OPINION: Ipswich's Microshops show town's entrepreneurial spirit

Proscilla Pinheiro has opened Juice Mix bar in Ipswich Microshops PICTURE: CHARLOTTE BOND

Priscilla Pinheiro has opened Juice Mix bar in Ipswich Microshops. - Credit: CHARLOTTE BOND

Boosting small businesses and supporting local business owners is really important to me. These independent shops and their local owners are a vital component of the future of the town centres and the resilience of our high streets.

This week, I wanted to celebrate small businesses, as well as to commend the successes of some new independent brands in Ipswich. 

When Ben at Cookie Barista on Carr Street invited me to take a look around the Microshops, I didn’t know quite what I would find. But it’s safe to say I was very impressed with the vibrant look and atmosphere of the place, which now hosts a number of independent small businesses.

I saw local people with big ambitions for their small businesses. I was particularly struck by their passion for the town, and their commitment to making a success of their businesses.

The Microshops opened in June last year, and the previously vacant warehouse has been filling up with unique and locally-owned shops.

This venue is the only one of its kind in East Anglia, and is a really special place to shop. One of my personal favourite booths was Trini Flavour, which offers authentic Trinidadian curries, some of the best that I’ve tasted. It’s a place with a lot of potential, and the business owners who have started up with a small store here have ambitions to open bigger places down the line. 

The resolve of the local business owners is evident, as is their passion for the town. This is exactly the kind of project we should be getting behind.

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This is especially true given the number of empty buildings that we have in Ipswich at the moment. Given the high vacancy rate for shop-fronts, particularly following the impact of the pandemic and the rise of online shopping, it seems a no-brainer. 

The Microshops on Carr Street opened as an experiment by the warehouse owner, trying something new to help small businesses get a foothold in the town centre.

Frankly, it is a shame it has taken so long for something like this to happen and I think some of this has come down to the Labour borough council not being as proactive as it could be.

We need not only funding but also a can-do attitude from the borough council to bring trade and high footfall to our town centre, and independent, locally-owned businesses to buildings which might otherwise be vacant. 

I wanted to highlight some of the success stories which have come out of the Micro-Shops initiative so far.

One of the business owners I spoke to back in February was Priscilla, who had created her own Juice Mix brand with fresh-ingredient fruit smoothies. When I heard in March that Priscilla’s Juice Mix bar had moved into a full-sized shop by the University of Suffolk, I stopped by to see how business was going. 

By pure coincidence, Julien – who runs an independent restaurant, the Mariners, and the Wine Boutique – popped into the new Juice Mix shop. Apparently he is a regular there.

Julien and Priscilla emphasised how important it is that small businesses look out for one another. This is a culture of mutual support that is genuinely warming to see, and gives me great optimism for the future of independent shops in our Town. The businesses on St. Peter’s street also house this real sense of community, as well as passion for the town and for entrepreneurship. 

Another clear success story comes from Josh, who runs Central Vintage. When I first visited the Microshops, Josh told me that the concept was working really well. He had recently moved to Ipswich from Essex, and was keen to mention his big plans to move the vintage clothing resale brand into a full-sized shop in the future.

Now, Josh is moving out of the Microshops and into its own space. This is precisely the aim of the project - to give small businesses the first stepping stone to even bigger things. With Central Vintage and the Juice Mix moving onto exciting new premises, it shows that the Carr Street warehouse has taken on a valuable new role in helping independent shops get onto the market. 

On the back of these successes, it would be great to see more initiatives like this bringing vacant buildings back into use. As well as giving independent retail a platform to grow from, we also want to see improvements to the Town centre to increase footfall, particularly somewhere like Carr Street where some of the vendors feel like it has been overlooked and forgotten.

Projects like the Digital Town Centre, as part of the Town Deal funds which I helped to secure from the Government, aim to bring high-speed free Wi-Fi, digital screens, and connectivity to attract residents and visitors alike. 

To support our town centres, we must also tackle anti-social behaviour. This has been a recurring theme which residents and small businesses have mentioned to me. I know that Dial Lane, for example, has had a number of businesses’ windows smashed.

To make them a place that our residents want to go and spend time and money, we must tackle anti-social behaviour. I am discussing directly with businesses about how to resolve this, as well as pushing for fairer police funding for Suffolk which would mean safer streets in Ipswich.

Ipswich has a bright future ahead when it comes to independent shops, and I am very optimistic about the potential for our high-streets.

Projects like the Microshops on Carr Street have demonstrated the resolve and ingenuity of our locals in channelling their personal passions into successful small businesses, and I am incredibly pleased to see these take off. It is a town brimming with passion and entrepreneurial spirit, which we should be working to encourage and promote. 

- Tom Hunt is the Conservative MP for Ipswich