Is it time for Ipswich Museum to shut its doors and move to a new site?
06:00 26 January 2017
Last year’s failure by Ipswich Museum to obtain the National Lottery funding it was seeking for a major upgrade was a shattering loss for the town.
While the council which owns it says it remains committed to the building I find myself wondering whether the time has come for a radical re-think.
I am rather torn on this. The museum is in a magnificent purpose-built Victorian building which is worth a visit in its own right.
But it’s in totally the wrong place for what it is, and I am seriously wondering whether it would be better to convert this building into attractive flats and to create a new Museum of Ipswich in a better location.
Maybe it would be worth linking it to the new “Hold” heritage centre being created on the university campus near the Waterfront.
The plans to revive the museum put to the Heritage Lottery Fund were certainly ambitious, looking to attract more visitors by installing an indoor street and creating a cafe area.
But the HLF recognised the central weakness in the proposal – that the museum is never going to attract the casual visitors it was looking for, while stuck in the middle of residential area half a mile away from the main town centre and the best part of a mile from the university.
Because the simple fact is that whatever is done to the museum it is never going to be a major tourist attraction that people travel from 50 to 100 miles away to spend all day at – it isn’t going to rival Duxford, Ickworth House or even the Museum of East Anglian Life at Stowmarket in the heritage stakes.
The borough needs to look at municipal museums in places like Canterbury or Peterborough which are based right in their city centres. Their cafes attract regular customers as well as visitors – and those who pop in for a coffee may stop off to look at a gallery or two as well.
Create a new museum at the Waterfront or in some of the under-used rooms in the Town Hall and Ipswich’s heritage might get a much wider audience.
And I know this might sound like heresy but in the 21st century what purpose does the Victorian natural history gallery really serve?
It tells us far less about wildlife than a visit to a zoo or a natural history television programme – and I know many people are put off by seeing loads of stuffed dead animals these days.
I am playing devil’s advocate here to some extent and having a Victorian Museum in a Victorian building has its merits – but if we really want to show off the town’s heritage is this the best way?
Tory MPs stray far from home
The Conservatives feel that they can score a rare (for a government) by-election victory in the Cumbrian seat of Copeland by taking it off Labour which has held the seat for decades. Opinion polls suggest they might be right.
But why on earth are Tory MPs from this area, who will be unknown to all but Cumbrian political geeks, traipsing off to the other side of the country to campaign when you’d have thought there were things for them to do in their own constituencies?
Is there really anyone in Whitehaven or Ravenglass who was going to vote Labour whose mind was changed when Therese Coffey or Will Quince turned up on their doorstep?
I know that during the by-election campaign in Ipswich in 2001 the long list of MPs from across the country that no one had ever heard of heading to town made their visits totally meaningless.
For all I know David Cameron (who had been elected to the House of Commons six months earlier) may have been here – but the overkill by all the parties would have made the whole visit pointless.