THE original Towngate Theatre opened in Basildon in September 1968 and ever since , has remained a focal point for the town’s community.

These pictures from Echo’s archive chronicle some of the theatre’s ups and downs over years.

Originally called the Arts Centre in Towngate, Basildon, the old Towngate was officially opened by Lord Goodman, chairman of the Arts Council of Great Britain.

Built as a temporary theatre at a cost of £100,000, and seating 500, it was renamed the Towngate Theatre and Arts Centre in January 1976 and ended up lasting a further 12 years before the new building replaced it, as part of the Basildon Centre, in April 1988.

The new theatre was bigger, offering a main auditorium and a second, studio theatre, offering the chance to put on smaller-scale shows alongside those on offer in the bigger space.

Less than four years later, however, in 1992, the theatre was threatened with closure, sparking a colourful protest rally pressing for the theatre to remain open.

Beset by financial difficulties, the theatre did eventually close, only fully reopening in 2006.

However, since then it has gone from strength to strength, serving as a venue for everything from comedy and panto to serious drama and live music – and of course, the Echo’s annual Basildon Business Awards ceremony.

The theatre has also seen its fair share of real-life drama, since it has been the venue of choice for public meetings on contentious issues when a large turnout is expected – and the place when politicians’ fortunes have been made and un-made at election time.

The Towngate is the place where the votes are counted and the results are announced for local and general elections.

A £1million scheme was announced in 2012 to smarten up the theatre and help to continue entertaining the town for many years to come.