From Street Ranger to CEO, new Ipswich Central boss knows town inside out
- Credit: Simply C Photography
When Sophie Alexander-Parker joined Ipswich Central as an 18-year-old street ranger in 2007 she had no idea she would be running the whole organisation 15 years later.
But she has just taken over as chief executive, succeeding the long-serving Paul Clement, and is looking forward to implementing the five-year programme aimed at "Connecting the Town" which was backed by members in November.
Ms Alexander-Parker was a sports management student half-way through her course at Otley College when she applied for the Street Ranger job as a way of boosting her income.
During her first year she continued with her studies: "I was rather surprised to finish with a distinction and a merit because I was doing a full-time job as well," she said.
Not long after she started her potential was spotted by Mr Clement and she was appointed to supervisory and then management positions at Ipswich Central before becoming Chief Operating Officer, effectively number two in the organisation.
She said: "I'm not sure what a COO is supposed to be - for me it could be picking up litter one minute before making a presentation to a meeting the next."
Ms Alexander-Parker knows the organisation inside out and she does have a programme for the next five years that formed the manifesto businesses backed in November's poll.
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"To that extent my job is easier than some CEOs who have to draw up a plan and implement it. We have a plan - now I just have to make it work."
Key to this is to encourage more people to live in or near the town centre: "That is at the heart of the Connected Town ambition - but it also means making the town centre attractive for people from further afield too."
She knows there remain challenges: "The Cornhill has three large empty buildings, although The Botanist should be opening in the Old Post Office in the spring."
And there's the issue of bringing the Waterfront and town centre together - although the imminent arrival of Brewdog in The Mill should help to give project a big boost.
She said: "That's just what the town needs. I couldn't think why it was ever an issue! It should help bring that area to life."
A key aim of hers in the early years is to try to make people feel welcome in the town centre throughout the day and into the evenings - trying to ensure there aren't any "dead times" between shops closing and restaurants and pubs getting busy during the evening.
And a major element of her work will be to bring groups together to help the town develop after Covid - and in that she feels Ipswich has a great advantage.
"It has a great position to be a hub. Look at where we are and what the town can offer. People can use it as a place to visit other places, it has good road and rail links, but there is also so much here that could make it a wonderful place.
"It's clear that really large places like London will struggle more to recover because fewer people will be commuting in every day - but towns like Ipswich can really succeed and we have so much to offer."