The Forum theatre is of national cultural and heritage importance. Billingham was the first town in the country to combine a sports centre and theatre on a shared site and Billingham Forum was the first multi use leisure destination of its kind. The theatre itself is designated Grade ll Listed, in recognition of its innovative design which reflects new trends in theatre at the time, both on and off stage. It differed from traditional Edwardian and Victorian theatre design with a less ornate auditorium, that wraps around the audience and was complemented by modern well-equipped stage facilities.
Whilst creating a very contemporary auditorium, bursting with 60s style, the architect, AJ Ward, also took inspiration from the ‘horseshoe’ design of Italian opera houses. The 659-seat auditorium has excellent sightlines, with no seat further than 60ft from the stage. The whole ethos of the new Forum was that it should be a great place for a family day out and the theatre auditorium echoed this by the provision of an unusually large number of boxes intended so families could to sit together. The complex was conceived as a recreational club, with membership costing 5 guineas per year, with a crèche available free to members.
In April 2023 Tees Active took over the operation of the Forum theatre from Riverside Leisure. Tees Active is a leading charitable trust, with an excellent track record in venue management, partnership working and, in the delivery, and marketing of innovative and accessible leisure activities for the whole borough of Stockton-on-Tees and the wider Tees Valley. Tees Active’s other venues are Billingham Forum Leisure Centre, IB Leisure, Splash, Tees Barrage International White Water Centre, Thornaby Pavilion and Thornaby Pool.
In 2017 Billingham Forum celebrated 50 years and this video was commissioned to mark the occasion. Take a look back at some fantastic historic footage and reminisce about the glory days of Billingham Forum!
Billingham Forum was officially opened in October 1967 by HM Queen Elizabeth II heralding an exciting new era for the town. During her visit to open The Forum, HM Queen Elizabeth II also unveiled ‘Family Group’, a statue by Edward Bainbridge Copnall, which reflected the strong family focus of the town centre and new leisure complex. In its initial year of operating the complex was visited by 20,000-25,000 visitors per week. The theatre staged its first performance in August 1967 and was immediately recognised as an ideal venue for the country’s leading touring theatre companies.
Today the Forum Theatre is still at the heart of Billingham Town Centre and its sense of community is stronger than ever. It is a popular and valued destination with a national profile and is a key part of Stockton-on-Tees Borough Council’s vibrant cultural offer.