What’s on Wayne: Let’s breathe new life into Ipswich’s empty shops

The I Make Fun Stuff pop up shop in Tower Ramparts shopping centre, Ipswich. L-R: Those involved inc

The I Make Fun Stuff pop up shop in Tower Ramparts shopping centre, Ipswich. L-R: Those involved included David Wilkins, Carole Jones, Chris Plowman, Jess Broad, Lulu Horsfield, Cathy Frost and centre manager Mike Sorhaindo - Credit: Archant

The Ipswich Star’s Have Your Say survey, asking you what you think of the town, got me thinking. It’s been almost two years since I called on landlords to get creative when it comes to the number of empty shops around Ipswich. There’s been some progress, but is it enough?

The Windows Project launches at the former Co-op building in Carr Street, Ipswich - now Age UK Suffo

The Windows Project launches at the former Co-op building in Carr Street, Ipswich - now Age UK Suffolk - with Cad Taylor of CSV Media, Rob Gorringe of Age UK Suffolk and Jim Horsfield of as described stops shoppers in their tracks. - Credit: Lucy taylor

Having seen units transformed into pop-up art galleries in other towns and cities I asked why the same couldn’t be done here.

I know there are many artists - amateur, semi and fully professional, students - who would love to show off their work. It could be original pieces, commissions celebrating the town’s history or events coming up. How about channelling some of our more talented graffiti artists’ talents into temporary displays like you see in parts of London?

At least it would give passers-by something better to look at than smashed glass, poster-strewn boards or a parade of to let signs.

Would it be easy, no; it’s a bureaucratic minefield. Just ask CSV Media’s Cad Taylor, who spent four years writing to landlords and estate agents to get the recently launched Windows Project off the ground.

An impression of the outdoor cafe at the new look Ipswich Museum.

An impression of the outdoor cafe at the new look Ipswich Museum. - Credit: Archant

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Would it be worth it to see our streets talked about in a positive way for a change, definitely.

Plenty of you agreed and last year saw some encouraging steps.

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There was the opening of the I Make Fun Stuff pop-up shop in Tower Ramparts, on the first floor next to Candy Gaga.

The shopping centre is charging a peppercorn rent, Ipswich Borough Council has supplied some of the funding along with the Eastern Enterprise Hub which is also providing the training and I Make Fun Stuff is supplying the artistic know-how as part of the Ipswich Recreate project.

Bringing art and business together in one place, the shop not only gives small creative businesses exposure but also provides valuable retail experience through a volunteer programme. There will also be retail workshops offered in partnership with the Eastern Enterprise hub to support creative start-ups.

Chris Shutt, head of business incubation and innovations at the hub, said the pop-up shop was a boost to Ipswich’s retail offer and a great place for local creatives to sell to local people. Tower Ramparts’ Mike Sorhaindo added it was great to be able to support a scheme that looks at stimulating the start-up of retail businesses and will help increase footfall in the area.

Then there’s the already mentioned Windows Project which saw CSV Media and Age UK join forces to transform the former Carr Street Co-op store front into a gallery and performance space.

Part of Recreate, which is bringing the town’s creative industries together to help boost the economy, it’s breathing new life into what Cad says some see as a neglected part of town.

Chatting to her at the launch night, she told me: “We’ve been able to transform this into the liveliest part of town, the alleyway that leads from the Co-op to the car park is no longer intimidating, it’s full of films, full of art...”

Most importantly, she felt art was a great way to ask people what their community means to them and ignite change.

“It’s important especially in difficult times, especially on streets like this that we connect, we engage.”

I couldn’t agree more. I wish the project luck and hope more landlords get onboard. Check it out when you’re down that way.

I was excited to read Paul Geater’s piece about work to create a £23million cultural and heritage hub for Suffolk moving up a gear this year too. The project would link the historic Ipswich Museum with the High Street art gallery, the Ipswich Art School and the Wolsey Studio Theatre to create a new cultural centre under the banner IAM – Ipswich Art and Museums.

I believe Ipswich’s selling point is its arts, culture and packed Events programme not its shops so I’m looking forward to seeing what We Are Ipswich - an alliance of DanceEast, The New Wolsey, physical theatre company Gecko and the Pacitti Company - does over the coming months as well.

How would you improve Ipswich for locals and visitors? Fill out the questionnaire at http://ipswichsay2015.questionpro.com or Tweet @WhatsonWayne for events and acts you’d like to see in town.

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