East of the M60’s 2021 Advent Calendar looks at a groundbreaking leisure facility in Billingham

Billingham is a town long associated with the chemical industry. Since ICI based their operations in the late 20th Century, its population grew dramatically. The town’s peak was in the 1950s and 1960s when the Billingham and Wilton plants were in full swing. Its town centre was remodelled in the latter decade with a pedestrian precinct and the proud boast of heated pavements!

In October 1967, Queen Elizabeth the Second opened Billingham Forum. As seen in our video of its construction, it is a multi-activity venue for sporty types and theatrical types. Much refurbished today, it sits right at the heart of Billingham town centre. It won plaudits for its unique roof over the ice rink which is mentioned a lot in this film.

Also mentioned is the Forum’s eateries – a café and a First Class Restaurant which face the swimming pool. Much is mentioned about the Forum having interest outside the area – 20,000 to 25,000 people per week using the facilities back in 1967. At the time, its theatre had space for 650 people. (The present capacity is 631 seats). There was also a fish tank.

For most of its life, the building was seen in grey and dark brown brick. Today, it is clad in light blue and yellow with some grey. It may look pleasing to the eye on dark days, though it upsets the brutalist architecture geek. In 2004, Billingham Forum was threatened with demolition, with plans to build a sports and leisure centre on John Whitehead Park. Putting paid to these plans was the lack of a replacement theatre and the granting of Grade II Listed Building Status for the Forum. In 2011, it was reopened in its refurbished form – though without the fish tank.

The rest of the town centre is fully pedestrianised with heated pavements and footbridges. Rooftops are used for car parking spaces as well as ground level car parks.

Tomorrow, we shall be looking at how a Wiltshire town brought communities together through cable television.

S.V., 22 December 2021.

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