7:30 AM September 22, 2022
A former Ipswich church is to be turned into a live music venue with capacity for 220 people, despite concerns around the protection of historically important monuments.
Grade two-listed St Stephen’s Church on St Stephen’s Lane will become a café hosting live music performances, after Ipswich Borough Council’s planning and development committee approved an application made by the council itself.
Labour councillor Stephen Connelly said: “I cannot think of anything more appropriate than people celebrating music at a venue that was originally built to gather people together.”
The fifteenth-century church building was a tourist information centre between 1993 and 2020, and since then it has not been used. Before 1993, it was a site for performances, exhibitions and fairs.
According to the report considered by the committee, the rejuvenated building will be a ‘culture-led café and co-working space to support creators and artists’, employing two full-time and ten part-time staff members.
Alterations to the building would include the installation of a bar, toilets, CCTV, entrance lobby and a new doorway.
Liberal Democrat councillor Oliver Holmes said: “I think having this site as a music venue will make sure the building does not fall into further disrepair.”
While the council’s conservation officer and Heritage England did not object to the proposal, they brought up issues around the John Leman memorial – which Heritage England described as significant and important. This monument will be near the stage, which will be free-standing, and be protected by an acrylic case.
Sir John Leman was a Beccles tradesman, who went on to become Lord Mayor of London.
The decision was agreed on by all but two councillors – Conservatives Sam Murray and Bob Hall, who believed the plans were inappropriate for the church building.
Cllr Murray said: “Is it necessary to use the building in an inappropriate way, just to get it filled?
“The fact that the stage is free-standing should indicate this is inappropriate.
“I’m also not reassured that the noise levels will be managed.”
An Ipswich Society spokesperson said: “The protection of the heritage assets also concerns us.”
The prospective tenant is a local organisation that provides creative opportunities for young people. The organisation also owns a small studio west of the town centre, called The Smokehouse.