IT is 40 years ago today that Poole residents were first allowed through the doors of their big new regional arts venue.

Poole Arts Centre – now called Lighthouse – cost £4million to build.

It was described by the Echo on its opening as “the most ambitious and imaginative complex of its kind” ever built by a local council.

Its concert hall, home to Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, would also host stars from Michael Jackson to the Smiths, while the theatre would welcome thespians including Sir Ian McKellen to Sir Anthony Sher.

In 1978, the Echo praised the Wessex Hall as a “magnificent auditorium incorporating a unique lifting floor device”, which enabled the 1,500 seats to be replaced by a flat surface. Other memorable concerts in the early days included The Who, Wham! and Kate Bush, and it would later host Oasis.

The Towngate Theatre gave the town a 600-seater venue, while the Ashley Cinema marked the return of films to the town after the closure of its high street venues. Films could also be shown in the concert hall and theatre.

Locals enjoyed free tours of the venue on its opening, with some performances taking place straight away, but the first full season began once teething troubles had been dealt with that September.

The venue received a Royal visit in March 1979, when the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh visited and listening to a BSO rehearsal in the presence of an audience of school children.

The venue underwent extensive renovation in 2002, bringing with it the name change to Lighthouse. Another, £5.3m makeover took place in 2015, largely improving the backstage facilities to ensure it could continue to attract top performers.

Staff turned out this week in 1970s costume to mark the venue’s four decades.

The centre has been showing some of the big films of 1978 at their original ticket prices, with Watership Down playing today, Close Encounters of the Third Kind tomorrow, The Last Waltz on Tuesday, Death on the Nile on April 4 and Saturday Night Fever on April 5.

Lighthouse’s most recent annual report showed the centre selling 171,315 tickets, with 14,000 people visiting for the first time. Volunteers gave the venue 2,144 hours of their time.