Lord Stuart Rose backs Ipswich as his “destination of choice”
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When former Marks and Spencer boss Sir Stuart Rose addressed a summit called to look at how best to fulfil Ipswich’s potential, he left delegates shocked. Taking the stage at the second Ipswich Beacon Conference in September 2012, he described the Cornhill as: “The most depressing place I have ever seen.”
However he promised to do what he could to improve the town centre and has since taken an active role in looking at improving the town centre and redesigning the Cornhill.
Now Lord Rose, a Conservative member of the House of Lords, he remains optimistic about the future of the town he has come to know well – he splits his time between London and his home in the Suffolk countryside.
He told us: “It’s my destination of choice and I’m there every couple of weeks. If I wasn’t so busy with work, I’d be there more often.
“Ipswich is an important town – it is nice and central in East Anglia the only town of any size between Norwich and Colchester.
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“Several years ago, I came to Ipswich at the invitation of MP Ben Gummer to have a look at the town and to see what could be improved.
“I was fairly critical at the time of the town’s lack of facilities and amenities – some people agreed with me and some disagreed but there was a general feeling that improvements were needed.
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“There are now some exciting plans for the town centre in place and that should be an improvement.”
Lord Rose, 66, says that to build on these plans “a bit of imagination and some blue sky thinking” is needed and that now, with the worse of the recession behind us, it’s time to invest in the town.
“What is required is for local authorities, retailers, politicians and the business community to get together and to see what can be done to improve amenities and transport and to make the place more attractive and vibrant for those coming to the town for either work or leisure,” he said.
“At the moment the town feels disjointed but there are huge opportunities to make the town centre more artisanal, to emphasise provenance and local produce, and to encourage more small businesses and craftsmen from surrounding areas to come into the town, such as local artists, potters and weavers.”
He added: “I think we all understand that we have just been through a difficult period and that the priority for local authorities has been to ensure that vital services are kept running.
“But the recession is now over and they should be looking at how we can all invest in Ipswich and what can be done to help businesses thrive and to create employment.”
Before his time at Marks and Spencer, which came to an end in 2011, Lord Rose, had spells as chief executive of the Arcadia Group, Argos and Booker respectively.
He is currently chairman of online supermarket Ocado, the largest online food retailer in the world – a position he took up in January 2013.
One thing he says he has learnt during his time in business is that people will always want to shop – although the way in which they choose to do it may change.
“Retail has been around for a millennia – it is not about to disappear,” he said.
“Twenty years ago the debate was around whether the internet and e-commerce would take off and five years ago people were wondering if online grocery shopping was a viable market.
“There is a revolution taking place in retail – we are seeing the pull between town centre shops and out-of-town shopping centres; between bricks and clicks; and between higher price supermarkets and their discount counterparts.
He continued: “Change and espousing change is now the reality for retail and business in general. We have to recognise that digital technology has changed everything and has brought with it new opportunities for consumers.
“I was brought up to believe ‘the customer is king.’ Now the customer is ‘master of the universe’ and what customers want they will go out and find today.”