CHARMOUTH Heritage Coast Centre's lucky number came up this week when it was awarded a massive Heritage Lottery Fund grant to make major improvements at the site.

The centre, hailed by many as a beacon site on the World Heritage coast, will receive £189,000 towards comprehensive extension work.

And the award is a first for the Jurassic coast since it was designated by UNESCO as England's first natural World Heritage Site.

Heritage Coast Centre chairman Bob Burcher told the News: "This is the start of an exciting period in the life of the centre. To say we are thrilled is an understatement."

Mr Burcher also said the lottery grant was an endorsement of the excellent work that the centre does and that its work would now continue to flourish The planned overhaul will cost an estimated £350,000 and will include improvements including:

 Extra display and exhibition space  A classroom for educational and interpretative work  Improved access for the disabled and those with walking difficulties  Heating to enable the centre to stay open in the winter months

Charmouth parish councillor and chairman of the Foreshore Committee Mike Hendrick said: "It is going to be a great asset for the village and other things will now follow in terms of improving the built environment down at the front."

Based at the heart of the Jurassic coast, the centre delivers an essential part of the geological and geomorphological story of the world heritage coastline.

Billed as an education and interpretation centre, it exists to help increase knowledge of the coastline in a manner that will help its future well being and encourage responsible fossil hunting amongst its visitors.

Among its many exhibits is a 190 million year old Scelidosaurus - a dinosaur that was probably unique to the Charmouth area and was discovered in Charmouth by local fossil hunter David Sole.

Nerys Watts, Heritage Lottery Fund manager for the South West said: " We are thrilled to support this project which will enable more people to learn about and appreciate this wonderful part of Dorset and will encourage visitors throughout the year."

Opened in 1977, over 67,000 visitors experienced the centre in 2002, including 5,000 children on educational trips and over 4,000 took part in one of the popular public fossil walks along the beach at Charmouth.

The centre is a registered charity and operates a free admissions policy.

Three full time wardens and two undergraduate placements run the centre alongside a friends association of over 200 who help in staffing the shop and information points.

*The centre will also receive substantial support from the Fine Foundation, an American trust set up to support art and education. Director of the foundation Sybil Fine-King, who lives near Poole, has put the foundations name to the proposed new classroom.