EASTER’S wet weather was no way to greet the 40th anniversary of the building that transformed Poole’s cultural life.

But then, it was raining on the opening day in 1978 too.

Poole Arts Centre, now known as Lighthouse, was a £4million project to create the region’s biggest purpose-built cultural venue.

The Echo’s sister paper the Poole and Dorset Herald reported: “As the last murky hours of March passed wetly away, Poole’s new heart – the Arts Centre – throbbed into colourful, pulsating life as 1,000 members of Poole Lions Club and their guests took to the floor for their gala ball, the first-ever function to be held in the Wessex Hall.”

The Lions Club event was the biggest of its kind ever held in Poole, with hundreds enjoying the alternating bands of Acker Bilk and Vic Allen, and spring flowers from Poole Parks Department on every table.

The official commissioning of the Arts Centre came the next day, with comedian Leslie Crowther in the bar to pull the first official pints into an enormous pot made for the occasion by Poole Pottery.

The arrival of the Arts Centre gave the town a regional theatre and brought cinema back to Poole, as well as providing gallery and exhibition space, a restaurant and bars. It would also be the regional home of Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, which had already been pictured rehearsing in its new concert hall.

As the Echo reported: “The centre-piece of the whole Arts Centre complex is the Wessex Hall, a magnificent auditorium incorporating a unique lifting floor device.

“This system allows two quite different facilities to be provided alternatively within one shell.

“On the one hand, the Wessex Hall offers the amenities of a first class concert hall with 1,500 seats, a full-sized concert platform and acoustics that should be unmatched in the south of England.

“On the other, the floor change produces one of the best function and banqueting halls in the area with some 10,000sqft of clear space available for dances, banquets, functions, exhibitions, trade shows and so forth.”

That April 1, an Arts Centre-themed double decker bus arrived outside the venue. Leslie Crowther – whose production Crowther’s In Town would be the centre’s first summer show – was on hand to spray the vehicle with champagne.

Cllr Arthur Lloyd-Allen, chairman of the Arts Trust, used the opening day to hit back at those who had been critical of the Arts Centre project. He saluted former town clerk John Hillier and former architect Geoff Hopkinson for their efforts.

“They – and all of us – are only too anxious to make this centre the latest and greatest addition to the social and civilised life of Poole,” he said.

Over the next 40 years, the Arts Centre – renamed Lighthouse after a renovation in 2002 – would present a host of high quality touring theatre, while its pantomimes would draw many thousands to the town.

As well as the BSO, the concert hall would feature music from the Smiths to Oasis and from Kate Bush to the Who.

And the venue would be the centre for public meetings and election night dramas.

It lived up to the promise of that report describing it as the new heart of Poole.