Council seeks fresh ideas for Town Hall and Corn Exchange

Ipswich Corn Exchange
Image caption The Corn Exchange backs on to and is joined to Ipswich Town Hall

For one night in May 1994, the Ipswich Corn Exchange was the best place in the world.

Well, for me anyway.

Blur had just released Parklife and performed most of it, along with songs from the other two albums, in front of an audience that appeared to consist solely of people jumping around and having the best time of their lives.

It was hot, sweaty, tiring and great fun.

And best of all it wasn't a one off.

Elastica, Embrace, Levellers, The Longpigs, Travis, The Boo Radleys, Skunk Anansie and Sleeper all played the venue at a time when guitar music dominated the charts.

Fast forward to 2012 and it's a very different story.

The Corn Exchange hosts half the number of events it used to and no longer attracts the modern day equivalents to Britpop's key players.

Ipswich Borough Council accepts it is a problem and is asking for people to share their ideas on how the building could be better used.

Labour councillor Bryony Rudkin, portfolio holder for culture, said young people are missing out.

"I saw Elvis Costello in a downstairs nightclub in Cardiff and have never forgotten the setting," she said.

"It was the height of the Falklands War, he was singing Shipbuilding, it was amazing.

"I've got teenage sons and I wonder what they've seen here (at the Corn Exchange). They'd probably say they'd seen a great performance of the Railway Children on the stage and they would remember coming to council meetings with me, sadly."

Courthouse to gallery

Image caption Sleeper and Blur shared the bill in Ipswich in 1994

But the Corn Exchange, which also houses the Ipswich Film Theatre and a new Little Waitrose, is only half of the problem.

In 1975 the building was joined to the town hall, which was built in the late 1800s as a courthouse.

This, too, has become a multi purpose building - hosting civic events, graduation ceremonies and art exhibitions as well as offices for council staff and the mayor.

Jonathan Stephenson, operations manager at both venues, said the council wanted to merge the buildings and is trying to introduce a consistent look across them.

But he described it as a "major task".

Accessibility issues are being tackled and new signage is being produced to make the somewhat warren-like buildings easier for the public to navigate.

As for live music, Mr Stephenson said he hoped the call for public input would reinvigorate the Corn Exchange.

"Blur were here when most venues in the country were full, seeing 200-250 events a year," he said.

"The industry has changed across the country so 100-150 is very good really for a venue like this but we want to see more."

The Town Hall and Corn Exchange are being opened to the public on 17-19 February.

Ms Rudkin said she hoped the Access All Areas event would result in some fresh ideas.

"My hope is that people will come with ideas, and they don't have to be fully formed," she said,

"If somebody thinks 'wouldn't it be good' but doesn't know exactly how they would carry it out, I think if we can get together we can have some proper discussion.

"I'd like to see us creating more memories for the future, for young people in particular, but also inviting people back."

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