£20m gallery plan for mansion

A DARING £20 million plan to restore and renovate the historic Christchurch Mansion in Ipswich was unveiled by Ipswich Conservatives yesterday . The proposals, which are to be part of their integrated arts and leisure package, are designed to bring a new lease of life to the town's treasured ancient building and to erect a free-standing, purpose-built gallery alongside the mansion to display the town's celebrated art collection.

By Andrew Clarke

A DARING £20 million plan to restore and renovate the historic Christchurch Mansion in Ipswich was unveiled by Ipswich Conservatives yesterday .

The proposals, which are to be part of their integrated arts and leisure package, are designed to bring a new lease of life to the town's treasured ancient building and to erect a free-standing, purpose-built gallery alongside the mansion to display the town's celebrated art collection.

The plans were announced by the Tory spokesman for leisure Judy Terry. She said the plan was to invest in the town's heritage to boost tourism and provide an educational platform which would form a link with the proposed Suffolk university.


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She said it was planned to put the entire Ipswich art collection on display – which includes a large number of Constable's and Gainsborough's as well as other local artists including Colin Moss.

“It's criminal that a large proportion of the art collection should be locked away where no-one can see it. Ipswich has a celebrated art collection and everything should be on display.

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“This new gallery will allow everything to be seen to maximum effect. It will also house a series of touring exhibitions and special exhibitions, so we will have a mix of the old and the new,” she said.

She said the new gallery would be connected to the main mansion by a glass tunnel which would not impact on the integrity of the mansion itself. The design of the gallery would be decided by an architect's competition.

Ms Terry added the fabric of the mansion would also be restored, bringing out many of the features which have been hidden by previous restoration projects during the Victorian era.

The mansion itself will be used to display the furniture and costume collections to better effect with more informative labelling. She said it was important to establish a link with the arts faculty at the proposed Suffolk university which would then be able to use the mansion for academic research. She stressed that the Elizabethan building would always be available for public use.

The cost of the project is put at £20 million. Ms Terry said that 75% of the cost of the project would come from a lottery bid with the remaining 25% coming from private sponsorship. She hoped that once the work was completed both the gallery and the mansion would pay for themselves.

“We have got to make these places exciting places to come and visit. We have a wonderful heritage here and we have got to make something of it. We have so much to offer and we should be shouting about it and displaying it to its best advantage.”

She said that although admission charges would apply to tourists, entry would remain free for Ipswich residents, and hopefully for the people of Suffolk. Although a nominal charge may have to be applied.

“These things are obviously still to be worked out but it's important that we have access to these wonderful works.”

A shop and a restaurant in the mansion would also add to the appeal and help with the running costs.

She added that she hoped for cross party support for the plans which would result in lower running costs, improved facilities and the end of a major drain on the borough council's budget. This she said would also apply to plans being formulated for the town's theatres.

“There has never been a proper leisure and cultural strategy for the town and it is time to change that.”

She said that detailed plans for the Christchurch Mansion scheme and plans for the theatres are due to be presented to Ipswich Borough Council during the next month.

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