Leeds has no shortage of debate and discussion groups. PAUL THOMAS visits one of the longest running, FORUM 2000.
This has been a significant anniversary year for two of Leeds’ longstanding public discussion groups; marking the 20th anniversary of Café Scientifique, and the anniversary of an even older public discussion forum set-up 40 years ago in Horsforth, FORUM 2000.
FORUM 2000 is different to Leeds’ many other discussion groups. For a start, it began life in 1978 as the Featherbank Forum, established by the late Edwin Barlow, as part of the Airedale and Wharfedale College FE Programme to provide a current affairs course for a class of about 30 retired people. In 1983 it was transferred to Leeds Adult Education and then in 1989 became part of the Worker Education Association programme, before going independent in 1997 and changing its name three years later to mark the millennium.
Unlike most discussion groups the Forum meets in the morning – on Wednesdays between 10am and noon. From 10:00 to 10:50 there’s a presentation, followed by coffee break, and then from 11.10 to noon they either have a further presentation or a Q&A session.
But the Forum also differs more significantly in that it has a larger and more formal organisational and membership structure. You can become a member of Forum 2000 for just £1 a year, which gives you the right to vote in their AGM. It also has a planning group, as well as an appointed chair and a treasurer.
In terms of the discussions themselves, the Forum follows an academic calendar with thirty weekly meetings a year divided into three sessions – Winter, Spring and Autumn – with topics decided by a small group which meets at intervals over lunch in someone’s home to plan the next programme.
As current Chair, Hilary Taylor, explained to me, “We usually find a topic first, either suggested by a member or arising from TV or radio programmes or lectures we have been to,” before searching universities and the internet for their speakers.
Notable among speakers is Paul Rogers, Emeritus Professor of Peace Studies at the University of Bradford, who, from very early days, has visited the Forum to give an annual review of World Affairs – now designated the “Edwin Barlow Memorial Lecture”, and which attracts audiences of well over 100.
The Forum publicizes its events through its mailing list and a printed programme, which members can distribute to libraries and shops. They also have a website, set up by a local sixth former, where you can see what’s coming up and read a weekly report of talks. Hilary also writes a weekly report for The Wharfedale Observer.
Another difference from other groups is the Forum’s annual trip. Each May members get the chance to visit places of interest and historical sites, such as National Trust properties. This year they visited Parliament at the invitation of a local MP.
But one of the most important thing about the Forum is the large and loyal audience it has built up over the past 40 years. Each presentation attracts regular audiences of over 80 people. As Hilary says, “we depend on good audiences (arising from a good programme)”. The atmosphere is also important and there’s always “a real buzz at coffee break” where people enjoy animated chat and get to know one another, particularly newcomers that have asked “interesting questions”.
For Hilary, the main reason for the Forum’s popularity is that “the programme offers a wide range of topical and challenging talks”. The current Autumn Programme, for example, includes talks on Modern Russia, archaeology, the work of the Samaritans in Armley Prison, the ‘UK & Europe – Awkward Neighbours’, and their annual Edwin Barlow Memorial Lecture. And still to come are talks on Yorkshire Air Ambulance on 28th November and ‘Virginia Woolf & Christianity’ on 5th December.
Forum 2000 offers the chance to learn something new and possibly challenging and exchange ideas in a relaxed and friendly atmosphere. The talks take place in the Grove Centre, New Street, Horsforth. Its £2 admission includes refreshments and, as Hilary says, “anyone can drop in any Wednesday”.
For more information and to join the Forum 2000 mailing list visit: https:/forum2000.wordpress.com
Paul Thomas is co-founder of The Leeds Salon discussion forum.