Origins to evolve into new centre

JON WELCH An award-winning visitor attraction is likely to close as part of a major revamp of Norwich's landmark Forum building.

JON WELCH

An award-winning visitor attraction is likely to close as part of a major revamp of Norwich's landmark Forum building.

Origins, an interactive museum explaining the history and geography of Norwich and Norfolk, is expected to be replaced by a new visitor centre, TV studio, auditorium seating up to 100 people and hi-tech “open zone”.

The £65m Forum opened in November 2001, funded by a £31.5m Millennium Commission grant with matching support from Norfolk County Council, Norwich City Council and businesses.

Origins, spread over three floors, won the Berry Savory Award for best Norfolk attraction in 2002, but has not generated the income hoped for by the Forum Trust, the charitable company that manages the building. Last year it made a loss of £107,550.

In October, trust spokesman Kirsty Burn admitted its future was being reviewed, but said experts had advised from the outset it would have a lifespan of only three to seven years.

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The trust's board is expected to approve proposals to replace Origins at a meeting on Monday.

Trust bosses are also considering whether to give the development a new name.

Yesterday, chief executive Robin Hall said: “A number of conceptual ideas are under discussion, including a new visitor and cultural information centre, new ways of accessing learning opportunities and new entrance arrangements for the BBC.

“Some ideas may necessitate minor structural changes in the working areas of the Forum building. Others may have an impact on service installations or internal access arrangements.

“We are very much at the feasibility stage, assessing the different possibilities so that the range of options can be narrowed down. The Forum Trust will then commission architects, designers and engineers to develop first design concepts for consideration by the Forum Trust board and key partner organisations.”

The statement said no final decisions would be taken until late this year or early next after market research, testing and consultation had taken place, adding: “It is likely to be at least 18 months before there are any real changes to be seen at the Forum.”

A trust spokesman added: “Our present expectation is that redundancies are most unlikely.”

On the cost of the scheme, she said: “No specific design has been commissioned and there is therefore no project cost. The shape of any future scheme will determine which partner organisations are involved and what the extent of their involvement may be.”

She said both experts and members of the public would be consulted, and confirmed the trust planned to work with Norwich-based LSI Architects.

Tim Bishop, head of region for BBC East, said: “Discussions are at a very early stage. We are talking to the Forum to see how we could use the new development to engage further with our visitors.”

A Norwich City Council spokesman said: “It was always planned to look at that part of the building and refresh what happened as part of long-term plans. The council remains committed to the Forum project.”

John Gretton, Norfolk County Council's cabinet member for cultural services and adult education, said: “The county council is committed to maintaining the success of the Millennium Library, and therefore, the Forum.

“We are only five years into a lengthy lease on the library, but it has already proved to be an incredible success - with more book and DVD issues than any other library in the country and only behind Birmingham as the library with the highest amount of footfall.

“The council is also committed to supporting a continued educational remit for the Forum - something which is a written requirement of the Forum Trust.”

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