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You are in: Norfolk » A Sense Of Place

01 October 2003 1419 BST
New home for Look East at the Forum

Look East's presenters from the past and present gathered to say farewell to St Catherine's Close.

Broadcasting in the east has entered a new phase with a move to a state-of-the-art building.

From Monday 29 September, BBC Look East will come from the Forum in Norwich.

Take the Look East tour

Watch the new Look East titles

Use the BBC Webwise guide to downloading realplayer
Map of The Forum
Aerial photo of The Forum
The Forum website

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Presenters' thoughts on Look East move

Photo gallery of the last day at Norfolk Tower

See the station layouts

Read about BBC Radio Norfolk and the website's move

Live webcam from studio 1 at The Forum

360° view of Radio Norfolk's Forum studio

360° view of Radio Norfolk's production control

Live webcam at The Forum

360° view of The Forum atrium
  In the 1930s the St Catherine's Close studios were home to the Blaxland family.
  During the Second World War, the building was used as a restaurant after Bonds' cafe was bombed.
  The BBC took over the building in 1955. In 1957 it began broadcasting the first bulletins of East Anglian News on the Home Service on FM only.
  In October 1959, the first TV bulletins were broadcast - but only for three minutes a night.

In 1962 this was increased to 10 minutes when the programme became East Anglia At Six Ten.
  In 1964 Look East first appeared and the programme was 20 minutes long.
  The present studio wing was added in 1974 when Look East went over to colour.

Unfortunately, the roof leaked and the presenter, Ian Masters, got drenched on the first night of the colour service.
  The new station has around 200 televisions and 50 miles of cable.
  The computers in the new building - which control everything from the lights to transmission - have an entire floor to themselves above the TV studio.
  The new station has been quite a local effort.

The camera pedestals are from Bury St Edmunds, the radio studios were built and installed by a Newmarket firm and the office furniture is from Basildon.
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The move to the landmark building in the city centre marks both the end of an era and the start of a new digital age for the BBC in the east.

Look East is the last BBC operation based in Norwich to make the switch to the multi-million pound regional headquarters.


Pic: Stewart White.
Look East presenter Stewart White. Read Stewart's, Susie's and Julie's thoughts on the Forum move.

Radio Norfolk, Inside Out, The Politics Show, the Norfolk Where I Live website and News Online have already relocated to the Forum in a staggered move, which started in June.

It will be the first time that the station's services have been together under one roof.

Until this summer, the BBC operated from a split site in Norwich divided between TV's base at St Catherine's Close and the radio studios in Surrey Street.

Presenters Stewart White and Susie Fowler-Watt sat behind their desk at the Look East studios for the final time on Friday 26 September.

Emotional send-off

It was an emotional moment for staff. Television programmes have been broadcasted from the listed Georgian building for more than 40 years.

The St Catherine's Close studios were converted from a family home, which was once occupied by the Blaxlands.

The reception's sweeping staircase and chandeliers were the eye-catching centrepiece of the station, whose various departments were housed in a labyrinth of rooms and corridors.

But the listed building's period elegance, together with its location on the edge of the city centre, also prompted the move.

Move inevitable

Pic: The Look East newsroom.
The Look East newsroom.
See the second floor layout |
See the first floor - radio and TV studio

The layout of St Catherine's Close meant it would not comply with the new disability discrimination act, while the cost of converting the station to hold new broadcasting equipment meant it was out of the question to renew the lease.

BBC bosses were committed to staying in Norwich and plumped for the Forum due to its prominent position, making it easier for people to pop in.

"Visible presence"

Tim Bishop, head of BBC East, said the wow factor of the glass-fronted Forum also helped to sway the decision.

"The BBC wanted to stay in Norwich," said Mr Bishop. "It wanted to create a more visible presence at the heart of the community.

"The Forum is a striking, stunning building that has enhanced the centre of Norwich and it felt like a natural fit," he added.

Passers-by can now see the BBC at work through the floor-to-ceiling windows, which overlook the atrium.

"It will be easier for people to drop in and see us, and as the Forum becomes increasingly a venue for public events we can be even more involved in the local community," said Mr Bishop.

Despite being sorry to leave St Catherine's Close behind, Mr Bishop believes the station's new home is the way forward for a modern BBC.

"I loved the Georgian staircase and entrance to St Catherine's but working right in the centre of Norwich, which is my favourite city, just can't be beaten," he said.

"I've always believed the BBC should have a more prominent presence and be there for everyone who pays for it - now we are," he added.

Latest technology

The Forum has been equipped with cutting edge digital technology which has been custom-built for BBC East.

In the future, the system will be rolled out to BBC centres in Birmingham, Hull, Leeds and Manchester.

New desktop editing kits and a state-of-the-art transmission system will result in quicker news production and will ensure better coverage of the region.

Improved service

Journalists will now be able to come back into the building with their tape, feed it into the server and view their pictures at their desk.

They can start selecting what to use in their films, without having to wait for an editing suite and editor.

Also for a breaking story journalists can go out, film their piece, cut it at their desk and have the news on air in minutes.

Another advantage of the server system is that a number of departments can view the material at once.

Instant access

Staff from Look East, London and regional centres, News 24, radio and websites will have immediate access to pictures and audio rather than having to queue for it.

Pic: Dave Betts.
Dave Betts says the new technology will help improve Look East.

Dave Betts, Look East's output editor, said the technology will make it easier to cover the region because more effort can be put into news gathering and less into processing material back in the office.

"It's more flexible in terms of editing," said Mr Betts.

"News bulletins will have more news in them. There'll be shorter pieces, but they will get around the region," he added.

News stories

He also believes the station's location will raise its profile in the community - attracting more people to drop in with stories. It will ultimately mean the news agenda is no longer shaped as much by journalists.

"People will know we are there and can bring in stories to us," said Mr Betts.

"It's great not to be tucked away in the corner. People can walk in off the street and tell us news.

"We're going to try to do more people stories, people more than institutions," he added.

Newsdesk redundant

This more people-friendly approach will also be reflected in Look East's new set.

"We're retiring the newsdesk," said Mr Betts.

"Presenters will stand at a lectern for breakfast and late bulletins and for lunch, while Look East presenters will be sitting at two chairs behind a coffee table.

"The desk was a massive artificial barrier between the presenters and the viewers. It's all part of making us more accessible," he said.

Many changes

Despite his excitement, Mr Betts admits he's nervous about Monday's first programme from the Forum.

"We're making a lot of changes in one go. It's like a big bang," he said.

"We've had changes before on Look East, but they've all been made gradually.

"There's not one person at Look East whose job won't change," he added.

Pic: The Forum: link.

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