POOLE’S centre for the arts is on the verge of a new era after winning funding for a major refurbishment.

Lighthouse has secured £4million from the Arts Council and £650,000 from the Borough of Poole towards work which it says will ensure the best artists keep coming to the town.

See all the pictures of Poole Arts Centre and Lighthouse through the years in a gallery

The public first saw inside Poole Arts Centre, as it was originally known, in 1978.

An Evening Echo feature on the new facility that March began: “Poole Arts Centre is the most ambitious and imaginative complex of its kind created by a local authority in this country.”

The arts centre had been in the offing for many years.

The Echo traced the roots of the project to a 1966 White Paper on Housing the Arts, after which there had been a needs survey, public meetings, and – crucially – the involvement of Bournemouth Orchestras.

But the whole project was presided over by the Borough of Poole, in the days when a local authority could undertake a project on that scale with public money. The council “projected, specified, designed and built” the complex, the Echo report said at the time.

In contrast to neighbouring Bournemouth, Poole at that time had no venue for theatre productions or concerts of any size, while the last of its neighbourhood cinemas had disappeared some years before.

The Arts Centre was an ambitious attempt to address that lack of cultural attractions.

At the heart of the complex was the Wessex Hall, a “magnificent auditorium incorporating a unique lifting floor device”, as the Echo noted.

It boasted 1,500 seats, a full-sized concert platform and acoustics “which should be unmatched in the south of England”, the paper said. The lifting floor would make it suitable for exhibitions and standing-only concerts as well as orchestra performances.

Its second venue was the Towngate Theatre, a 600-seat proscenium arch venue with an orchestra pit.

Then there was the Ashley Cinema, which would, as the Echo said, “give Poole back its own local cinema again”. With 143 seats, it would be a “mini movie house”, showing popular films in the week, plus more specialised titles on Sundays and Mondays, and late features on Fridays and Saturdays. The Wessex Hall and Towngate Theatre were also equipped for film projection.

As well as these auditoriums, the centre boasted the Seldown Studios and workshops, the Longfleet Gallery on the top floor, the Canford Room for rehearsals, especially dance and movement, and four more conference rooms. There was a coffee shop and two restaurants.

Building the arts centre, opposite the bus station in Kingland Road, Poole, had been a £4m project.

There were 600 tonnes of structural steelwork, fabricated locally at JR Smith and Son’s works at Hamworthy. The company had secured the order in 1974 and worked on the project in 1975-76/.

Aish Electrical Contracting had installed the 10 miles of cable, 10 miles of conduit and trunking, 1,700 light fittings and 500 power points.

The centre was open for the public to see that spring, and performances took place straight away, but the first full season of programming was set for that September, once any teething troubles had been ironed out.

The project would receive a Royal seal of approval in March 1979, when the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh visited the town. Poole Arts Centre, along with Poole Pottery, was one of the key stops on the tour, with the Royal couple touring the Wessex Hall in front of an audience of school children.

The arts centre quickly repaid the faith of Poole council by becoming a popular success.

Many enjoyed the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, the Bournemouth Sinfonietta, or the busy programme of top-flight plays.

Others would enjoy rock and pop concerts, from The Who, Kate Bush and the Jackson Five in those early years, to Oasis later on.

But the building that seemed state-of-the-art in 1978 needed investment to keep it up to standard decades later.

In 2002, Poole Arts Centre to-opened as “Lighthouse, Poole’s centre for the arts” (with no “the” ahead of its name), sporting a light new exterior, and renovated inside. There were new titles for the individual venues that had originally taken their names from the local geography.

Now, in straitened times for arts organisations, it has won funding for another improvement programme to keep it in the forefront of the arts – and one that cost more than the original construction cost of the building in the 1970s.