurally completed by April 2022.
Developers plan to build 21 new flats within the former Argos store in Carr Street. Part of the old Co-op Department Store, opposite, has already been converted into residential apartments.
In the town centre we have recently lost the Edinburgh Woollen Mill clothing shop and the Office shoe shop. New shops include Deichmann footwear on Cornhill, Lambretta Clothing in St Stephens Lane, Design Print Signage in Carr Street, Gateway Continental convenience store in Tacket Street, and Ma Belle Present on Lloyds Avenue. One Below has opened in the former Poundworld in Tavern Street, ridding the town centre of the ugly boarded-up windows of the last two years.
Soon to open are Joseph Property Agency in Queen Street, ‘Bride of St. Peter's’ Wedding Shop and ‘The Blitz’ 1940s themed tearooms, both in St. Peters Street. Wildgoose fine foods and deli is coming to St Stephens Lane and, as already mentioned, new shops are coming to the former BHS around Easter time. There is a proposal to open a branch of Fireaway Pizzas in Upper Brook Street where Pizza Hut was some years ago and more recently was a betting shop.
Merkur Cashino in Westgate Street has just completed a makeover. Pocket Watch and Petticoats has moved into empty premises in the Thoroughfare formerly occupied by Ohh Deer. The Ipswich Furniture Project has taken over the former Superdrug premises in Westgate Street. Tesco is hoping eventually to move into the former Croydon’s premises and Jack Wills store on Tavern Street after the latter confirmed it would not be reopening in the town.
Ipswich now has three Green Flag parks with Bourne Park having just been awarded a flag for the first time in addition to Christchurch Park and Holywells Park.
When the BBC Antiques Roadshow team recorded an episode of the programme in September in Christchurch Park with Christchurch Mansion as the main back drop, presenter Fiona Bruce was recorded in different parts of the park on a glorious sunny September day, so we look forward to Ipswich being showcased on BBC 1 around the time of publication of this Newsletter, when they estimated the episode will be televised.
Photographs by Tim Leggett