St Mary at Quay – one of twelve medieval churches in Ipswich to survive – has been given a new lease of life and has been nominated for an award – and next week a new play written by local playwright Suzanne Hawkes will be performed in the church itself to celebrate its reopening as a wellbeing centre.
The Quay Place development being run by Suffolk Mind and the Churches Conservation Trust (CCT) was awarded a £3.4m Heritage Lottery Fund grant in November 2012, before work got underway in April 2014 to restore the venue as a wellbeing and heritage centre.
Now, as the final touches are being made ahead of its opening, the renovation is one of just four projects in the country up for a Historic England Angel Award for best rescue of a heritage site.
Remarkably, Quay Place is the only one shortlisted not to have already opened, with members of the public being urged to vote for the centre, which will feature rooms to hire for clubs and classes, businesses, conferences, learning, arts, social activities and therapies such as massage.
A cafe will run during the day, as well as hosting events such as markets or plays and counselling rooms.
Changing Faces Hidden Lives, written by Suzanne and performed by Black&White Productions, tells the story of the church through the lives of some of the characters associated with it including medieval merchants Tooley and Pounder and their wives, Charles Jobson landlord of the Smack Inn and Rev Nichols who campaigned tirelessly to keep it open before and after the First World War.
It also looks at a group of people who have come to use the wellbeing centre in the present and who have all got mental health problems they need to address. As they get involved in art and history projects they learn more about themselves and each other and in the process find ways of coping with their issues.
Told with humour and pathos – the play includes original songs and Black&White Productions trademark combination of humour and thorough research.
You can catch performances at the following venues:
Thurs 22nd Sept Waldringfield Village Hall
Fri 23rd Sept Seckford Hall, Woodbridge
Mon 26th Sept Trinity Methodist Church, Felixstowe
Tues 27th/ Wed 28th/Thurs 29th Quay Place, Ipswich
All performances 7.30pm
Tickets 01394 279613 or Abbeygate Lighting Felixstowe or email email@example.com
The building was in a state of disrepair after various challenges to the structure throughout its 700-year-plus history, including water from the adjacent Waterfront being soaked into the stone pillars, causing them to lean, a strong odour coming from the water, and an unexploded bomb landing in the church during the Second World War.
Suffolk Mind, CCT and specialist contractors Bakers of Danbury have had to overcome the wealth of challenges using historic techniques and painstakingly detailed processes, alongside modern methods.
The flint exterior for the church’s extension has been precisely carved to match the existing walls, metal plates put into the existing columns to prevent them from toppling and key repairs to the roof beams.
During the early 2000s the problem was so severe that keyholders to the building had to weigh the rubble they scooped up by the pillars and record it with geologists so that the developers would know how much the columns had lost.
Mrs Idehen said: “It’s just amazing, we feel so proud. Bakers opened it up for the heritage weekend and we had just short of 1,000 people over the weekend, which was amazing,” adding that the positive feedback from visitors has been promising for the developers.
To vote for Quay Place as best rescue of a heritage site, visit www.historicengland.org.uk/whats-new/angel-awards/shortlist-2016