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Forum at Fifty

Billingham Forum has had an exciting month. The famous Forum celebrated its 50th anniversary. Queen Elizabeth 2 opened it in October 1967 and since then the theatre, swimming pool, ice rink and all the other offerings have been at the heart of the local community.

Billingham Forum has been an important institution in local life ever since it opened, for all sorts of people: young, middle-aged and elderly. People with all sorts of interests, talents, abilities and needs use and enjoy the Forum regularly.

As a local boy, I came to the Forum quite a few times, to see shows, to try to learn to swim, to skate and play squash amongst other things. Then in the late 80s, I was involved with a theatre company. Air Theatre put on a couple of musical shows in the Forum’s theatre. By coincidence, the first one we put on was called Queens, this was an original musical by Tony Coffey based on events outside Greenham Common Airbase during the lengthy and widely reported anti-nuclear protests. Then came Mariner, a show written by another friend, Ian Ditchburn. This musical was a space-aged version of Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem, The Rime of the Anchient Mariner.

So, like most local people, I have had quite a connection with the Forum over many years.

Forum at Fifty

This summer, I was commissioned to make a film to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the official, royal opening ceremony. The more I thought about it, the more delighted I was.

Theatre at Forum

The Forum’s theatre offers a wide range of entertainment: dramas, pantomimes, musicals, concerts of all kinds, and comedies. And there are popular regular performing arts classes, held too.

The theatre has the mandatory bar for pre-show drinks and excited conversation about the entertainment.

But it is not all about theatre. In the atrium there is a cafe serving meals, snacks, hot and cold drinks, and providing a place to socialise. It is popular with people who pop in for a snack and a chat with family and friends, before or after taking part in the various activities provide by Forum.

Sport & Keep Fit at Forum

For those who love sport, want to keep fit or just to have fun, there have always been many sporting pursuits. These have varied over the years. Today Forum offers: ice hockey and figure skating, every kind of competitive and leisure swimming. There is the gym and a wide variety of fitness classes are offered: Zumba, spinning, drumming and for those who fancy a touch of mountaineering, Go Climb.

Many clubs use the Forum’s quality facilities to provide a variety of important services to people of all ages and interests. Billingham Amateur Swimming Club and Billingham Figure Skating Club amongst other are very valuable organisations that rely on Forum’s top quality provisions. SNAPS offers children with disabilities and their families lots of support and outlets to build bonds and confidence.

A few years ago the future was in doubt. The building had seen better days and the question of demolition was raised. But the people mobilised. There were marches and protests. One lady wrote to the Queen for help in keeping the Forum from closure.  The Forum was saved. The sum of £18.5 million was invested in a 2 years modernisation programme. New activities needed new resouces and they were provided. The new Forum was opened in 2011.

The new offerings and improved facilities were an immediate success. The forum is set to serve the community for many more years to come.

Exterior of Billingham Forum
Billingham Forum 2017

My film ends on a positive note. It looks to a bright future for the Forum and the people of Billingham and the surrounding area.