Council pledge on Corn Exchange

IPSWICH Corn Exchange will remain in council hands.That was the pledge today being digested by arts groups in the town following a packed public meeting at the town hall.

IPSWICH Corn Exchange will remain in council hands.

That was the pledge today being digested by arts groups in the town following a packed public meeting at the town hall.

But while the new Conservative/Liberal Democrat administration promised to retain the Corn Exchange, there was a warning that this should not be done by sacrificing the "people's venue" – the Regent Theatre.

About 200 people were at last night's public meeting last night to have their say on the future of a town's arts and entertainment facilities.

The meeting was organised by the Ipswich Arts Association to discuss the future of the Corn Exchange, Regent Theatre and New Wolsey Theatre.

It followed a report, commissioned by the Labour administration which lost power last week at Civic Centre last week, that put forward four options for the development of arts and entertainment facilities in Ipswich.

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Conservative Judy Terry – who has taken the arts and leisure portfolio in the new administration – reassured the meeting there was no intention of disposing of the Corn Exchange.

She said the council was looking at ways of extending the facilities the town currently offered.

Dozens of arts, theatre and music organisation representatives attended last night's meeting at the Town Hall, most of whom spoke out against any moves to change the use of the Corn Exchange.

Joy Bounds, chairman of the Music Forum, which is part of the Ipswich Arts Association, said it had carried out a questionnaire among its members asking how they would be affected if the use of Corn Exchange changed.

Most of the groups claimed they relied upon the facility and could go bust or close if it became unavailable with no suitable alternative.

Martin Nightingale, chairman of the Ipswich Choral Society, added: "Certainly the closure or unavailability of the Corn Exchange would be extremely serious as far as we are concerned.

"Ninety per cent, if not more, of classical music produced in Ipswich is produced by amateur groups.

"If you take away the ability of amateur societies to produce their music, you might actually be stopping some of the young musicians learning and developing their talents."

One of the options considered by the report indicated that the Corn Exchange should be sold off, while others suggested that the Regent Theatre could be mothballed or funding for the New Wolsey Theatre cut back.

However there was a warning from local entertainer John Row that the meeting might not be representative of the town as a whole.

Speaking during a break in the meeting he said: "What we have here is the Corn Exchange supporters out in force. That's their right and good luck to them.

"But the council must not let itself be forced into a corner on this. The Regent is the people's venue providing entertainment with a wide appeal.

"What we're seeing here are representatives of the white, middle-class, middle-aged groups representing what they want.

"There's nothing wrong with that, but the whole strategy cannot be based on one group of interests."

Mrs Terry said the new administration was interested in the views of everyone who used the town's leisure facilities.

"A real problem we are facing is that these buildings have been run-down over the years so what we are looking at is the state of the buildings rather than the state of culture and leisure in the town," she added.

What do you think about the future of the Corn Exchange and Regent? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN or e-mail