Just 14 years ago, the bells of St Lawrence’s Church – the oldest circle of five in the world – rang triumphantly after a £1.2million refurbishment funded by taxpayers.
But today Ipswich city center reverberates with a different sound – drunks and drug addicts use Class A, sleep in the bushes and even have sex on the raised headstones out in the street.
Suffolk Police are now calling for the old graves around two churches in the Arras Square area to be fenced off to curb the lewd behaviour.
But locals complain that gangs operate with impunity and that parts of the historic center have become restricted zones at certain times of the day.
Justine Allen, 58, is the director of the St. Lawrence Community Cafe, which opened in the disused church after the 2008 renovation.
She said: “I don’t agree with fencing off the tombstones as they have already taken away most of our pews to solve the same problem – but the problem has not gone away.”
“We still have gangs here that drink, do drugs and deal.
“Knives were used outside the restaurant and people lived in the foliage that once lined the walls until they cut it all down. I feel like the council lost the city.
“Just the other day I walked out the door and saw a man peeing. I let him know and he told me to shut up.
“You see human excrement on the sidewalk and I saw people defecating on the street. It’s disgusting.
“Drug paraphernalia, including needles, are scattered all over the square. The other day I found a full box of Diazepam (Valium) against the wall here. I picked it up and threw it straight into the trash can.
“I’ve heard of people having sex on the tombstones. I haven’t seen it with my own eyes, but you see some strange things.
“It’s a real shame because Ipswich is a beautiful and historic town that used to be very lively. I used to come here to do my shopping but now I don’t worry anymore.
“So many businesses have closed and the bars and clubs that used to draw people from across the county over the weekend have lost their licenses.
“I’ve lived and worked here for over 30 years and I’ve worked as a security guard in nightclubs, where I’ve seen all sorts of things.
“But I’ve never seen anything like it. I know people who don’t come here anymore, and certainly not at night.
“The police are never here. If you call them, they say, “We’ll be right there, we’re busy.”
“I’m sorry to say that because I love the place but Ipswich is going to the dogs.”
Police set out their proposals to end anti-social behavior in a letter published this week on Ipswich Borough Council’s planning portal.
Suffolk Police suggested there may be a need to “curb crime” by removing even more benches and erecting fences around the headstones.
They made the proposals in response to the city council’s “Turning our Town Around” project to revitalize the area.
According to police, the fences around the tombstones in front of St Lawrence’s Church on Dial Street and in front of St Stephen’s Church just next door, which is now a music venue, will have to be erected.
The letter states: “Unfortunately, in public but secluded places like this one often finds raised tombstones that serve as tables for the consumption of alcohol and drugs.” Sometimes they are also the scene of sexual activity.
“In the religious environment, this antisocial behavior is particularly disrespectful. It is more likely to occur towards the rear of the church when the protective fences are removed.”
carpet of drugs
When the Sun visited this week, a carpet of drug paraphernalia and cigarette butts covered the quaint courtyard next to St. Lawrence, despite a city sweep being conducted that morning.
Among the trash were several tiny clear bags used to store Class A drugs.
When we arrived, people were already resting on the tombstones in front of both churches and eating their lunch in the midday sun.
The names of the deceased engraved on the sides of the stone caskets were indecipherable, blurred by the wind and rain.
But the dead buried within – who may have lain there since the 14th century when the bells of St Lawrence were first cast – would no doubt be appalled at present-day Ipswich.
Retired property manager Peter Shelcot, 69, is now discouraging his wife from shopping alone in the town center as he believes it is unsafe.
Ipswich Town FC fan Peter said: “It’s mostly low level crime and because I’m not completely naïve I know where to go and where not to go.”
“If my wife wants to come out, I say, ‘I’ll come with you.’ Unfortunately, the city can be dangerous in places.
“Ipswich is becoming a dumping ground for people with serious problems and I think that’s why we’re seeing so much disorder. It’s caused by people who are new to the area, people who have no respect for our headstones and our culture.”
Rodney Bates is a part owner of grocer Global Fruits at the center and believes the anti-social behavior was sparked by the pandemic.
Rodney, 51, said: “It started four or five years ago when Covid-19 broke out and we went into lockdown and everything was closed. After the shops reopened, people worked from home and didn’t have to come to the center as often.
“Due to the reduced footfall, numerous shops had to close, creating a vacuum that allowed the predatory sleepers and beggars to move in.”
“Because there are fewer people, it’s easier for them to operate. We have city guards assigned to address this issue, but I don’t think we have enough of them.
“The problems seem to be getting worse. Several shops have been burgled here in the last few weeks – one was burgled at 4am.”
Bridget Jackaman, 57, is an assistant at the Craftability store, which sells everything from candle-making kits to stamps.
She said: “I’ve been here for about 12 years and there’s always been a drug problem around St. Lawrence. We’re a little way off, but occasionally a puff of cannabis smoke wafts into the shop.
“Drunk people walk down the alley leading to the store to relieve themselves. I know some of our customers don’t like coming to town anymore, which is a shame.
“They are intimidated by the large groups of young people, which can be a bit scary.
“But I thought it was a shame that they removed the benches as they were often used by old people and families who wanted to rest.
“I love Ipswich and will continue to shop here and support the city as there are still many good retailers here.
“It’s sad that people are focused on those we’ve lost, but the truth is the city is in decline.”
Asked by The Sun, a spokesman for Ipswich Borough Council said: “Like many other towns and cities, Ipswich has its challenges in this economic climate.”
“Projects like the proposed public area improvements in Arras Square aim to improve the city and reduce anti-social behaviour. The council and its partners are working hard to ensure the city is revitalized and thriving.”
“We aim to make Ipswich town center the thriving heart of our community. A place where everyone feels safe and welcome, and where people can shop, socialize, experience great culture and access the services they need.”