POOLE’S arts centre is about to turn 40 with an appeal for the public to share their memories.

Now known as Lighthouse, the venue was originally Poole Arts Centre, and celebrates its anniversary on April 1.

Lighthouse is seeking memories, anecdotes and memorabilia for a project that will preserve its history for future generations.

The venue is the largest regional arts centre in the UK, and has hosted famous names from Sir Ian McKellen to Michael Jackson, and from Bruce Forsyth to Wham!.

Sara St George, head of sales and marketing at Lighthouse, said: “We shared some old postcards of the newly-opened Poole Arts Centre on our Facebook page and were amazed at the number of stories and memories that it triggered for our customers.

“So many people had a story to share – appearing on stage, meeting celebrities or even working here. It made us realise just how significant Lighthouse is to people. We started to wonder what other stories we could uncover and realised that we had a responsibility to record and preserve them before they were lost forever.”

The campaign to build an arts centre started in the 1960s, with Poole council leading the effort to address a lack of cultural venues.

The £4million Poole Arts Centre opened in 1978. It housed the 1,500-seater Wessex Hall concert venue, with a unique lifting floor; the 600-seat Towngate Theatre and the 143-seat Ashley Cinema. There were also the Seldown Studios, Longfleet Gallery, and Canford Room for rehearsals, as well as further conference rooms, coffee shop, bars and restaurants.

The public were admitted that spring, with the first full season starting that September. The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh gave it a Royal seal of approval in March 1979. Over the following four decades, it became a part of countless people’s lives.

The concert hall boasted acts including the Jacksons, the Smiths, Kate Bush and Oasis.

The theatre hosted countless productions featuring luminaries from Sian Phillips to Sir Ian McKellen, and from Antony Sher to Juliet Mills. And it became part of countless children’s lives through the town’s hugely popular pantomime.

Still more people know the venue as the place they took part in a community performance, or public events such as election night counts and public meetings.

So far, the Lighthouse team’s hunt for memorabilia has unearthed a collection of scrapbooks and autographs put together by a former stage door keeper at the arts centre, early staff newsletters and a copy of the competition run in the Poole Herald in 1978 in which readers were invited to name the building.

Funding is being sought for an archive film project that will collate all these memories to mark the 40th anniversary.

Anyone with story or memorabilia to share is asked to email info@lighthousepoole.co.uk