Daisy Lees is one of the Directors of Community Hub Ipswich CIC – which aims to makes use of the empty shops in the town centre. On the eve of the first pop-up shop opening tomorrow, she explains why this is an exciting time for the town – and why Ipswich is amazing
I’m self-employed and a single mother of two children and I had the whole of 2020 planned out with art and festival projects which all had to be cancelled. I worked very hard on #betweenspaces – an online arts programme from May to October, but in between directing Arts La’OIam, Art Eat Events CIC and Community Hub Ipswich. I really enjoyed the quiet streets and simple weekends cooking for my daughters, and just staying at home. It was a very weird and scary time as well of course but I quite enjoyed a growing sense of the potential for positive change. I was lucky to meet my partner just five weeks before lockdown. We were flirting and chatting for an hour on the phone every night. There was a lot to process for everyone and we were very glad to have each other.
Community Hub Ipswich CIC – or ‘CHIp’ in its simplest form – is to make use of the empty shops in the centre of town. CHIp has a focus on creating opportunities for people who live here to make use of empty shops in the town centre as pop-up temporary creative, commercial and community spaces.
The idea came about when La Tour Cafe closed, and Robert Pacitti brought lots of people together with Anna Matthews (as she was then) at the Think Tank on the High Street in Ipswich. There were about 50 people in the room and a lot of enthusiasm and a lot of questions and concerns about getting this project right. I was really impressed with the coming together of ideas and plans, everyone putting their priorities on the table and people really listening to each other. Since then, some of us got together, registered as a CIC, opened a bank account, had lots of small meetings, and a few big ones, gained a small grant to contribute to the Welcome Back Weekend and moved into the first shop just this week!
I’m one of three directors of CHIp with Alicia Kate Durbin and Ed Ngai. The membership of CHIp is a very wide range of people with lots of experience in creative, social and community focussed organisations so we will all be learning from each other.
I’m bringing arts and events management experience to the group. I’ve learnt on the job and when you run your own projects you do everything at first, so I have experience in fundraising, promotions, community arts, festival programming, artist development and tour production.
The town centre would look and feel quite different without the empty shops. More life on the high street will attract people back to public spaces and generate more interest in the town. The small business community would benefit, and people’s lives will change if they are able to trade from shops in the town centre. It’s not so bad for property owners, either, because while their shops are standing empty, they must pay business rates. When the shop has a tenant those rates transfer to them, saving the owners money while benefiting the town. Pop ups would increase interest in the properties too, I’m sure, and attract long term tenants. So, CHIp is useful to the property owners too, a little bit.
We are inviting people who can create uplifting and vibrant experiences for others. I’m interested in art which can be experienced by everyone. Art is about celebration and contemplation, and creative possibilities should be available to everyone.
We got the keys to 47 St Nicolas Street this week and tomorrow (Saturday March 12) we are launching with an open mic event. So, this is a very, very exciting time! We’ll be opening the doors at 5pm and there’ll be music and celebration of the first CHIp pop up shop, Your Open Space.
Ipswich is amazing. Look at all the free festival events during the summer: 2022 is going to be our year. Global Rhythm will be back in the park with Ipswich Jazz Festival, this time on the same weekend as Music Day – July 2 and 3. Stalls are available there. There are so many opportunities for business arising now, we are all going for it!
There are amazing new spaces opening across town. It’s fantastic that The Hive and Ancient House are here and Microshops as well, all complimenting the gorgeous established, independent shops that we know and love. Ipswich is really looking up now and is creative and energetic. The whole town is buzzing.
CHIp needs to maintain a listening ear, to create a chance for people to make their mark as well as their own stuff to sell. It needs to be a place where people help each other, where everyone is welcomed and working together is easy and people are generous. I hope we can find more shop owners who see the benefit of what we are trying to do and join in with an exciting time for the town.
Featured image of Daisy Lees – picture credit: John Ferguson