Planning application submitted for St Clement Church’s transformation into Ipswich Arts Centre

Richard MacRae, Carol Gant, Simon Hallsworth and Ellie DeGory at St Clements Church, Ipswich.

Richard MacRae, Carol Gant, Simon Hallsworth and Ellie DeGory at St Clements Church, Ipswich.

A disused medieval church in Ipswich is due to be brought back to life this summer in the shape of a vibrant arts centre and music venue.

St Clement Church.

St Clement Church. - Credit: Archant

St Clement Church in Star Lane has been empty for 30 years and is the last of three historical churches close to the waterfront and town centre to find a new long-term use.

Two years ago a community interest company called The Ipswich Arts Centre (IAC) was set up with the aim of developing the venue over a three-year period.

The church has already hosted a number of creative events since the group’s formation, including launching the international Spill Festival in 2014.

An application has now been submitted to Ipswich Borough Council seeking permission to fully convert the Grade II listed building into a site that can run music gigs; theatrical performances; comedy, film, dance and fashion shows; exhibitions; arts festivals; and vintage fairs.

St Clement Church. Photo by Daniel Fisher.

St Clement Church. Photo by Daniel Fisher. - Credit: Archant

The company’s ambition is to establish the arts centre as a viable, sustainable community asset, managed at low cost with students at University Campus Suffolk (UCS) taking a leading role in managing the centre and organising events.

Simon Hallsworth, executive dean for the faculty of arts, business and social science at University Campus Suffolk, is one of three directors of IAC.

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He said: “We set ourselves up as a community interest company with the intention of bringing this church back to life.

“Despite the fact we have started from nothing, in two years we have got massive support.

“We all passionately believe this church has a future as a community asset with particular focus on young people.

“Art centres are part of the cultural identity of a place and it is clear if you go to Colchester, Norwich or Halesworth that they are proud of their art centres.

“We see this as a space through which the cultural communities of Ipswich can interact and find themselves a spiritual home, this should be their place. Culture is good for people, it’s therapeutic and if we can add more to the region and to the town that can only be a good thing.”

Mr Hallsworth said there was a demand for a medium-sized standing music venue in Ipswich which would be more suited to the needs of younger people and attract notable acts to the town.

The church has the ability to meet that need as a stand-up venue with the space to accommodate up to 400 people.

“We want to be able to make it successful by pulling in high quality acts that will attract big audiences who would usually go to other towns and cities,” Mr Hallsworth added.

Richard MacRae, another director of IAC, said the running of the centre would rely on volunteers to begin with.

“It’s a nice feeling to get the planning application in,” added Mr MacRae, who works for Ipswich-based architecture design studio, EDRM.

“It’s quite hard because everyone is giving their time for free, but we have had very good consultation with the Ipswich Borough Council planners and they have been very supportive and helpful.

“It does feel like we have turned a corner and we just hope it will get approved.”

The third director of IAC is Carol Gant, who is the gallery manager at UCS.

Last of redundant churches

St Clement Church dates back to the 15th Century but it has not been used for worship since 1979.

It was used briefly as storage for the Wolsey Theatre Group but was severely damaged in a fire in the 1980s.

The church was dedicated to the patron saint of sailors.

St Clement is under the care of the Ipswich Historic Churches’ Trust (IHCT), which is responsible for overseeing the preservation and regeneration of redundant historical churches. St Clement is the last church in the trust’s portfolio to find a new use.

UCS was invited by Ipswich Borough Council and IHCT to establish a steering group to consider how the church might be brought back into the cultural and social life of the community it was built to serve. It was from here that the idea of an Ipswich Arts Centre was born.

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