Ipswich Central’s Chair sets out a clear mission for 2024
After a challenging year for our town centre and for many businesses that operate there, the Board of Ipswich Central has just completed a review of its priorities for 2024. As our town centre evolves, becoming less reliant on retail yet still needing to appeal to new audiences, we recognise that we must change too.
Ipswich Central has always been a catalyst for positive change in our community, from cleaner and safer streets to unlocking inward investment and bringing innovative and ‘first of its kind’ initiatives and ideas to the town. I want that clarity of mission to be at the heart of everything that we do this year.
Feeling safe when in town is amongst the most basic requirements for any visitor. Yet, at times, Ipswich fell short last year. It feels like three interconnected factors contributed. Firstly, almost a year ago, an 18-year-old man was fatally stabbed on Westgate Street and this incident brought with it shock, anger and fear. Secondly, crime and anti-social behaviour has been rising nationally, with shop theft reaching an eye-watering £8 billion in 2023. Finally, despite these challenges, everyone owes it to each other to talk positively about our town, rather than to join in with talking it down.
New Bobbies will be on the beat in February
Therefore, whilst crime levels in Ipswich remain relatively low when compared to other towns of our size, Ipswich Central welcomes the commitment from Ipswich Borough Council and Suffolk Constabulary to dedicate more PCSOs to our area.
To compliment this, we will build upon the success of our Ranger team by integrating them into the ‘My Local Bobby’ force in February (www.mylocalbobby.co.uk), something that has had a dramatic effect on urban crime elsewhere. The Bobbies will be on the beat in February with a remit to reduce crime and anti-social behaviour and to remove frequent offenders. They will be supported by TM-Eye (www.tm-eye.co.uk) who will, periodically, carry out private criminal prosecutions for the most frequent offenders.
New Communications Executive recruited
This new, proactive approach will have the most beneficial effect if Ipswich Central starts to counter some of the negative commentary about the town. Therefore, we have also recruited an experienced Communications Manager, Melanie Willis (currently employed at Ipswich Borough Council), to join us in February. Her role will be to ensure that you, our members, get the right information in the most timely and effective manner, and to communicate with visitors via our All About Ipswich (AAI) brand.
Digital Ipswich to kick-off
As many of you will recall, we led on the formation of the Digital Ipswich strand of the Town Deal programme. I am delighted that this grant of over £2.3 million has now been given the ‘green light’ by the government and the first stage will be a complete rebuild of the AAI platform. As work progresses on to digital signage and other related aspects, delivery of this project, in conjunction with our partners, will be a key priority for us.
Another Town Deal project this year will be the formation of plans to improve Lloyds Avenue as a key gateway into the town, something that we imagined in our last business plan. Alongside this, we are now close to agreeing a funding package for the reinvention of Stoke Bridge, the real beginning of early medieval Ipswich as the region’s main trading port with eastern Europe. Our business plan envisioned it as a key vantage point overlooking the Waterfront, with an ability for people to digitally engage with the history and development of the town.
Development of a historic, new Cardinal Route to be a focus of activities
The 1-kilometre walk from Lloyds Avenue and Stoke Bridge is crucial to another of our business plan commitments which was that, by working with partners, to better connect the town centre and the Waterfront. Built upon Wolsey 550 - a project initiated by Ipswich Central and which has already proved so successful in engaging new audiences with the history of the town – this route has the capability of including a Heritage Zone, focussed particularly in The Saints and the St Peter’s Church area. Wolsey 550 will continue as a key priority for us this year, though focus will begin to turn to this legacy project. The history of Cardinal Wolsey must remain at the front and centre of our town’s story for generations to come and so we are naming this crucial axis The Cardinal Route.
The new Cardinal Route includes the Cornhill Square which many of you will remember we helped to redevelop in 2018 through a unique funding partnership between Ipswich Borough Council, Suffolk County Council, the New Anglia LEP and Ipswich Central. Ipswich Borough Council’s new strategy talks of it as the ‘beating heart’ of Ipswich. In 2024, we will co-invest alongside the council to ensure that more activity in and around the square ensures that the Cornhill beats louder still.
Whilst standards need to be high throughout the town centre, the Cardinal Route will be a particular priority – more events, more store openings, digital interventions, and new developments to unlock its true potential; and, wherever you are on the Route, you need to feel that it is well maintained, clean and safe. These high standards will radiate out across the whole BID area.
Reduced levy compensated through new additional external funding
Turning to matters of governance, our year-end March 2023 saw levy income of £676,550. Whilst this was higher than would have been expected after the revaluation of business rates, it did include some monies owed from previous covid affected years. Grants and third-party advisory work increased our total income to £981,582. Our accounts can be found at Companies House (company number 05339846).
This year, we expect our overall level of core income to be static; levy income will settle to around £570,000 and we will again benefit from the third-party advisory work that we undertake as well as the Wolsey 550 project which will have introduced new, additional investment of over £300,000 thanks to grant funding from the National Lottery Heritage Fund in conjunction with Founding Partners and sponsors (www.thomaswolsey550.co.uk).
So, for every £1 that you, our members, contributed last year through levy, we match-funded to help us meet your needs and aspirations.
BID Board to include new members
Ipswich Central is operated through a board of leading business people, who give their time to help us meet our commitments. I remain indebted to them for their continued efforts. In the coming weeks, I will be looking to further strengthen the board by the introduction of more levy paying businesses. If you would be interested, please do let me know.
Business community to Back The Blues as they push for promotion
Finally, our football club is heading into the crucial second half of the season, with the prospect of promotion to the Premier League tantalisingly close. We will work with businesses to identify high profile and innovative ways to Back The Blues and support the Club’s broader ambitions. I would welcome your ideas as to how we can best achieve this collectively. A successful football club isn’t just about what happens on the pitch; promotion would inject millions of pounds into our town centre economy.
So, 2024 must be a year of determined action. There will be more innovative events and promotions, the town centre digital programme will commence, and there will be new investment in key locations and improved linkages with the Waterfront. We will provide more information to you on what’s happening, get behind The Blues, and double our efforts to partner with others to keep the town centre feeling clean and safe.
Finally, I want to find as many opportunities as possible for us to meet with you throughout the year. To kick-off this vital aspect of our delivery, we will be holding a special Wolsey-themed information evening on 20 March 2024, with further details to be announced soon.
All that remains is for me to wish you a slightly belated but, nonetheless, happy, and prosperous new year. Thank you for your continued support.