Independents' Day

After the success of the Independent Business Grants in Ipswich last year, the scheme is being launched again in 2009 with another �20,000 available for improvements to local businesses.

Lynne Mortimer

After the success of the Independent Business Grants in Ipswich last year, the scheme is being launched again in 2009 with another �20,000 available for improvements to local businesses. Lynne Mortimer checks out some of last year's winners.

For at least one independent business in Ipswich town centre, the Improve scheme has meant the difference between survival and the real risk going under in today's difficult trading circumstances.

The Independent Business Grant Scheme in Ipswich is run by Ipswich Central and is available for businesses inside the town's BID (business improvement district).

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Ipswich Central heightens the profile of Ipswich as a shopping town with a number of schemes including the town rangers and one-Sunday-a-month free parking at designated car parks,

The grants, for amounts between �500 and �5,000 are intended to help fund projects to enhance businesses and many of last year's awards have already been used to great effect.

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Paul Clement, Executive Director of Ipswich Central says: “The feedback from this scheme last year was so good that we just had to repeat it. In these challenging times, a �20,000 investment pot available to all independent businesses in the main town centre is a major opportunity and I am looking to receiving as many innovative applications as possible. There is absolutely no catch - if you want to improve your business or the area in which you trade, this scheme could grant you the money that you need.”

The more independents that thrive alongside the big high street names the more people enjoy their shopping experience. In a major shopping town like Ipswich, the independents and chains have a symbiotic relationship - each sector benefiting from the wellbeing of the other.

With this in mind, the judging panel will once again include Marks and Spencer chairman Sir Stuart Rose, who lives in Suffolk, plus Terry Hunt, editor of the East Anglian Daily Times, James Hehir, chief executive of Ipswich Borough Council and Mark Riley, owner of jewellers Riley & Riley and chair of the Ipswich Central Independent Business Group,

Setting out on a tour of the town centre, you might not immediately spot how the grants have been spent - but you would certainly miss them if they weren't there!

For example, Milsams, which sells urban fashion in Orwell Place, had its fascia sign replaced after the previous one was stolen. Proprietor Amilcar Cabral was extremely pleased to have been awarded a grant and is happy to find he can apply again this year if he wishes.

At Craftability, in St Lawrence Street, a new, colourful mural adorns the wall of the alleyway entrance to the well-known craft store. Regular customers may recall the previous painting showed a rural scene.

The new mural depicts a montage of Ipswich landmarks including the new university building, the Willis building, the statue of Giles's grandma and Alex, the street ranger.

Karen Plummer and Tricia Walker at Craftability say they wanted something “vibrant” with an Ipswich theme and they are thrilled with the new mural.

“We wouldn't have done it without the grant,” they declare.

At Arnie's Sarnies, in St Nicholas Street, the grant funded new blinds for the windows, and Ant Watt declares himself very happy with the new sign at his Health Muscle & Fitness store. Ant says the grant scheme is “great for local and small businesses, particularly at the moment”.

Last year the whole of the �20,000 was allocated and organisers at Ipswich Central are hoping to be able to hand out the whole sum again this year.

The front of Berridges, the jewellers in Dial Lane, used a grant to repaint its elegant green and gold livery.

In St Stephen's Lane, the outside seating at Jaceys coffee house - already busy at 10am has also benefited from a grant. The parasols are among the items funded.

Alfresco dining has become a year-round pleasure for many Britons since the smoking ban sent smokers outside. What used to be a fair weather pursuit is no longer confined to the summer months.

Another caf� business that has found outside tables and chairs a popular option is ceramics caf� All Fired Up, in Crown and Anchor Mews.

Proprietor Penny Damant says the grant was used to put new cupboards into the upstairs workshop area and to help fund the creation of an outside seating area.

“People like it because this is a secluded garden and is wheelchair accessible - it's so user friendly.

“In the present climate that has kept us afloat. We wanted to do it but wouldn't have been able to afford it (without the grant),” says Penny who has had the business since last June.

“The fact we have got that has upped our coffee sales. On a bad day, you need something else…”

As well as offering the chance to create ceramics with children's plate-painting parties and custom-made items for special occasions - weddings, for example, shoppers can also pop in for a well-deserved coffee.

“It's the independents (stores) that make the town unique to the visitor,” says Penny.

- The application form is also available online at Ipswich Central on

Terms and conditions of the Improve scheme are;

- Applicants must be independent businesses that are owner run and managed. The business owner should be responsible and in control of all aspects of the business (opening hours, payroll etc).

- Applicants should not have a national presence and/or more than 10 other units.

- Applicants must be businesses trading within the BID area.

- The minimum grant amount that can be applied for is �500. The maximum is �5,000.

- Ipswich Central is under no obligation to award any grants and may pay out any amount up to �20,000, entirely at its own discretion.

- Approval of any grant may contain separate and additional conditions that will be made clear at the time.

- Payment is made in respect of completed works only and is subject to inspection, proof of works and only upon receipt of a satisfactory invoice (including VAT if applicable). Ipswich Central reserves the right to insist that payment is made to the awarded business directly.

- No correspondence will be entered into with applications that are not approved.

- No more than 50% of the total amount awarded shall be given to BID levy payers who do not have voting rights (ie If property has a rateable value of less than �10,000)

- Closing date for entries is 5pm, Friday, April 10

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