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See the Ipswich shopping street quietly making a comeback

PUBLISHED: 06:57 18 September 2019 | UPDATED: 16:51 18 September 2019

Westgate Street in Ipswich. Picture: ANDREW PAPWORTH

Westgate Street in Ipswich. Picture: ANDREW PAPWORTH

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Walk around many town centres today and you will find streets that have struggled with several shop closures over the years.

Hatice Arslam inside her Stitchworld store in Westgate Street, Ipswich. Picture: ANDREW PAPWORTHHatice Arslam inside her Stitchworld store in Westgate Street, Ipswich. Picture: ANDREW PAPWORTH

Ipswich is no different - but now, traders in one small street close to the town centre believe their area is making a comeback after years of decline.

While Westgate Street is one of the most popular parts of Ipswich, with big name retailers such as Marks and Spencer and WHSmith, few people venture into the furthest west part beyond Ipswich High Street.

In years past retailers have frustratingly seen crowds of shoppers literally yards away, yet have been unable to entice them to walk a little further up.

The result has been several empty shop units, further hurting footfall.

New Collections in Westgate Street, Ipswich and store owner Daniel. Picture: ANDREW PAPWORTHNew Collections in Westgate Street, Ipswich and store owner Daniel. Picture: ANDREW PAPWORTH

But in the past few years Westgate Street has seen something of a revival, with much of it seemingly thanks to independent stores.

It all seemingly began with the opening of clothing store New Collections, with Ipswich Outreach Project and Stitchworld each opening on the same day as each other last September.

In a further boost, Pretzie opened in a popular unit on the corner - selling more than 2,000 pretzels in its first week.

"I want people to see from the traffic lights what we are doing, I want them to see how I make my pretzels," owner Selena Andone said.

Ian Walters outside the Ipswich Outreach store in Westgate Street. Picture: ANDREW PAPWORTHIan Walters outside the Ipswich Outreach store in Westgate Street. Picture: ANDREW PAPWORTH

With a mixture of shops now there including eateries and places to get a coffee, including Greggs, traders believe there is a good reason for people to make the slightly longer journey on foot.

"This end of town has been dead for so long," said Ian Walters, founder of Ipswich Outreach Project.

"With so many places being empty, people got used to it and then turned back.

"But it is now picking up at this end of town.

Westgate Street in Ipswich. Picture: ANDREW PAPWORTHWestgate Street in Ipswich. Picture: ANDREW PAPWORTH

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"People have been pleasantly surprised. It has been lovely to see it grow over the past year."

New Collections owner Daniel, who asked us not to use his surname, believes his store's success has encouraged other retailers to consider opening premises in Westgate Street.

However he said business rates have posed the greatest challenge.

"That's why you see lots of shops shutting down," Daniel said.

"When you have overhead charges along with business rates, it's very hard to cope with that. That is what is putting many people out of business."

His comments were echoed by 49-year-old Stitchworld owner Hatice Arslam, a former factory worker who has gradually expanded her clothing repair shop by buying more machines and equipment since last September.

Despite their success and the recent revival of Westgate Street, shop workers in the western part of the street still believe more can be done to encourage people to their precinct and give them a fighting chance against some of the bigger brand names.

"They should have something that would bring customers down here," Daniel said, who suggested that a cash machine nearby would keep shoppers in that part of town.

He also thinks a communal area where people can sit and talk, similar to what is now at the Cornhill, could help.

Mr Walters said he was pleased an Elmer elephant was placed nearby this year, as that helped attract those touring Ipswich on the famous trail.

"We still get people coming down here and saying they didn't realise there was anything here," he said.

"That's a little bit of a disappointment."

Paul Clement, chief executive of Ipswich Central - the business improvement district (BID) which represents organisations in the town - said: "We are pleased to see new businesses starting in the area."

However he said that town centres need to change in order to survive, not just relying on shops but having a mixture of housing and public services.

He said people at the BID "remain convinced that a longer term plan for the area must be developed, reducing reliance on retail and bringing in alternative uses, which will help to revitalise the area".

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