Lighthouse tributes to Ruth Eastwood

RUTH Eastwood, who steered the run-down Poole Arts Centre to a new life as the nationally renowned Lighthouse, Poole’s centre for the arts, died suddenly after a short and unexpected illness on 31st May. She was 62. Lighthouse staff, led by current chief executive Elspeth McBain, have expressed their shock and sorrow and paid tribute to her inspirational leadership.

There have been many tributes to Ruth from across the arts and theatre world – she was described as a visionary, praised for transforming the fortunes of Blackpool Grand Theatre between 2013 and 2022, and the Theatres Trust, of which she was the new theatres adviser. A spokesman for the Trust told the BBC: “Ruth has had such an impact across the theatre sector and we know hundreds of colleagues will be mourning her loss.”

Elspeth McBain said: “Ruth’s passion for Lighthouse and her impact on the organisation was huge – the cultural life of Poole and the wider region owes much to her drive and vision.”

During 11 years at Poole, from 1997 to 2008, Ruth took on the then run-down Poole Arts Centre and turned it into the much-loved and successful multi-arts centre which is now one of the most respected venues in the south and west. She was backed by the local authority and the Arts Council, both of whom remain fully committed.

Her varied career in the arts included posts at Hull Truck Theatre Company, the National Theatre, Bradford Theatres and as hHead of arts and culture for Darlington Borough Council. She was also chief executive at Blackpool Grand, Curve in Leicester and Darlington Civic Theatre and Arts Centre.

In February, she took up a new position as theatres adviser at Theatres Trust, having previously served on its board for nine years and as vice-chairman for the last six years.

“Ruth was hugely respected and much loved in the theatre world,” says Elspeth McBain. “She achieved so much and had a positive influence on so many. What a legacy.”

Artist and broadcaster Sally Winter, a former Trustee and Lighthouse deputy chairman paid a touching personal tribute online to her dear friend: “Professionally awesome, but personally even more so – feisty, funny, hilarious at times, principled and hugely intelligent, steering a compassionate path through life. She was an enduringly loyal friend to me and mine. Our paths met as she bounced in to her interview for the post of CEO at the former Poole Arts Centre. She shone then and on as she steered the rebuilding and rebranding of what is now Lighthouse Poole.

“During my time as a Trustee it was awesome to watch her love of theatre and the arts infuse the building and the staff, establishing a solid relationship with the Arts Council while mentoring and fostering talent within. Her particular skill was to nurture and develop, to make huge and necessary changes without losing existing skills, but absolutely having an eye for new ones – if they didn’t always believe in themselves; she did. You may not have heard of her, but quiet women like her move and change things and take others along with them.

“Watching her work and build was inspirational and instructive as a professional, but her honesty, generosity and irreverent humour were the things that sustained our friendship beyond the Lighthouse years until the present day. It has been an enormous privilege and joy be her colleague and friend.  My dearest Ruth, along with so many, I will miss you always.”

Ruth’s husband Roger McCann has advised that, according to her wishes, there will not be a funeral. There will be a celebration party later on in the year.

Photograph by courtesy of Blackpool Grand Theatre.