Gecko ready to start work on new home on the Ipswich Waterfront
- Credit: Dan Fisher
Ipswich is once again filled with a creative buzz following news that the Burton’s Building on Ipswich Waterfront has been awarded a £3m grant from central government under a scheme to invest in ‘shovel-ready’ local projects in England to aid economic recovery in response to the COVID-19 crisis.
Plans for the exciting project, described as an arts and media hub, have been driven by Ipswich Borough Council and were finally given the go ahead in January. Once complete, the site will provide a new home for the internationally-acclaimed Gecko physical theatre company – which will occupy the warehouse site next to DanceEast – while space will be available for a new café and tech start-ups in the building closest to the Stoke Bridge roundabout.
Ipswich Council leader David Ellesmere said the work on the site would have to be completed by April 2022: “That is when the structural work would have to be completed. It may still need some fitting out after then, but the actual building work would have to be done by then.
“Gecko is going into the old warehouse, but there will be other occupiers in the old Burtons building that is part of the site. One occupier we are very confident about and we are still talking to other possible tenants for two other business units that are being created there.
“The grant allows us to get on with the work it is more expensive to convert any existing building than it is to start from scratch and this covers that difference.”
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Amit Lahav, artistic director of Gecko, said that the £3m grant will provide the finance to power the project forward. He said that with the £499,999 from the Arts Council, awarded last November, they are in position to start work on the Gecko Creation Space almost immediately and are looking to be ready to move in by Christmas 2021.
He said that when the work is complete Ipswich will be home to one of the most extensive, up-to-date rehearsal and making facilities in the UK – even more so if you add in the studios which make-up the DanceHouse next door.
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He said that the Gecko warehouse wasn’t a performance space but rather a creation facility where work could be rehearsed, experimented with and designed. The facility would include a state-of-the-art recording studio and lighting rigs, so a show could be designed and made from start to finish. “It will truly be ‘Made in Ipswich’, every last second of a show and then toured throughout the world.”
“It’s about changing the picture. This is the start of the upturn, a piece of positive energy which can give a town a renewed sense of direction. We’re saying let’s do this, let’s get on with it, let’s make a real impact in Ipswich now.”
He said that having their own creation space means that they can ‘get messy’ and experiment with props, effects and scenery without having to worry about leaving rehearsal studios in good order if they are renting space at DanceEast or the New Wolsey.
In addition to the creation space they will also looking to reach out to community groups with the idea of establishing a Gecko young company as well as hiring space to other professional companies. He said that they would continue to have close contact with fellow companies like DanceEast and the New Wolsey Theatre.
Mr Ellesmere said he hoped contractors would move into the site before too long - the council is asking for tenders to complete the clearance work on the sites.
And he said that with work on these two buildings getting under way, it was a significant moment for the development of the Stoke Bridge gateway to the Waterfront: “We are about to start work on the historic building at College Street, so we will have contractors on three of the four buildings we own there. Now we have to find a new use for the old silo there.”
Site clearance is expected to start by the early autumn.
The East Suffolk Market Towns project – which aims to improve digital infrastructure in Lowestoft and Felixstowe with free WiFi, footfall tracking sensors, analytics and retail apps – receives £250,000.
Overall, more than 300 projects in England will receive a share of the £900m Getting Building Fund, which was announced by prime minister Boris Johnson in June to invest in “shovel-ready” housing and infrastructure projects.