Chairing The Vision | An Incomplete Dream
With the Cornhill project firmly underway, and the heightened sense of anticipation surrounding exactly what is going on in our town centre, I met with the Ipswich Vision chairman Terry Hunt to find out more behind the project. But before we delve into the ‘what/where/when/why’ about the Vision; let’s find out a bit more about WHO is at the head of the table…
Terry Hunt has been a recognisable name in Suffolk for decades; growing up in Cretingham near Framlingham, before eventually making his way into the county town, to his current home just on the outskirts of Ipswich. Terry studied at Brandeston Hall, which led to receiving a scholarship to attend Fram College. Following this, Terry upped sticks to study history at Reading University; but in his heart, journalism was the path he wanted to follow.
Upon graduating from University, Terry applied to every local newspaper he could find. An avid ITFC fan, he dreamed of becoming a football reporter, and when the East Anglian Daily Times offered him their first ever graduate position in 1979, he took it with both hands. After 14 successful years of reporting, bringing him to Ipswich in 1984, Terry’s career soared to new heights when he became the editor of the then Evening Star, shortly followed by the EADT in 1996. Since then, Terry had lived and brought up three children in Ipswich, citing it as “my town”.
Terry says that the idea of the Ipswich Vision came from 30 years of frustration with not seeing Ipswich live up to its potential. Within a 70 mile radius of London, Ipswich underperforms “most of the other towns and cities”; being an hour by rail, and having excellent road links to the rest of the country, not to mention having the UK’s busiest container port just 12 miles away. Terry believes Ipswich also has “legitimate claim to call ourselves the oldest English town; being the longest continuously inhabited Anglo-Saxon town”. Ipswich also has no less than seven Arts Council-funded organisations; begging the question “why shouldn’t Ipswich be the City of Culture?”
Another driving force behind the Vision is Ipswich’s reputation amongst other Suffolk residents. Terry says that he often visits out-of-town villages, and there is almost an “intake of breath” when he tells others that he lives in Ipswich – almost like it’s a shame! But Ipswich has had many impressive draws: Gary Avis - Royal Ballet performer - grew up in the town; and when he brought the ballet back to his birthplace in 2016, it drew crowds of out-of-towners into the area to sold-out shows. Add to this the success of the endearing ‘Pigs Gone Wild’ trail in the same summer, and Ipswich had never been more of a desirable Suffolk town to visit.
Terry believes the Cornhill has always been “underwhelming”; hence the new project to revamp it swiftly progressing.
With businesses such as Pret a Manger signing the dotted line to move into the town centre, Terry feels more and more investors will be attracted to the area upon completion of the town square regeneration.
Ipswich Vision was born in 2015 from Ipswich Central’s “Turning the Town Around”; a literal idea, Terry says. The idea of the main shopping street in the town centre being on an east/west axis (from Carr Street to Westgate Street) means that the three main ‘segments’ of the town - the Waterfront, the town centre, and Christchurch Park – are not well connected. Terry believes that anyone coming to Ipswich to visit the Waterfront and not heading into town, or vice versa, should be able to make that easy connection by utilising the north/south route via The Saints and the Cornhill, right up to the Park. This is the same for the ‘business corridor’ of the railway station, through Princes Street and into the town.
But who are Ipswich Central, and why do they have so much say on what happens in our town?
“Made up of seven partners, all of whom have a huge interest or influence in the future prosperity of Ipswich,” Terry says. “As far as I’m aware, this is a unique situation, which gives Ipswich a much more powerful and unified voice.” These seven partners all want one thing: a much more successful and prosperous Ipswich; for Ipswich to fulfil its full potential; and for Ipswich to be a county town which drives Suffolk. They are the “people who make the big decisions,” Terry tells me, before stating that it was ‘obvious’ exactly who should be involved – including the University of Suffolk, the Councils, Ipswich Central and local MPs among them.
The Vision team are currently working on eight different work streams, which will eventually turn into proposals and potential projects. These will be pitched to the Local Enterprise Fund – also on the Vision board – in order to gain extra support for the ideas to go ahead.
Terry says that his input on the board comes less from his professional status, and more from the idea that he is “the ordinary bloke in the street, sitting at the head of the table” – representing nothing and nobody, except the voice of the town itself. With a solid background in – and a passion for seeing Ipswich succeed - Terry has the ultimate ability to “ask daft questions”; safe in the knowledge that his answers won’t fall on deaf ears.
So, with all the excitement ahead and the numerous projects in the Vision pipeline; what are Terry’s top three hopes for the project to achieve in 2018?
“Obviously, the first one is the Cornhill – due to be completed in October. This will be done in plenty of time for Christmas shopping. The Cornhill is the biggest, the most high profile, and the most important public space in the town centre. Just to leave it as something pretty mediocre and very tired…it’s pretty uninspiring. What kind of message does that send about the town? If you come to Ipswich on business, you get off the train and the station looks like a commuter station now…you walk up Princes Street and then get to the Cornhill…it would make anyone think we don’t care about our town square!”
Terry truly feels that once the project is unveiled in October, the perception of the town – and particularly the town centre – will change dramatically. A motivating fact that Terry tells me, is that if each shopper who visited Ipswich spent just one hour longer in the town, it would generate a further £26 million each year. Taking this into consideration, the spend on the Cornhill project is worth every penny to the future of Ipswich’s economy.
The second hope for 2018? “Changing the perception of Ipswich,” Terry says. “We need both the people living in Ipswich – and in fact the whole of Suffolk – to just start being a little fairer and not so dismissive about it. You know the two words most people use…one begins with S, one begins with H!! And that just isn’t fair.”
Completion of the Waterfront is the final thing on Terry’s agenda, although he knows this will take a little longer than 2018 allows. “To make the Winerack, not a wine rack!” Terry laughs – adding that the decision to keep the tongue-in-cheek nickname for the symbolic building is a great move.
The ultimate goal for the Vision? “I am determined that I will one day go out to a nice cocktail party in Woodbridge or Framlingham, and people will start saying nice things about Ipswich. Ipswich is a large town and all large towns have their issues, but people are wrong to dismiss it out of hand.”