Let's use Ipswich Corn Exchange as a vaccination centre
- Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown
There is much good news about the fight against the Covid-19 virus at the moment - but for people living and working in Ipswich there remain serious concerns and however good the progress is in trying to get on top of the pandemic, these issues cannot be overlooked.
On an economic front it now seems clear that Ipswich is going to be hit much harder than anywhere else in Suffolk - and the nature of the collapse in businesses looks particularly serious for its town centre.
Looking around the town last week to create a list of stores that will not reopen after the pandemic was a sobering job. Talking to Paul Clement from Ipswich Central about the town's situation was also sobering.
A total of 14% of retailers in the town centre are not expected to reopen in Ipswich which is roughly in line with the national average for large towns and cities. But in Ipswich a very high proportion of them are large stores with a substantial high street presence - Debenhams, Topshop, Edinburgh Woollen Mills, Lakeland and Peacocks.
I know that at least one other major fashion retailer represented in Ipswich town centre is teetering on the brink nationally - and that while no one denies that the town centre desperately needs to remodel itself, that process is not going to be pretty over the next 10 years!
What is also worrying about Ipswich is that the town is lagging behind the rest of Suffolk when it comes to getting on top of Covid-19.
The number of infections in the town has come down over the last month, but not as far as in other parts of the county - and over the last week or so there has been a worrying increase in infection numbers.
Ipswich is also lagging behind the rest of the county in the number of vaccines that have been administered.
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There are reasonable explanations for some of these points - Ipswich generally has a younger population than other parts of Suffolk, so it is not surprising that a smaller proportion have been vaccinated when the programme was designed to start with the oldest who are most vulnerable.
Ipswich, as a large town, also has a larger proportion of its population living close to each other - and more multi-generational households, which are far more likely to spread the virus.
But having had my first jab recently, there is one issue I have to question - the accessibility of the major vaccination centres.
I have absolutely no criticism of the way they are run or the speed with which they are getting through the population. I went to Trinity Park, queued outside for about five minutes, had a jab and was told to wait in my car for 10 minutes to ensure there were no immediate serious side effects. It was a really smooth machine.
What I do question is the location of the centres and their accessibility for people without access to private transport.
I live in the north west of Ipswich. I was given the option of booking an injection at Trinity Park, Gainsborough, Stowmarket and a few other sites outside Ipswich.
I drive, Trinity Park was ideal for me because we fancied getting a few things from Waitrose and it gave me the perfect excuse to drive to the other side of the town.
But for those who don't have access to their own transport and live to the north and west of the town, the major vaccination centres are a bit of a challenge to reach. They're at least two bus journeys away - or an expensive taxi ride.
I couldn't help wondering why no vaccination centre was set up in the Grand Hall of the Corn Exchange which is ideally placed for those who don't have their own transport. In Norwich the food court of one of their shopping centres has been a very successful vaccination centre with superb access.
That is, of course, nit-picking to some extent over what has been a fantastically-successful vaccine roll-out - a roll-out whose speed and efficiency has far exceeded the expectations of most of us!
Hopefully as more younger people are vaccinated - and from what I've heard the younger "middle-aged" are now starting to get the call - the numbers in Ipswich will start to fall. And we are already hearing that the number of serious cases is falling.
But we are already hearing that we may all need booster jabs to cover us against any new variants in the autumn - and when that starts to happen, and with more people back working in the town centre, a Corn Exchange vaccination centre would make good sense.