Rachel's Weekend Visits
The impressive Chantry Mansion
Chantry estate, Ipswich
By Rachel Sloane
Built in the late 1950's and early 1960's as a council estate, the roads on Chantry estate are all named after birds and flowers.
There are now over 5000 homes and a population that ranges from young families to some of the original residents, now long retired.
We hear so much about our rural communities that it is easy to forget that around Suffolk's bigger town are many estates similar to Chantry. Many are just as close-knit as a picture-postcard village, possibly more so, as the residents are living together full time and there are no empty holiday homes.
The estate has developed into a sprawling community of over 30,000 people living in a variety of houses, bungalows, flats and residential homes. There are a range of facilities that most villages would love to have: several churches, a couple of parades of shops, a health centre, sports centre, playgroups, youth club, schools etc.
I began my visit to the community shop, one in a parade of shops on Lavender Hill. Although full of second-hand bargains, the shop is also the hub of the Chantry Residents Association, who run the shop, give out advice and serve free coffee and tea to anyone passing.
The association has worked closely with the landlords, Ipswich Borough Council, and together it can boast improved lighting and pathways, and a general improvement in the area. The volunteer committee also arrange outings and events, and the subcommittee, the Chantry Youth Development Initiative have, over four years, raised over £20,000 to provide free sports facilities for the young people of the estate.
Alona and Charles at the community shop
They pay a peppercorn rent to the land owners, Ipswich Borough Council, and are very proud of the floodlit basketball court, which can be used for other sports too. Over a coffee, at the shop, I spoke with Alona Bernett, the chair of the Residents Association and the treasurer, Charles Moore.
Like all estates with a high number of children and teenagers, Chantry estate does have its problems, often with the younger residents: "That's one of my challenges," said Alona. "I really want to improve the facilities for the children in the area, especially the play parks.
"These are larger family homes and there are quite a few children around this area and you need to give them something to do."
Charles is also one of the organisers of Lark in the Park, the community fun day held each summer on Gippeswyk Park, one the three parks around the estate, and the one that can be seen from train windows at Ipswich Railway station. Like many of the residents, Charles grew up on Chantry estate and now, as an adult, is giving his time to make it a place that anyone would be proud to call their home.
St Francis Church
Opposite the main shopping area on Chantry estate are three churches. If the estate was being built now there would be just one ecumenical church but on Chantry estate they have the Catholic church, the Methodist church and the Church of England church, St Francis, all standing in a row.
Designed by architect Basil Hatcher, St Francis was very modern when it was built in 1957. On www.suffolkchurches.co.uk, Simon Knott sums it up well:
St Francis Church still has its original features
"Flint panels may have been intended to give a further hint of the vernacular, but they are also rather jolly in a Festival of Britain kind of way, retaining that confidence which you found in the New Towns before that experiment went awry."
The church is light and airy with high ceilings, and it still has all its original features, including some fine candlesticks, which are brought out from under lock and key for services - and for my visit.
I was shown around the church by Don Taylor, the choir master, and Mike Evans, the Chairman of the Appeals Committee. Yes, it's not just the village parish churches of Suffolk that have to fundraise!
Don and Mike explained to me that many of our churches that were built 50 odd years ago, are now in need of some updating and maintenance – but it is harder to get grants, and inspire fundraising, when it's not a much loved medieval masterpiece that needs saving.
The church has a dramatic campanile but apparently, when the church was being built, some locals thought it was going to be a fire-station – it looked so much like the tower fire-fighters use for training!
Don told me about the life of the church too: "We have Sunday Eucharist, sung Eucharist and we have all the vestments and it's quite dramatic in many ways. Then we also have midweek communion."
My visit was during half-term but usually the church hall would be busy with playgroup, Cubs and Brownies.
"It is a well used church. We have groups and societies, Weightwatchers and, when it's time for the flu jabs, we provide tea for the doctors' surgery next door," laughed Mike.
"This is where we are so lucky," chipped in Don. "We are right bang in the middle with shops opposite and a car park here."
The church is impressive to see when it is empty – I must return on a Sunday some time soon, to see it in action!
An estate that has three parks is very lucky. Chantry Park is actually on the other side of the main road into Ipswich from the A12 and is linked to the estate by a pedestrian underpass. Popular with dog walkers, families and footballers, the park is the land that was given, in 1828, to Ipswich Corporation by Sir Authur Churchman, as gift to the people of the town.
The park is set around Chantry Mansion, now a specialist centre for the care of people aged 18 to 65 years of age with neurological conditions, run by the charity, Sue Ryder Care. The formal gardens at the rear of the house lead to the ha-ha and to the walled kitchen garden, now used as a vehicle yard by Ipswich Borough Council.
The gardens, parkland, woods, and wildlife areas are all open to the public free of charge.
Ipswich has many parks but Chantry is the only one to have a fishing area. Two and a half acres in size, Beechwater Pond is a beautiful tranquil lake edged with reeds and rushes and surrounded by trees.
Peter Scotcher is proud of Chantry's wildlife
"We've got meadows and in some areas they are dry and in other areas they are wet," explained Peter Scotcher, the Education and Wildlife Ranger from Ipswich Borough Council. "It is important for wildlife to have a greater diversity of habitat, and therefore a greater diversity of species."
Children's events, such as pond-dipping are often organised, and the wildlife areas are a popular attraction in summer.
"Chantry Park is a pretty good site for bats and by this pond we have one specialist bat called Daubenton's Bat. You can come here and sit on this dam and watch the bats swooping low over the water, almost at your feet."
Many of the users of Chantry Park come to play in a football match, watch cycle-cross, have a go at orienteering or attend a pop concert. They should definitely take the time to explore some of the corners of the park, another hidden gem of Suffolk and well worth a visit.
last updated: 11/06/2008 at 12:35