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East Anglia Future 50

Has Upper Orwell Street been forgotten by the town?

PUBLISHED: 05:30 14 June 2019 | UPDATED: 16:23 18 June 2019

Gianni Falcucci (right) with barber Kelvin Watt, says he is happier after leaving Upper Orwell Street  Picture: RACHEL EDGE

Gianni Falcucci (right) with barber Kelvin Watt, says he is happier after leaving Upper Orwell Street Picture: RACHEL EDGE

RACHEL EDGE

After more than 40 years, Franco's Barbershop is quitting Ipswich's Upper Orwell Street as owner Gianni Falcucci claims it has become a forgotten victim of the economic downturn - but is there hope for the area locals call The Wash?

A view crumbling walls, derelict shops and the burnt St Michael's Church in Upper Orwell Street Picture: OLIVER SULLIVANA view crumbling walls, derelict shops and the burnt St Michael's Church in Upper Orwell Street Picture: OLIVER SULLIVAN

At one end, the Ipswich Regent stands tall under the bright lights, and at night the street comes alive as late-night revellers make their way to one of the many kebab shops on their way to the taxi rank.

But between the eateries there are countless empty units - with another joining them this week as Franco's shuts up shop.

"This place used to be a hive of activity," says Gianni Falcucci, owner of Franco's. Looking out onto the street, he added: "Now, I hate to say it, it is the bottom end of town.

"What has this street got?" He asks, surveying the street he once loved. "A burned church and a deserted cinema?

St Michael's Church in Upper Orwell Street was bought by Muhammad Manwar Ali, chief executive of JIMAS but was subject to an arson attack Picture: OLIVER SULLIVANSt Michael's Church in Upper Orwell Street was bought by Muhammad Manwar Ali, chief executive of JIMAS but was subject to an arson attack Picture: OLIVER SULLIVAN

"The Regent is just up there, people park here and go off to enjoy a night of theatre and music, but have to walk along this street first. Hardly a good start to an evening, is it?

"Think about this street as a hallway in a house. It should be bright and welcoming - instead, it is the complete opposite."

Gianni came to the shop as an enthusiastic teenager, taking over the salon aged just 19. Under his tenure, the business continued to expand and in 2015 he bought out the Robberty group.

But from next week, those wanting a haircut from one of Ipswich's oldest barbers' will have to venture to Suffolk Water Park or work at BT's Adastral Park because he is quitting the street and focusing his efforts on his newer locations.

Franco's, part of the Roberterry Group, will leave Upper Orwell Street in Ipswich after more than 40 years Picture: OLIVER SULLIVANFranco's, part of the Roberterry Group, will leave Upper Orwell Street in Ipswich after more than 40 years Picture: OLIVER SULLIVAN

"I just wish more was done to save this street," said Gianni. "Other parts of the town are starting to look nice, but I've lost count of the amount of times I've asked for the street to have Christmas lights.

"People used to say bad things about the Norwich Road area, but look at that now - there are loads of businesses springing up.

"It doesn't matter if it is restaurants or coffee shops."

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For years, the area had been anticipating Ipswich Borough Council's "The Mint Quarter" plans, which would have seen 50 shops and a department store introduced.

The plans have now all but disappeared, with part of the vacant Co-Op building set to become a school, and plans put forward to convert the remainder of the buildings into 33 homes.

Businesses have tried to open in the area, as Gianni pointed out.

"Look at the great businesses that came here and didn't survive, like Sweet P's and Peaky Pancakes."

The latter, a pancake shop themed around BBC hit show Peaky Blinders, lasted only seven months on the street corner before closing due to a lack of trade.

There is a whisper of hope with new businesses Jamaica Street and Quirky Kicks opening recently, while the Spread Eagle pub is a popular spot following its revival.

A spokesman for Ipswich Borough Council said: "We are sorry to see this barber's shop moving out of the town and want to say thank you to the team for nearly 50 years' service.

"All town centres are facing challenges and Ipswich is no different but we are doing a lot to make parking cheaper to help local businesses.

"We are also helping to facilitate a new school just around the corner.

"We are sorry to see Franco's go but we wish them well in the future."

An economic revival or a revival of the Mint Quarter plans could bring the area back to live, but for now The Wash remains washed-out.

What do you think about Upper Orwell Street in Ipswich? How do you think the area could be improved?

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