I claim Ipswich as my home town

IN the final part of our series looking at why Suffolk is such a great place to live and work, PAUL GEATER returns home and explains what makes Ipswich so special.

By Paul Geater

IN the final part of our series looking at why Suffolk is such a great place to live and work, PAUL GEATER returns home and explains what makes Ipswich so special.

ALTHOUGH I wasn't born in the town, after living and working here for more than 20 years I think I can justifiably claim Ipswich as my home town.

And while it is far from perfect, it's a place that has its own charm and is developing into a very good place to live.

Ipswich is not a place that it is easy to pigeon-hole. It has no one hook that you can use to attract visitors or new residents - but once you get people here they are often surprised by what a good place it is.

During the dark days at the end of last year, I met a researcher with BBC Radio Five Live who had come here for a broadcast from the town.

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She was bowled over by Ipswich: “Until all this happened I had never been to Ipswich. I knew roughly where it was, and heard the name when the football reports came through.

“But now I've spent the day here, I'm really surprised. It's a really nice place to live. We've all heard the reports of the last few days - but it doesn't show the whole picture. It's much nicer here than where I live in north London!” she said.

So what makes Ipswich such a good place to live?

First of all it's large enough to have the kind of places that give a small city a buzz.

We have the nightclubs, the modern multiplex cinema, the theatres, the sports facilities, the shops and the businesses that you need to give the community its own vibe.

Then there is the town's parks. The countryside comes right into the town centre thanks to Christchurch Park - and that combined with the town's other superb parkland makes Ipswich one of the greenest towns or cities you will find.

The Waterfront will bring a whole new dimension to the town over the next few years. Already the transformation has started with the demolition of some of the ugliest buildings like Cranfields and Albion Maltings.

And its location is superb. Ipswich residents are just a few miles from the heart of the glorious Suffolk countryside and yet just over an hour from the City of London.

In future years the town will have much more of a claim to greatness with the establishment of its own university and further development around the Waterfront pushing the population within boundaries which are seriously out of date to approaching 150,000.

• What do you love about Suffolk? Write to Your Letters, The Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN or e-mail eveningstarletters@eveningstar.co.uk.

IPSWICH Town has to be top of many people's lists about what makes this part of Suffolk so distinctive.

Norwich has its castle and cathedral, Cambridge has its university. Colchester has its zoo . . . and we have Ipswich Town football club.

Over the last 50 years what happens at Portman Road has given the town many of its most important moments. The years 1962, 1978, and 1981 are seared on to the hearts of everyone in the county who follows football.

I was there at Wembley in '78 when Roger Osborne scored the goal to bring home the cup.

I was there at Portman Road when we beat Alkmaar 3-0 in the first leg of the UEFA cup final in 1981 (I was in America by the time the second leg was played but I was confident we wouldn't throw it away and only discovered how narrow our eventual victory was when I saw a copy of the Guardian Weekly in a library a week after the match!).

There is an expectation - quite rightly - among fans that Town's rightful place is in the Premiership.

However if you look at the size of Ipswich in comparison with fellow Championship towns and cities, we really have been punching above our weight in footballing terms over the years.

WHEN I was asked why I like living in Ipswich when I was asked to write this series, I had to think quite hard.

Not because it's difficult to think of good things about Ipswich - but because it is difficult to come up with specific unique selling points that make it such a great place. It is a combination of various different things that make Ipswich feel like home.

For a start, I work here - and for me it is important to live where I work. I want to be a part of the community that I am reporting on, not to be an outsider looking in. Although I enjoy the experience of travelling I would hate to do it every day to work. I like being able to get from my front door to my desk in less than 15 minutes.

I also like being able to walk into town when the weather is fine so I can have a beer with a pub lunch on a day off or a couple of glasses of wine with a meal.

If I'm going to Portman Road or Cineworld, walking the mile and a half in from my home and back again makes me feel virtuous - as if I'm not really a couch potato!

And when I'm in the town centre, I like bumping into people I know who will pass on a bit of gossip here or there - after a couple of phone calls it might give me a story!

The location of the town is vital. However much you like the town and the county, you'd be a pretty dull person if you never wanted to go anywhere else.

I love the fact that we are so near our capital city - and are able to visit it regularly and feel as if we have a stake in it. During 2000 it wasn't a case of 'shall we visit the Dome?' It was 'when shall we visit the dome?'

Already this year I've been to a special exhibition at the Science Museum with my son.

If you want to see a show in the West End it's quite possible. It would feel strange not to be able to have a day out in the capital.

A great deal has been written about Ipswich's parks - I've written a good few words on the subject myself - but I honestly don't know any parks anywhere else in the country which are so diverse, so interesting, and such great places to visit as those here in Ipswich. I cannot wait for the restoration of Christchurch Park to be completed. And the way that the park comes right into the town centre - and provides a venue for so much great entertainment - makes it really special.

It might be nearly six months away, but I'm really looking forward to Music in the Park - although I'm hoping the day isn't as hot as it was last year or as wet as it was three years ago!

But at the heart of what makes Ipswich such a good place to live is the people, and the community feeling you get in the town.

It's not utopia. There are some parts of the town that rightly get special attention from the police. And the tragic events shone an unwelcome light on Ipswich's red light district.

But overall Ipswich is a remarkably tolerant and accepting place to live in.

Yes, you might get occasional bigoted comments - but they tend to be slapped down fairly promptly and there does seem to generally good community relations.

You don't find the gangs of black youths and gangs of white youths you might see in some places - in Ipswich you'll often see groups of young people from different ethnic backgrounds all together and that's a great indication of a society that's got something going for it.

So, will I live in Ipswich for the rest of my life? I don't know.

When I haven't got to come to work every day, I may consider moving out to a smaller town in Suffolk. The lure of the coast might prove too strong.

But right now, I'm very happy being part of the Ipswich community. It's a good, strong community and one that I feel very content to be part of.

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