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Events, Activities and Group Outings For Everyone

Events, Activities and Group Outings For Everyone

Discovering what goes on behind closed doors with Hugh Pierce, General Manager, Ipswich Institute

‘An old establishment with a modern outlook and a relevant place in today’s life’ is how General Manager Hugh described the Ipswich Institute. Tucked between River Island and The Body Shop, the hidden doorway raises the question: what exactly is the Ipswich Institute? Here's what we found out.

The establishment has been on the same site since the 1830s and offers a library, reading room, leisure learning activities and much more.

Hugh explained that, even though the library (with 50 periodicals monthly and over 9,000 volumes to borrow) is the core of the building, the facilities are much more extensive. There is a café in the main building in Tavern Street, and a restaurant in their other building around the corner in Tower Street - The Admiral’s House, which also houses classrooms and a coffee lounge.

Hugh was keen to say that, in addition to their popular leisure learning courses, the Ipswich Institute holds performances, workshops, lectures and more, which are all accessible through a membership subscription. For example, they have scheduled workshop on Cryptic Crossword Solving and the Spanish Civil War, and a Cream Tea Cruise on the Sailing Barge Victor. They have even previously commissioned a production by Julian Harries, director of a local theatre company.

Being a Member at the Ipswich Institute

When asked why someone might become a member, Hugh responded that as well as saving money on course fees, being a member means full access to all the day-time activities, and the Institute is open to members six days a week. Members can use the wheelchair-friendly lending library and reading room, and of course the recently refurbished coffee shop!

Hugh told me that there are currently approximately 2300 individual members, and that figure always increases at the beginning of a new term. Annual single membership is just £54.50 per year and the household rate is £91.50 per year, covering multiple people living at the same address. Hugh worked out that the savings per year if you were to take 2 courses would almost cover the cost of your membership and it’s therefore worth investing. He informed me that the Ipswich Institute is a registered charity, so their prices for leisure learning and memberships are very competitive to other similar organisations.

Leisure Learning at the Ipswich Institute

In discussing local interest in the Ipswich Institute, Hugh confirmed that ‘the growth area is definitely leisure learning’, which has seen an increase in both demand and delivery year on year. Hugh said that there will be over 70 classes beginning this coming term (mid to end of September) and they are filling up fast. Some extra classes have been added to meet the particularly strong demand for languages. Trips are included in some classes – for example, students on the Astronomy is Looking Up course are always enthused by the trip to the Orwell Observatory and the students on the Photography courses take several trips around the locality.

Hugh told me that the size of the classes varies depending on the room and the subject. Some classrooms and courses (for example, music courses) only take up to 10 students. The larger room, called the Birkbeck Room after founder George Birkbeck, can seat up to 30 students around tables, or 50+ if laid out in theatre-style. There’s plenty of room for everyone at the Ipswich Institute – you just have to get in to register quick enough to avoid disappointment!

Hugh informed me that evening classes open to anyone are now available over four days of the week.  Members can participate in both day and evening classes, so join to give yourself more flexibility on time and subject. The classes are an hour and a half or two hours each week and generally last ten or twelve-weeks. It was interesting to learn that an increasing number of people now take time out of work to attend some of the daytime courses that are available to members, establishing that they are definitely beneficial and worth the time.

I asked Hugh who the courses were aimed at, and he responded: ‘Anyone!’, then telling me that leisure learning is not just for the older generation, and some teenagers have begun enrolling this year. He encourages people to register early as some courses have smaller numbers than others, and it would be a shame for someone to miss out on something they were interested in.

When asked about the subjects of the course, Hugh stated that the Institute ‘always try and introduce new topics from time to time [and are] always keen to know what people want’, with recommendations being taken from members, or tutors that approach the Institute.  Just a couple that are new this year are an Introduction to Economics and Japanese Language and Culture.

I queried if a person could start a course late, and Hugh said yes, but it’s not recommended with some subjects. If there are spaces on a course, then you can enrol at any time and the cost will be pro rata, depending on the number of classes left.  If you know you can’t make one of the dates, still sign up and a tutor can help you catch up. Alternatively, become a member to gain access to the classes at more times of the day!

When questioned about the tutors, Hugh said that the tutors are always experienced and must come with a positive reference so that the Institute are assured that their students will get the most out of their investment in the course.  There are several tutors that run more than one course, some having been loyal to the institute for years and others approach the institute themselves. Tutors are also sourced though recommendations from other tutors, members, and students.

Hugh was certain that the tutors enjoy coming to the institute for many reasons, including the help and warm welcome they receive, flexibility with their curriculum and the enthusiasm of their students. Hugh and the team at the Ipswich Institute want the tutors to enjoy the classes as much as the students do!

Hugh urges people not to hesitate to sign up for a membership now. You’ll be getting a great deal, a sense of community, and a chance to learn something new all the time. Courses start the week beginnings 11th September, and there's still time to book your place. To view the full list of courses, click here

And to find out more about membership, or to discuss your particular needs please email Hugh and the team at library@ipswichinstitute.org.uk

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