How will our towns adapt?
Coronavirus has brought fresh challenges for the beating heart of Suffolk’s economy, says Terry
Town or country? Which do you enjoy more? As someone who grew up in the heart of rural Suffolk, I love the wide open spaces, but I’ve lived in Ipswich for more than 30 years. Life is full of contradictions.
These past few, very strange months have given me the opportunity to truly appreciate the beautiful countryside we are fortunate to enjoy here in Suffolk. Every day I’ve been walking to keep body and soul (and mind) in reasonable fettle. Some of those walks took me into the countryside around Cretingham, the village where I spent my childhood, as well as through the lanes and footpaths of Framsden, Otley and Monewden.
I know that part of Suffolk very well, but it remains unheralded and quite hidden. Selfishly, I want to keep it that way! I didn’t meet another soul and smiled to myself about how easy social distancing is to achieve out there. Two metres? More like two miles!
We are so blessed to have so much beautiful countryside and, of course, the coast. Imagine what it’s been like living in the heart of a big city during the past few months. It doesn’t bear thinking about.
But, of course, our towns – large and small – are vitally important to our county. They provide a beating heart of our economy, with huge numbers of jobs and businesses. The biggest town in Suffolk is, of course, Ipswich. As I’ve reflected many times in this column, Ipswich doesn’t always get the respect it warrants, but it is so important for the whole county that it recovers as well as possible postpandemic.
As chair of the Ipswich Vision board, I was involved in some of the planning for the reopening of the town centre. It was led by Ipswich Central and Ipswich Borough Council, and it was quite a task. The biggest challenge for all towns is to reassure people that they will be as safe as humanly possible in the streets and the shops. Understandably, many people were very nervous about coming back.
As a result, changes have been made to the town centre – to the way people move around the town, and inside shops.
Of course, this awful virus has added to the challenges already being faced by our town centres. People have become even more reliant on having their shopping delivered. When roads were at their quietest, just about every other vehicle was a delivery van. That will be a hard habit to break.
There’s also another issue which isn’t being talked about. So many people have adapted successfully to working from home, and I’m sure it will change the way we work permanently. In Ipswich, many large office blocks stood empty as hundreds of employees worked efficiently from their kitchens, bedrooms, and conservatories. Bosses will now surely question why they pay to keep those offices in the town.
I’m sure there will be fewer people working in the middle of our towns, and that will have a knock-on effect for the shops. So, our town centres will need to adapt to the ‘new normal’.
They have done so in the past, and I’m sure they will rise to the challenge again.
One of the solutions is surely to enable more people to live in and near our town centres. That’s certainly what’s happening in Ipswich. I wish all businesses the very best of luck. You deserve to succeed, and you deserve our support.
Meanwhile, there is one trip I’m really looking forward to. I haven’t been to Framlingham, my favourite place in Suffolk, for six months. When the cafes, coffee shops and pubs are open again, I’ll relish walking round the town and visiting the Castle on the Hill to enjoy the wonderful view across the mere to my old school, Framlingham College. The best view in Suffolk, as far as I’m concerned.
That’s the moment I will know that life is at least beginning to return to normal —whatever that means!
Stay safe, stay well. N
ABOVE: Framlingham Castle, the place Terry Hunt is most looking forward to visiting when something like normality returns.