Heritage Lottery funded Quay Place run by Suffolk Mind opens after decade-long renovation in Ipswich
- Credit: Archant
From a derelict shell of a former church to a vibrant health and wellbeing centre for the community, St Mary at the Quay yesterday marked a significant step in its 700-year-plus history as it officially reopened its doors to the public.
The Grade II-listed building, now known as Quay Place, is the culmination of a decade-long, multimillion-pound overhaul which will restore its status as a wellbeing hub for the community.
Owned by the Churches Conservation Trust (CCT) and run in partnership with Suffolk Mind, Quay Place was awarded £3.4million by the Heritage Lottery Fund to become a centre putting the spotlight on mental health and wellness – however members of the community need it.
Matthew McKeague, director of regeneration at the CCT, said: “It’s been closed as a church for 70 years, was used by the Boys’ Brigade and as an arts centre and now we have got this wellbeing space.
“But I think it builds on the tradition churches have always been quiet spaces for wellbeing, and that has now been given a modern 21st Century feel and respects that tradition.”
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The centre will be used for counselling and therapy sessions in emotional and mental wellbeing, as well as being able to be used by massage therapists, yoga groups and other community organisations. A host of conference and meeting rooms can be rented by businesses.
For the development’s bosses, though, the renovation has been about restoring one of the town’s historic buildings while making it accessible for today’s needs, and remarkably still retains the church’s ethos of helping the community.
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“What this church is going to do is be more relevant to people today, and that means being open to everybody that wants to come here,” Mr McKeague said.
“It has really had to reinvent itself, and a lot of people have been involved in the consultation, so that has really helped and is really going to benefit the town.”
Suffolk Mind chief executive Anna Hughes added: “At Suffolk Mind we believe that we are all on a spectrum of mental health, and this place is one of those things you can involve yourself with to stay well. We all have needs for belonging and this we hope will be a centre for that.”
The partnership between Suffolk Mind and the CCT came about after the CCT announced plans to restore the space and sought a suitable occupier to join the venture.
And, other than a brief glimpse during the Heritage Open Days weekend, the public was able to view the fruits of that collaboration for the first time yesterday afternoon.
Quay Place manager Ginny Idehen said: “I am so excited that the day has come that we open the doors to the public, and they can see this fabulous space.
“It’s always been a part of the town and looked quite sad for a number of years. But we noticed that even when the lights started working during the renovation people would stop and take photos outside, so it is really nice to see this building that was really dilapidated open again.”
The centre will also feature a café open to the public, which will officially open five days a week from November 1. During yesterday’s launch, a video charting the progress of the Quay Place renovation was shown, alongside a display of photos across the last decade’s work and summary of archaeological finds.
Robyn Llewellyn, head of the East of England Heritage Lottery Fund, concluded: “I am absolutely flabbergasted. It was always a problem building but you get genuinely jaw-dropping moments.
“The quality of this space is going to be available for everyone, and there is something about historic spaces that makes people at ease. This has all been made possible from National Lottery players, and it is projects like this where you see where it goes.”
Quay Place is the latest chapter in church’s rich history
The church was built in the 1450s and became something of a social space, with rich merchants such as Henry Tooley often discussing their business there, while traders and sailors would often share tales and give thanks for a safe trip home within the church’s walls.
When the plague came to England in 1665, St Mary was one of the places in Ipswich to first attract the deadly disease.
The church’s poor run of luck continued in 1843 when a violent storm caused the church to be completely flooded which, coupled with the original river banks beneath the church, caused a strong odour that took three years to be rectified.
But after concreting the floor to stop the odour, the concrete eventually began soaking up the salt water that would threaten the pillars.
During the Second World War, Ipswich docks was identified as a target for bombing by the German air force. Firstly, on July 8, 1940, a 100kg bomb pierced the roof and lodged itself in the stone floor, but remarkably failed to explode. Two years later a bomb fell on the church, causing considerable damage, prompting its closure by 1948.
The church was scheduled for demolition in the 1950s, but thanks to a campaign by the Friends of Friendless Churches, it became a space used by the Ipswich Battalion’s Boys’ Brigade, until 1973.
In 2004, an arts collective called Key Arts came to the church to use the building as a venue for exhibitions, performances and events, before plans by the CCT were eventually put in place for its regeneration, culminating in work starting in April 2014.
What work has been going on at Quay Place
Suffolk Mind and the CCT called in specialist contractors Bakers of Danbury to carry out the work, but the attention to detail throughout the overhaul has been extraordinary.
Visitors today will notice the heavily leaning pillar, caused by the limestone soaking up years of salt water flowing from the Waterfront beneath the church up to the Victorian era.
The developers had to use a special technique in which metal plates were carefully inserted to prevent the pillars from toppling.
Indeed, the problem was so severe that during the early 2000s keyholders had to scoop up and weigh the rubble that had crumbled from the ailing pillars each time they visited, and record it with geologists so that Bakers could accurately identify how much had been lost from each one, and replace it.
From the outside, the extension has been made to match the existing church exterior thanks to a long and painstaking process of chipping away at individual flint stones precisely carved and inserted into the lime mortar.
Elsewhere, the roof was the first complete double hammerbeam roof built in 1455, and the renovation process has managed to preserve 96 unique carvings in the extraordinary woodwork.
But the building’s resilience has been made that much more remarkable after the wealth of challenges it has faced, including a plague outbreak during the 1660s at the quay, flooding, bombing during the Second World War and a planned demolition during the 1950s.
The work was so remarkable that it was one of only five projects in the country to be nominated for the Historic England Angel Award for best rescue of a heritage site.
Voting has now closed for the competition, with Quay Place set to find out how it fared over the next few weeks.