A couple of months ago I was in the back of a taxi, driven by a friend I have known for many years. This driver lives in Framlingham and much of his work is in the highways and byways of rural Suffolk. We chatted about our families and then, unprompted, he said this about Ipswich. “You know Ben”, he said, “something’s happening in Ipswich. Over the last six months I’ve had people in my taxi asking whether I have been to Ipswich recently. They’ve all said it’s amazing what’s happening there: there are new shops and new restaurants, the place is looking smarter and the town is noticeably more lively.”
It’s the best conversation I’ve ever had in a taxi. I did not ask him the question, nor did I prompt his comments. And I know that he was telling me something significant because I have been hearing it from elsewhere as well. Across Suffolk, people tell me how they are noticing the change in Ipswich. Of course, they will say, there is so much more to do – but they make the same core observation that my taxi driver friend made to me: that the town is on the up.
That’s important: Ipswich will only prosper if it is a true county town – a place where people from across Suffolk and north Essex want to go for shopping, entertainment and a night out. No town can depend just on its own population and Ipswich is no different. So the change in attitude that I am noticing is really significant: it is the first swallow in a new spring for the county’s town.
On its own that would be good news but what is better still is that Ipswich people are noticing the change. Whether it is politicians of all parties, the leaders of businesses, schools, our two colleges or the university, business heads or cultural directors – the people who are leading this town can see how their combined efforts are now paying off. The rest of us – well, we can see the difference. Door after door, street after street – people in Ipswich now volunteer that they can see the shops coming back, they can see the venues being opened, they can see the public spaces being improved, and they can sense that things are changing for the better.
They are right. I have written week after week of the successes that we are now totting up on a monthly basis: new heart, cancer and stroke services at our hospital; Giles Circus; St Lawrence Church; the Ipswich Bacon Curve; Sailmakers; a re-started Waterfront; station regeneration; Cornhill; new offices in Princes Street; new trains, new track; East West Rail; Upper Orwell Crossings; new trees planted over Ipswich; the Buttermarket; new Ipswich Academy; St Nicholas’ and St Peter’s streets filling with shops; a new Crown Car Park; University of Suffolk; Two Rivers Medical Centre; Innovation Centre; John Lewis At Home and Waitrose; Heritage Centre; A14 improvements; redevelopment of Lower Brook Street; St Mary at the Quay; Broomhill Pool; new Chantry School; St Peter’s; and so much more that is in plan and will make a difference in the years to come. This is a formidable list – some are not yet complete but all will happen.
How things have changed. Let’s look at outside the town. It wasn’t that long ago when people around Suffolk still made disparaging comments about Ipswich to me. They’ve stopped now, and not only because they know that I will bite their head off for doing so. But the more important change in mentality is within the town itself. For too long Ipswich people – loyal to their town and protective of our identity – were also too willing to be downbeat about our prospects. It was debilitating: if you are not positive about yourself you are never going to have the energy to make things better. And so we lumbered on and on, stuck in the shadow of a greater past.
I have always believed that Ipswich’s best days are ahead of us. More and more people in Ipswich now share in that faith, in part because of what they see happening before their eyes. That emerging self-confidence will only accelerate our transformation, as we attempt bigger and more ambitious things that we had considered possible six years ago. So it is now not just me saying that this is Ipswich’s moment: it is people in our county and beyond, but most importantly it is Ipswich people themselves. It is an exciting time to be in our town, and a privilege for me to serve this glorious constituency as it grasps a better future with both hands.