The Forum was officially opened by Her Majesty The Queen on July 18 2002, with crowds gathered around our now-iconic building.
James Coates, our Events Manager, joined The Forum team before the building had even opened! He worked the very first shift and was there to welcome people through the doors for the first time.
“We’d actually been open since October 2001, so by the time the Queen came to officially open The Forum we’d had time to gel as a team and get a good feel for the building. In those early days, things were fairly quiet day to day - I think most people just saw The Forum as ‘the new library’. The Queen’s visit was the first time I can remember seeing big crowds out on Millennium Plain. It was the first time we were at the centre of a big city event – something which I think has become part of our identity over the last 20 years.”
The building was designed by the award-winning architect, Sir Michael Hopkins. Built as a landmark Millennium project for the East of England, with capital funding from the Millennium Commission, The Forum stands on the former site of the Norwich Central Library. When the Central Library burnt down in 1994, Norfolk County Council and Norwich City Council joined forces and made the ambitious decision to create The Forum.
"Norwich’s old library had burned down in 1994, soon after I arrived here from Australia, and the replacement ideas were the talk of the city and its citizens. The Forum won out and was The Millennium Project, with a Committee, funding and great minds devising. In July 2002 the Queen arrived to open the elegant new building: she was striking in polka-dot yellow, with her famous smile. I was on the Forum bridge where the restaurant now is, so with a wonderful view of the ceremonies. It was a lovely and very special occasion for all, with the Queen’s charm and ability to put people at their ease shining out. I did hear later that a number of those chosen to greet her were rather nervous but she is marvellous at talking to all and everyone. The sun shone and the sky was blue and Norwich was wearing its best clothes for that memorable and unforgettable occasion." - Caroline Richardson, Former Director of Norwich Playhouse
Over the past twenty years, we have welcomed millions of people through the doors, and become central to the fabric of city life. Home to the Norfolk & Norwich Millennium Library, one of the busiest libraries in the country, and with a programme of year-round events (including Norwich Science Festival, Norfolk Makers Festival and Norfolk Heritage Open Days), The Forum is a key cultural hub for the city and region.
The Forum is managed by The Forum Trust, an independent charity that maintains and protects the building and delivers a programme of fantastic free events for the city and county to enjoy, without receiving any regular public funding. As a charity, all of our income is reinvested into the building and in the events we produce. Would you like to be part of our future? Donate now.
“The opening of The Forum felt so special. I’d worked on coverage of the fire that destroyed the old Library and then the journey from the giant hole in the ground that was opened as work started to today’s majestic and inspiring building that rose out of that. It’s been a privilege to be part of all of that. But at the low point of Covid with the building empty it reminded me that in the end it’s all about the people who come here in their thousands every week and the colour and spirit that made that fantastic opening day so memorable.”
"When you walk past The Forum today, it is difficult to imagine what the space looked like before. The concept of the building is so creative and the design gives a wonderful juxtaposition to St Peter Mancroft, the market and City Hall. So often you see locals and people from around the world mingling and enjoying the space outside whether watching activities or just using it as a meeting space. The Forum has become a central focus for Norwich and has developed to fulfil its purpose as a space to inspire, learn and entertain. Full marks to those who had the ambition to create such an important and bold place."
“The building can become anything, and it’s open to absolutely everyone and anyone. It’s such an amazing place and the building itself is fabulous. I’m so lucky, because I do shift work, at night I get to stand and look at the ceiling and stars, moon and sky. I’ve stood on the balcony and watched many firework displays. I’ve had immense privileges over the years from working here and it’s been amazing.”