St Clement's Church ready for new life as an arts centre
- Credit: Charlotte Bond
Work to turn one of Ipswich's most historic churches into a 21st century arts centre is gathering pace - but another £100,000 is needed to allow the installation of toilets to boost its potential.
St Clement's church, near the University of Suffolk and Waterfront, dates back to the early 14th century. It was significantly extended during the Victorian era - when it was at the centre of the largest parish in Ipswich.
However, it was declared redundant in 1979 and has been in the care of the Ipswich Historic Churches Trust since then.
Over the last 43 years, it has had a number of uses including as a props store for the New Wolsey Theatre and for university events. But now a team is busy converting it into an arts centre.
Work has just finished to install a new floor and re-plaster some of the walls that had fallen into disrepair. It is now available to be booked for events - but the lack of toilets is a stumbling block for many potential users.
Peter Brooks, from the Ipswich Historic Churches Trust, said the work had already made it more attractive: "We already have a number of bookings for this year and into next, but we would like to get on with the next phase of work."
That would include installing toilets which will cost about £100,000 because water and drains would have to be brought into the Grade II listed building.
"I know there are a large number of calls on people at the moment but we do hope that some will be able to help us with this. Once we have the toilets it will become a much more popular venue."
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The church can hold more than 250 seats - and has a standing capacity of 500. It is three times the size of St Stephen's, which is due to be converted into a music venue.
Mr Brooks said: "In the Victorian age there were 5,000 parishioners in St Clements. It's why it was expanded - and then other churches were built in the area."
There are still some covers due to be placed on the edge of the floor - but the way it has laid will allow electrical ducting to be installed if necessary.
And another future stage of the church's restoration will be to decide what to do with the chancel. At present that will be left as it is.
Mr Brooks said: "That will be for future generations of the Trust to decide on. At St Stephen's it is incorporated into the rest of the church and at St Lawrence it has become the kitchen. We are leaving it as it is to concentrate on other aspects of the church."
The earliest mention of St Clement's was in 1309, but there was work on it in many different phases. The tower dates from the 16th century.
In I860 it was greatly expanded - the transepts and chancel were built - but the main roof remained medieval.
It was one of a number of churches in the town centre and Waterfront area that became redundant in the late 1970s and they were transferred to the Ipswich Historic Churches Trust in 1981.
In the 1990s its celebrated hammer-beam roof was destroyed by fire but it was restored and has been used for a number of events every year since then.