A WIMBORNE theatre brought back to life by local volunteers will celebrate its 20th birthday this year.

The Tivoli in West Borough lay empty for 14 years from 1979, when it was bought by Dorset County Council as part of a road improvement scheme.

Yet despite facing demolition, the theatre, built in 1936, was rescued by prominent Wimborne businessman and former mayor Malcolm Angel, who formed Friends of the Tivoli.

The theatre’s general manager Charlie North Lewis, who has been in the role for 11 years, said: “Some time after the Friends group was formed, a petition with 7,000 signatures on it was presented to the county council asking for the Tivoli to be reopened.

“The county essentially told the volunteers they could run it themselves if they chose to, and the town council gave a very generous donation towards repairing the roof.

“But generally, although there was a great deal of local support, people in authority didn’t back the Tivoli at all.

“There were comments like, ‘This is a dead duck – it will never fly’.”

Despite the opposition, the Friends managed to get the Tivoli back on its feet, and it opened to the public again in November 1993.

Mr North Lewis, who was educated at Forres in Swanage and at Milton Abbey, took on the role of manager nine years later in 2002 after spotting an advertisement in The Stage.

He was working at BAFTA in London before he took on the job, and said there have been many proud moments for the theatre.

“Before I arrived, the Tivoli was trundling along, with lots of societies and drama groups and things like that using the space, as well as professional performers and screenings of films,” he said.

“A good yard-stick of measuring the Tivoli’s success since then is how many people know about us and what we do.

“Around 18 months after I arrived, we took out a little stall in Poole’s Dolphin Centre.

“The first year, about 70 per cent didn’t know anything about the theatre, or even about Wimborne itself.

“The year after, it was around 40 per cent, and then the third year it was difficult to find someone who hadn’t heard of us.”

Mr North Lewis has already achieved his dream event at the Tivoli – a performance from Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts and his jazz group.

The two have even been out for dinner several times.

He added: “If Mick and Keith could show up too, that would be a bonus, but it was my dream to have Charlie at the theatre.”