Co-op unveils new HQ complex

THE region's largest independent retailer has unveiled its new headquarters on the outskirts of Ipswich - and vowed to expand through the recession.

THE region's largest independent retailer has unveiled its new headquarters on the outskirts of Ipswich - and vowed to expand through the recession.

The East of England Co-operative Society has relocated its head office to Wherstead Park - the former E.on site - to create a more efficient operation with easy links to A12 and A14.

As well as developing Wherstead Park as a business centre, with other firms also taking up space within the complex, the Co-op is preparing to unveil the site's “jewel in the crown” - the Georgian manor house which was once the headquarters of Eastern Electricity.

The Grade II-listed building is being primed as a conference venue and training academy which is hoped to be up and running in the autumn.

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With several conference rooms adorned with elaborate furniture, together with an impressive modern atrium and glorious views across the River Orwell and Shotley peninsula, the Co-op is also planning to market the facility for weddings and other memorable occasions.

When E.on owned the site, the early-18th Century building was kept largely for internal use, but now bosses at the Co-op want to show it off to the public.

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Plans are also afoot to demolish some eye-sore outbuildings and convert stables into accommodation. There is potential to create up to 10 bedrooms for people attending residential courses or private functions.

The grounds also have tennis courts, a croquet lawn and spacious grassland that provide staff with an escape from the office right on their doorstep.

Lesley Frost, commercial manager, said: “It gives us an opportunity to share these great facilities. It excites me in terms of marketing and selling it.”

The Georgian property, known as The Mansion, is attached to the business park, where around 150 Co-op staff previously dotted around the region have converged to form a more efficient team.

Richard Samson, chief executive, said: “It is a brilliant location with modern facilities. We are very lucky.

“When we had the merger of the Colchester and Ipswich co-ops around three and a half years ago, we had offices all over the two counties. We have never been able to bring them together until now.”

The company has also leased part of the office complex to 100 employees of P&O Ferrymasters and is looking for more businesses to follow suit.

The massive investment in the re-location has been seen as a positive move for the Ipswich economy and has given the Co-op a platform to expand.

A �1million refurbishment of its store in Framlingham is nearing completion and the company has reported a 4.8% increase in its food sales so far this year compared to the same period in 2008.

Mr Samson said: “It is a difficult climate, particularly for retailing. It is tough and we are no exception.

“In the next three years we could be spending �50million on redevelopment and new stores.”

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