#MondayMemories goes in search of the origins of Lighthouse... 

Long before Lighthouse acquired its name in 2002 – even before it opened as Poole Arts Centre in 1978, our iconic building owes its origins to a 1965 government White Paper catchily titled ‘Housing the Arts’. The first, and incredibly until 2016, only expression of Britain’s national cultural policy, it stated that ‘the enjoyment of the arts should not be regarded as something remote from everyday life.’ 

In seeking to make the best of the arts available in places where people could be both entertained and educated, it was met in Poole with a fair degree of enthusiasm. Indeed, within a year Council members suggested the vacant library buildings in South Road might be suitable, while the Guildhall as put forward as a picture gallery. 

Poole had needed a large hall for meetings and entertainment ever since it missed the opportunity to build a town hall at the Civic Centre in the 1930s and, although it had been considered as a site for a new police station, the corner of Kingland Road and Seldown Lane emerged as a contender for the town’s first arts centre. 

The idea was supported by the newly formed Poole College Music Society with a series of concerts by nationally known musicians, opening in October 1968 with a piano recital by Denis Matthews at which more than 100 people opted to become vice-presidents of the Society by booking for the rest of the season.  

A cultural commentator in the local press reckoned Poole had not experienced a musical offering as significant as this for as many as 20 years. (Clearly, they failed to foresee the future success of Cellar Club regulars like Robert Fripp, Greg Lake and Al Stewart, or that of Rod Stewart who played the Centenary Hall in 1965.) 

Preliminary sketches of the arts centre were made (pictured) and approved before Poole further asserted its cultural aspirations in 1970 with a week-long Festival of Arts and the unveiling of a statue, Aloe, by Barbara Hepworth in the College grounds. 

By 1972, a report concluded that the cost of building an arts centre would be a shade over £1 million, which included the Borough Engineer’s ingenious plan to devise a hall with raked seating that could be stored beneath the stage and dressing rooms to create a flat floor. 

A public meeting in April 1972 in the main hall at the Technical College was filled to capacity with 500 inside and another 200 people in two halls beneath connected by CCTV. It heard the proposed arts centre would be “a centre where you can watch a play or a film, listen to music, have a meal or a drink, paint a picture, practise your music, throw a pot, develop your holiday snaps or your interest in, say, local history, attend a dance or look at modern sculpture – all in one building.” 

The former Mayor, Arthur Lloyd-Allen, commended the proposal, saying: “True, no one has ever died through lack of art, but throughout history, civilised man has regarded art as adding a dimension to the quality of life.” 

When put to a vote, just five people opposed the plan, and following further discussions in Council and another Festival of Music and Arts at the College with excerpts from Shakespeare’s plays, a ballet exhibition, oboe, piano and harpsichord recitals and a concert by Bournemouth Sinfonietta, the scheme – significantly enlarged to accommodate the Bournemouth orchestras – was formally adopted at a second public meeting in October. 

Nevertheless, the arts centre endured a rocky road for a couple of years through a period of local government re-organisation and rampant inflation that saw costs rise to more than £4 million before Poole Arts Centre opened on 1 April 1978 to be hailed as “the most ambitious and imaginative complex of its kind” ever bult by a local council. 

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Published 26 April 2021