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Wolsey 550 receives £250k from Heritage Lottery Fund

The Thomas Wolsey 550 project, managed by a partnership of Ipswich Central, Ipswich Borough Council, and Suffolk Archives, has received a grant of £249,975 from the National Lottery Heritage Fund for the project’s first ‘public engagement’ phase, it was announced today.

Made possible by National Lottery players, this exciting 550 day public programme of events and activities which launches now, will increase social mobility across Ipswich communities, and help build a sense of pride in our town by engaging people with local heritage in new ways.

Terry Baxter, Chair of Ipswich Central said: “Ipswich Central are delighted to get this project off the ground and play a major part in its delivery. Thomas Wolsey’s story has so much importance, not just for Ipswich but to the country as a whole and the world beyond. His career was unprecedented – he recognised opportunities and went for them. This project will unearth his story which is about ambition, aspiration, the importance of education and the ability of anyone to succeed if they are given the right opportunities.”

Thomas Wolsey was born and educated in Ipswich. The son of a tradesman, he enjoyed a meteoric rise, against the odds, which took him to the most powerful position within the King’s Court as Cardinal and Lord Chancellor and the Pope’s representative in England.

The 18 month public engagement project includes an exhibition about Thomas Wolsey and Tudor Ipswich at Suffolk Archives, town centre events, music, theatre, screenings, talks, guided walks, and activities for families. Very soon, project organisers will announce a call for volunteers, and the launch of a Community Grants scheme for activities across the town run by community organisations, in line with the ambitions of the project.

Terry Baxter said: “Our town centre includes an important heritage area, stretching from St Nicholas Street to the Waterfront, within which are situated important but currently understated assets that could become a major visitor attraction. These include the College water gate and chapel, and the area of Wolsey’s birthplace in the Saints which features his statue. This project gives us a unique opportunity to bring our history, both physically and digitally, to the fore and to use it as a catalyst to attract national and international visitors to Ipswich.”

James Fairclough, Director at Ipswich Borough Council said: This support from the National Lottery Heritage Fund will enable a series of events and activities programmed in 2023 and 2024 that will help boost awareness of Ipswich’s amazing heritage, provide opportunities for local people and visitors, and bring economic benefit to the town. We are really pleased to be working with Ipswich Central, Suffolk Archives and a range of partners to mark the 550th anniversary of Cardinal Wolsey’s birth in Ipswich 550 years ago and capitalise strategically on our town’s history.”

Emily Shepperson, Exhibition and Interpretation Officer at Suffolk Archives said: We are delighted that thanks to support from the National Lottery Heritage Fund we can get this fantastic plan underway alongside our project partners. The Wolsey’s Ipswich exhibition and events programme at The Hold this summer will be an excellent opportunity to bring together unique items from museums and collections across the country to explore the inspiring story of Thomas Wolsey in his hometown. As part of Suffolk County Council, we look forward to helping to build a sense of aspiration for our local young people, taking Wolsey’s experiences as a starting point.”

Later in September this year, a 12 month schools programme for primary and secondary schools and a careers education programme will launch, designed to help children and young people build their confidence, situate themselves in the world, and broaden their perceptions of the range of careers available to them.

By 1526, Thomas Wolsey’s journey, together with his new-found papal influence, led him back to Ipswich where he founded his ‘Cardinal College’, situated on the site of the former Augustinian priory of St Peter and St Paul. He intended it to feed its best pupils in to Oxford University where he, himself, was educated at the age of 15. Unfortunately Wolsey fell from power and died before his Ipswich college was established, and it was largely dismantled by Henry VIII.

Project partners and stakeholders plan that a second phase of the project will facilitate the creation of a Heritage Zone and visitor attraction at St Peter’s dock, focused on the lost college. Plans for the Heritage Zone would feature interpretation of some of the last remaining features of the college, including Wolsey’s Gate and St Peter’s Church, which was the College chapel, and a digital reconstruction of the site.

During the 18 month programme, the project team will consult widely with local participants and partners at events to record their views about the significance of Ipswich’s local heritage and plans for phase two of the project.

Terry Hunt, former Editor of the East Anglian Daily Times, is Chair of the Thomas Wolsey 550 project board, which includes representatives from business, arts, history, culture, maritime, broadcasting, and education as well as from the public sector.

Mr Hunt concluded: “This project is a once in a generation opportunity to celebrate an important anniversary of our most famous son, Thomas Wolsey and begin to build a new legacy for him in Ipswich and beyond. With the support of the National Lottery Heritage Fund, we can use his story to inspire our young people to want to succeed and to feel proud of their hometown’s rich history. Ipswich has a proud tradition of producing high achievers, from Wolsey himself 500 years ago, to our very own Oscar winner, Aneil Karia. The Thomas Wolsey 550 project will inspire future generations to aspire to similar successes.”

On 10 March, BBC Radio Suffolk featured the bells of St Lawrence, which Wolsey would have heard as a boy, rung ceremoniously and live broadcast, to mark the beginning of celebrations for the 550th anniversary. Further to the programme of events and activities in Ipswich, plans are already in place to link with other locations in England and beyond which are connected with Wolsey’s life and achievements.

Details of the public programme are available on the project’s website and will be continually updated as the project builds.

Would you like to get involved?

The TW550 project would like to hear from people in local businesses who would like to support the Schools programme and Careers Education project launching in September.

We are also looking for volunteers to help run events and activities.

For more information about how to get involved, contact:

Kath Cockshaw, Project Director:

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