The Forum is a public community building, constructed as a Millennium project for the East of England and funded jointly by a grant from the National Lottery, Norwich City Council, Norfolk County Council and local businesses. Built to a design by the architect Sir Michael Hopkins, the Forum was completed in October 2001, and stands on the site of the Norwich Central Library, which opened in 1962 but was destroyed by fire in 1994*. The new, three storey building is in the shape of a horseshoe, with the end wall entirely of glass and facing across Millennium Plain to the marketplace and the church of St Peter Mancroft.
Within the Forum is a large atrium with a café and an open plan pizza restaurant, see photo above. This light and airy space is frequently used for exhibitions of contemporary arts and crafts, food markets and various community events. The Norwich Tourist Information Centre is housed on the ground floor, with an adjoining shop selling art, giftware and other locally sourced products. Adjacent to these are the Fusion Screen, showing free presentations of local interest, and the Curve, a 120-seat auditorium available for hire for multi-media presentations, meetings and small theatrical performances.
On the first floor are the studios and offices of BBC East and Radio Norfolk, comprising the BBC's regional broadcasting centre for the East of England.
To the rear of the atrium all three floors are home to the Norfolk and Norwich Millennium Library, which for seven consecutive years has been awarded the accolade of ‘most visited public library in the UK’. The lower floors comprise the main lending and reference sections, while the top floor houses the Norfolk Heritage Centre, an extensive reference library with over 300 years of local newspapers, records, maps, census returns and other information, open to all and ideal for researching family trees and all things relating to the history of Norfolk and Norwich and its people.
The Millennium Library is also home to the Second Air Division Memorial Library, dedicated to the memory of the nearly seven thousand American airmen who lost their lives in the call of duty while flying missions from their bases in Norfolk and Suffolk during the Second World War.
The Forum is one of the Norwich 12, a collection of twelve of the most iconic buildings in Norwich, with architectural styles spanning the Norman, medieval, Georgian, Victorian and modern eras.
To visit the Norfolk and Norwich Millennium Library website click here.
* August 1 has been an unfortunate date for libraries in Norwich. It was on this day in 1898 that the Norfolk and Norwich Subscription Library on Guildhall Hill, across the marketplace from the site of the present Forum, was destroyed by fire. Ninety-six years later to the day, on August 1 1994, the Norwich Central Library burned down, with the loss not only of tens of thousands of books but also of many priceless manuscripts and other archival items.
In the early evening of yet another August 1, this time in 1970, a small fire started in the kitchen at Garlands, a popular department store on London Street. Despite the prompt arrival of the fire service the blaze quickly took hold and the building was gutted.
Millennium Plain and the Forum, with City Hall behind.
The Millennium Library is also home to the Memorial Library of the Second Air Division of the US Eighth Air Force.