Miranda Acres is co-founder of both Ipswich.Love AND the Ancient House CIC. Here, she reacts to being described as a local legend who is all about the greater good of the town’s micro business community
Who are you and what do you do?
I’m Miranda Acres and I wear many hats! My ‘day job’ is as a marking/design consultant. I work with small businesses, start-ups and charities on projects that range from website design and build, branding, print design and social media, through to event organising. Anything that comes under the ‘design and marketing’ tree really. My main aim is to support businesses that need it at affordable rates.
What do YOU love about Ipswich? Are you Ipswich born and raised?
I am Ipswich born and bred and I am passionate about my town. I am not particularly patriotic – I truly believe that friends and family, followed by neighbourhood, community and town are the order in which I ‘belong’. Being British is not important to me – there are far too many wars and rules surrounding patriotism. Ipswich is my town – I’ve watched it evolve over the years and I’ve been a part of it, warts and all! I love that we’re a welcoming, diverse, friendly and generous place to be. We’re enterprising, caring and we have energy in heaps. We’re inclusive, and we’re happy for you to be a part of everything no matter who you are, where you’re from, what you do or believe in.
You’re co-founder of Ancient House CIC. What is the idea behind that project?
Over two years ago a friend mentioned to me that the Ancient House, a beautiful 15th Century iconic Ipswich heritage building that had been empty for a couple of years, would make a great independent retail space. With that idea in mind, we got together, and with another colleague, we set about doing lots of research and began talking to Ipswich Borough Council, about the possibility of opening the building as a carefully curated department store of independent artists, makers and traders, along with a cafe/bar/restaurant and information services. After all, the building was originally a merchant’s house and would always have been busy, busy with people, trade, business. Over the two years we’ve had architect’s plans drawn up with the alterations that we’d like to make to the building, we’ve brought in retail design agencies, kitchen designers and all kinds to make proposals to IBC. We’ve also hosted a series of monthly weekend pop-up makers markets inside the building, to prove our concept. And we’ve had the most unbelievably positive feedback from everyone that’s visited, that’s traded and who have been involved. Sadly, we’ve seen team members at IBC come and go and, at this point in time, having ended our pop-up series, we now have to go back to the drawing board with IBC in terms of negotiations. We believe that, as town centres are evolving, independent retail is the way forward. Online shopping now has a firm place for most people, but there’s nothing like tactile shopping for handmade, bespoke and, quite often, unique wares from clothing to furniture, from giftware to food. We’d like to see the Ancient House become the ‘hub’ of the town centre, with people visiting for shopping, for dining and to find information on the wealth of venues and activities that are happening all over the town. We will be truly disappointed if IBC are short-sighted enough to keep waiting for a large retailer to come along and pay a huge rent – if they do, the building will probably remain empty. We’d absolutely hate to see such a town treasure deteriorate which is what will happen if it’s left empty. We also believe that, if we’re successful in setting up our venture, it will encourage other retailers to follow suit – we’d be offering small businesses the chance to take a first venture into retail; our project’s a win-win for the town, the council, small businesses, neighbouring businesses, residents and visitors to Ipswich, and landlords across the town. To keep abreast of our progress, subscribe to our website or follow us on Instagram, Facebook and TikTok.
What is Ipswich.Love?
An initial chat with James Kindred, co-founder of Big Drop Brewing Company and freelance designer, saw us developing a tiny idea into a fantastic project that I’m proud to be a part of. We invited Samantha Sherman, a retired OOCL executive, to be a part of the core team and, from there we’ve built a wider team of fantastic people, all of whom have a passion for raising positivity levels and joining up the dots in our town.
Ipswich.Love is a response to the naysayers of this town – those that moan about the town centre, those that reminisce about days gone by, those that complain about there being ‘nothing going on’, and those that don’t hear about events until they’ve passed. We know, from our own experiences, that Ipswich is an exciting town but with very little ‘joined-up thinking’. We have a County Council and a Borough Council who don’t seem to work particularly well together; we have Ipswich Central who service levy payers in the town centre, and we have no central place for people to learn about all the exciting things happening across our fabulous town.
Our introductory project has been to invite the people of Ipswich to write love letters to the town – if you visit our website you’ll see some great thoughts on the town, past present and future. We have plans to use these love letters across a range of initiatives – we’re working on a plan to display our love letters in a town centre location during the month of February – Valentine’s month – watch this space!
We’re also currently inviting businesses, venues and organisations – anyone who puts on events – to register on our website as we’re creating a user-friendly event listing that we hope will be the go-to resource for all things happening in Ipswich. As a totally independent entity, we can work with Suffolk County Council, Ipswich Borough Council, Ipswich Central and every other organisation across the town to help in the mission to make our town a little more ‘user friendly’ for both residents and visitors.
One of the key things for us, as a team, is that Ipswich is so much more than the Town Centre and the Waterfront – Ipswich is ‘Greater Ipswich’ and, by listing events across the whole town, people can get more involved in things in their local areas, as well as in the centre, and across town too.
I am excited and proud of this project, and I hope it’s going to be a bit of a game-changer in terms of attitudes, activity and cohesion across this big, beautiful town.
You’ve been described as a local legend who is all about ‘getting things done’ – is this a fair assessment?
Absolutely flattered to be described as a local legend. I am certainly passionate about my community and my town and, yes, I am all about ‘getting things done’. Once I have an idea, I certainly run with it. I don’t like sitting on committees or having meetings about meetings about meetings. To me, if there’s a need for something, that need exists now – not when meetings and consultations have been delayed countless times because other things have got in the way! In terms of local legends, two people that I have the privilege to know and to put in this category are: Cad Taylor, founder of The Hive on Norwich Road – doing so much for lots of marginal communities in terms of integration by being welcoming, go-getting and sometimes quite radical; and Ed Ngai, founder of CHIp community hub, currently on Silent Street – doing lots of work around the arts and helping people to come together, get creative and belong.
There are so many other people that I’d like to name in this category doing amazing work across the whole of our town – it seems sacrilege to name just two! Hopefully Ancient House can help people of our town in terms of retail – both small businesses and shoppers; and Ipswich.love can help with positive joined-up thinking and action.
Would you say that there is a thriving micro business community in the town?
Our town is awash with micro businesses! We even have an Enterprise and Careers department at the University of Suffolk to encourage entrepreneurial businesses to develop and grow, and to add to the richness of our town. I think that both Ancient House and Ipswich.Love will help micro businesses to gain traction and to grow and get recognised – I am a huge fan of creativity and of realising your dreams by going out there and having a go – anything I can do to help that, I’m here! We are a pioneering town, and we deserve a little more recognition for what we do. My dream for Ipswich.Love is that we are a ‘go to’ for positivity, encouragement and community.
What are your hopes and dreams for the future?
My dreams for Ipswich are: more positivity; joined-up thinking and working towards the greater good; community thinking – across greater Ipswich, not just in pockets; pride in our town.
I think that our town is evolving, but not everyone can see the positive in that. For me, the introduction of the internet: online information, online shopping, social media etc, has meant that our town centres have had to change. I truly believe that in perhaps another five years, our town centre will have evolved a little more and people will begin to see the positive in this evolution: more people will live in the town centre, we’ll have more food and drink outlets, more art galleries and leisure outlets, more independent shops, and people will have moved away from the idea that the town centre is just for daytime shopping at large retailers.
For my own future – I’m enormously happy plugging away at projects and trying to make everything just that little bit more positive…oh, and a huge roller-skating rink on the ground floor of Debenhams would make me happy, too!
Featured images – supplied