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Page last updated at 09:52 GMT, Wednesday, 9 September 2009 10:52 UK
Bournemouth venue marks 25 years

Aerial shot of Bournemouth International Centre
Bournemouth International Centre opened in September 1982

The Bournemouth International Centre (BIC) is 25 years old, and in that time has become well known in the south.

It has hosted party political conferences and seen some of the biggest names in showbusiness.

The centre also boosts Bournemouth's tourist industry, bringing thousands of people into the town every year.

BIC management say last year it generated £65m back into Bournemouth's economy, and has had around 10m people through its doors over its 25 years.

Plans for a conference centre in Bournemouth began in 1980, with work on the project getting underway in 1982.

Built at a cost of £18m, the Bournemouth International Centre opened on September 6 1984, featuring two halls and a leisure pool.

Barry Wilson, senior operations manager at the BIC, has been involved with the centre since its beginning.

He said: "Bournemouth really needed somewhere like this when it opened. At the time, the town only had the Pavilion and Winter Gardens [as entertainment venues], the BIC was state-of-the-art."

Aerial shot of Bournemouth International Centre
The BIC was built at a cost of 18m and helped boost business in the town

Although the leisure pool no longer exists, The Purbeck Hall was added in 1990 at a cost of £6m, and then a major £22m refurbishment in 2004 included the addition of a fourth hall - the Solent - increasing capacity further.

Memorable stars

Over the years, Barry says some of the memorable stars at the centre include Diana Ross, Rod Stewart and Elton John - but he might only catch a glimpse of the stars themselves.

He said: "The only time you would meet them is probably in a back stage corridor, or in the main hall sound-checking, while you're putting the chairs out or fine tuning the auditorium to get it ready for the audience."

"It's a very busy day, from a 7 or 8am start, to maybe a 4pm sound-check to doors opening at 6 or 6.30pm, with the concert finishing 10.30, 11.

"Then come 3am [after the stage set had been dismantled] you wouldn't know they had been here because they move straight on to the next venue in the tour."

Up in the roof

The centre's main area is its 7,000 capacity Windsor Hall, which has the biggest 'tensile grid' in Europe - essentially a tension wire mesh, suspended from the ceiling above the stage, 40 metres (131ft) high.

Manager on the above stage 'tensile grid'
Simon Bagnell, Technical Stage Manager on the 'tensile grid'

It is made up of 48km (30 miles) of 4mm (0.16") steel wire, and allows technicians and engineers access to the entire area to position equipment.

Supported by 18 steel trusses, the ceiling can suspend the equivalent of 20 double decker buses from its roof - approximately 90 tonnes.

Simon Bagnell, Technical Stage Manager, who looks after the grid, said: "By far the biggest sound system we've had is The Prodigy's.

"It was six and a half tonnes of PA speakers, delivering 140 decibels of constant sounds - it certainly cleaned the roof space of dust!"

Party politics

As well as its music concerts and the entertainment side of its business, the BIC is also known for its conferences.

Clive Tyres has worked at the BIC for 15 years, and, as Head of Conferences, Exhibitions and Events for the BIC and the Pavilion, he oversees what could be the BIC's highest profile events of them all - the conferences for the main political parties.

He said: "We tend to forget they only take place for one week a year, but they are highly competitive - many of the UK towns tend to go for them, and there is a formal bidding process.

"We've hosted the Conservative party eight times in recent (alternate) years; we had the Labour party here in 2007, and we've just been successful in bidding to have them back in 2013 and that was against major cities like Manchester and Liverpool.

"We've also got the Liberal Democrats here soon so we are a key provider for the political party conferences.

"I think we do 'punch above our weight' with [hosting] the political party conferences."

Good security

Gordon Brown at the 2007 Labour Party Conference
The BIC has hosted major party conferences, like Labour in 2007

Clive has been told that one of the reasons the parties select Bournemouth is because the BIC's seaside location helps with providing the high security needed for such an event.

He said: "Obviously the major parties do have security aspects linked into how their conference is staged from the start.

"But I am told it is easier to make this sort of location secure compared to maybe the centre of a major city.

"But also the BIC has four auditoria so the conference can take place in the main hall but with other things going on elsewhere in the building - the whole place is heaving with 12 or 13,000 people over the course of the week."

Looking ahead to the next 25 years, Senior Operations Manager Barry Wilson's 'wish list' would include an even bigger Windsor Hall.

He said: "It would be nice to make it even bigger because we do lose out on some events, but redevelopment isn't cheap so you have to mix the two [and find a balance]."

"A lot of local people benefit from the BIC"

"But I think there is a fondness for the BIC in the town now, and that wasn't always the case. But a lot of [local] people get a lot benefit from it."

And Head of Conferences Exhibitions and Events Clive Tyre agrees that the BIC has become a central part of the town:

He said: "The building is a catalyst for what Bournemouth has become - people forget that the BIC was built to deliver business in the old 'shoulder' months of the season.

"That goes back to the days when Bournemouth just had a traditional summer season and was looking for something to make it an all year round resort: today, conferences come in the Autumn and Spring and the entertainment business fills as many gaps as we can.

"It's great watching it go from success to success with the extra capacity that we can now handle, and being in the big league really, as far as entertainment is concerned."

"It's been a fun time."


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