New life for venue

ONE of the best-loved music venues in Ipswich could soon make a comeback for live concerts, more than a quarter of a century after the lights went out.

ONE of the best-loved music venues in Ipswich could soon make a comeback for live concerts, more than a quarter of a century after the lights went out.

The St Matthew's Baths hall hosted some of the great names in music during the 1960s, including Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, and The Move.

But its importance as a music venue declined in the early 1970s as more bands played at the larger Gaumont theatre (now the Regent) and the Corn Exchange became a venue for live music as well.

St Matthew's closed in 1984 with the opening of Crown Pools, and part of the building was demolished as Hubbard House and other retail units were built in the area.

However the bath's hall itself has survived and was converted into offices – but now it is set to become a new social centre for the town.

Suffolk County Council's social club is hoping to take over the building and convert it into a new club for all public sector employees in Ipswich.

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The present county council social club in Rope Walk has to close by the end of June because it is part of the council estate that is being handed over to the East of England Development Agency for inclusion in the redevelopment of Suffolk College.

But council employees are determined their club should not die – and have been on a search around the town centre for new premises.

Project director David Lower said: "We looked at several premises, including the old Drum and Monkey pub and Trader Jack's but they weren't really what we were looking for.

"Then we heard from an estate agent that the baths hall was on the market and went to look at it. It looks absolutely perfect – although it is quite large."

All 27,000 employees of the county council, including teachers and those working outside Ipswich, are eligible to join the social club.

But Mr Lower said membership would probably be extended way beyond this.

He said: "There are about 6,000 county council employees in Ipswich itself, but we would look to extend membership to other public employees.

"Ipswich council is moving next to us here in Russell Road, and we are approaching their social club about merging with us.

"Then there are employees of the tax offices and at the job centre and department of work and pensions.

"We don't know how long a future there is at the St Clement's social club – we would also extend membership to employees of the NHS in the town."

Mr Lower said overall there could be 15,000 people eligible for membership in the town – and that would certainly make the club viable.

An application for a change of use for the old St Matthew's Baths site is due to be lodged with Ipswich council next week and there would need to be considerable work undertaken before it could be opened.

He said: "The earliest we could open the new club would be October, but we would certainly want to be operating by November to catch the Christmas period.

"We still need to talk to the county council itself about finding some financial support, but we are hopeful something will be sorted out soon."

The existing social club was opened about 30 years ago and was opened on a part-time basis until the late 1980s.

From then it has been open more regularly, and the building included the Suffolk County Council staff canteen.

Since the council moved out of the old County Hall and Rope Walk offices last year, however, most staff are on the other side of town from the club.

It is included in the estate of land being transferred to the college – and it is likely to be used as the student union bar while the college is rebuilt over the next three years.

If the social club does take over the old baths, Mr Lower said they would hope to bring back live music to the venue.

"It will be a private club only open to the members – but they would be able to bring guests and we would look to give a stage for local bands.

"Certainly we would like to be part of the local rock music scene, and it might be possible on occasions to open to the general public – but that is something to think about in the future," he said.