On Tuesday, Ipswich’s Creative Computing Club will open in its new premises. For several years the Club has operated in a room in the University of Suffolk, but while that initial offer of space was vital to get the Club established, they need their own space to grow and thrive. The new premises will make it possible for more young people to be helped, more intensively, for more time. Given how well they have done already, I have very high hopes for the impact that this amazing organisation will have in the future.
The Club is a Community Interest Company which provides support and tuition for young people aged 8 to 16 in programming computers. This is a skill which is at the cutting edge of what Ipswich – and the UK as a whole – needs in order to improve our place in the world economy. The youngsters coming through the Club will be going out into our world and helping to transform it for the better, finding answers to the difficult problems of climate change and poverty and war, and making things possible which we cannot yet even imagine. And it’s not just me who thinks this – last year, Ipswich Creative Computing Club won the accolade of Microsoft UK Youth Hub of the Year.
Cycling home on Wednesday evening, I saw the bright red lights on the tops of cranes in the town centre and just for a moment I imagined I was in London. One of the most obvious indicators of whether our town has self-confidence is whether people are prepared to invest and build here. We have the great advantage of space to grow right in our town centre, around the Waterfront and alongside the river. The new flood barrage ensures that the fear of flooding is now gone. Other hurdles such as electricity cables have been dealt with. Building work continues in and around Princes Street. I remain convinced that a major employer will decide to relocate to Ipswich in the near future, and I am determined to take the opportunity of the new trains arriving on our railway this summer to promote that possibility.
Of course not everything is perfect. One of our biggest problems is housing, and like almost everybody I want to see far more affordable homes available for Ipswich people. Unlike some other towns, we have the space, we have the will, and we have the new homes being built. I was delighted to see that a plan has been submitted for the derelict former Defiance pub and the land around it. We have public sector homes being built already, and now the private sector is stepping in to develop many of the sites which have sat empty for so many years.
There are still far too many empty shops in the town centre, and an ominous cloud hangs over the biggest of them – Debenhams. We will need to acknowledge that many people no longer do all their shopping in the town centre, and converting the old Coop Department Store in Carr Street into a school makes perfect sense. But most Ipswich residents still want to shop in our town centre, and with our friendly pubs, cafes and restaurants a trip to Ipswich to shop can be a really enjoyable experience for visitors too.
And this year we have the disappointment of Ipswich Town being relegated to League One. This will cost the Football Club a lot of money, but it will cost the town money too. How much, depends to a great extent on how loyal the fans remain. At present the indications are good.
I believe in Ipswich. I believe that it is on the cusp of growth and self-confidence. And I believe that most Ipswich people share my feelings. But it’s no good just saying this – we all have to demonstrate our confidence in our town. I do almost all my shopping in Ipswich. If we all make a commitment to shop in our town we can save existing shops from closure, and in time we will see all the empty premises come back to life. And when Ipswich Town season tickets come on sale on Tuesday I shall be there at the front of the queue. I haven’t been a football fan in the past, I’ve only been to matches since I was elected, but I’ve really enjoyed it when I’ve gone, and I’m determined to be there to see Town promoted back to the Championship.