A hole in a wall marks the first step in the project to build a new multi-million pound Hampshire arts centre.

Building contractors were on site at Ringwood’s Greyfriars Community Centre to create a hole in a listed wall that, along with resurfacing improvements and installation of services, will allow improved access to the community centre’s car park.

Also getting stuck in to the start of the work were Hampshire County Council leader Roy Perry, Ringwood Town and New Forest District councillor Steve Rippon-Swaine, members of the steering group behind the project, and enthusiastic supporters from Ringwood & District Community Association.

Hampshire County Council, along with the NFDC, has been helping facilitate the project with car park and land swap deals.

The work constitutes the ‘Meaningful Start’ to the £7 million Ringwood Arts Centre project and means planning permission for the centre – approved by New Forest planners back in February 2104 – will be fixed for the forseeable future.

A meaningful start appeal has so far raised almost £20,000 to fund the building work and ensure that planning permission - which normally expires within three years if a start is not made - did not lapse.

“We’re delighted to finally see a physical start to the project – a start that means we now have some breathing space to raise the money for this landmark project for the town,” said arts centre steering group chairman, Mike Osborne.

“It has taken eight years of hard work by our steering group volunteers and around £123,000 to gain permission and meet the many planning, environmental and highways conditions necessary to commence a large project like this, but at last we can say everything is in place,” he said.

‘All we need to find now is the money for the rest of the project.”

The proposed Ringwood Arts Centre has been designed by Ringwood architects Williams Lester and will include a 290-seat cinema and theatre, retractable seating to provide a flat floor for functions, exhibitions and conferences, as well as sports and art studio facilities.

The new centre will include:

Cinema showing new releases, film classics and live streaming of cultural and sporting events.

New theatre with the capacity to have more than 290 seats, and a backstage changing area for amateur and professional performances including live music acts

Range of meeting spaces to be used for clubs and societies, corporate functions and conferences.

Exhibition space and studios

A large hall for corporate events, dances, wedding receptions and dinners for up to 200 guests.

New sports hall with sprung floor for Judo, Yoga, table tennis and other sporting activities

A café and bar to be used throughout the day and for evening events.

You can find out more about the Ringwood Arts Centre, its fundraising activities and how you can help by visiting ringwoodartscentre.com and signing up for the regular newsletter or donating via ringwoodartscentre.com/donate.