How will our towns adapt?

Coro­n­avirus has brought fresh chal­lenges for the beat­ing heart of Suf­folk’s econ­omy, says Terry

EADT Suffolk - - SUFFOLK & PROUD - Terry Hunt is ed­i­tor of the East Anglian Daily Times. Suf­folk born and bred, he has lived in Ip­swich for more than 25 years. #There­With­You terry.hunt@eadt.co.uk

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.

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