Grays

As an up and com­ing com­muter town with the prom­ise of huge new in­vest­ment, Grays is en­joy­ing some­thing of a re­gen­er­a­tion, dis­cov­ers Pe­tra Hornsby

Essex Life - - CONTENTS -

Blue sky think­ing in this up and com­ing town

Grays is the largest town in the bor­ough of Thur­rock, sit­u­ated in the very south of the county and just two miles from the M25. Re­cently rated as be­ing one of the county’s best com­muter towns, Grays is en­joy­ing some­thing of a re­gen­er­a­tion. A train to Fenchurch Street Lon­don takes just 35 min­utes and hous­ing is con­sid­er­ably more af­ford­able in Grays than in the outer bor­oughs of the cap­i­tal, mak­ing it a pop­u­lar des­ti­na­tion for peo­ple look­ing to set up home close to the City.

An­other at­trac­tion could be that half

of Thur­rock’s land space is des­ig­nated Green Belt and Grays even has its own beach de­scribed as a, ‘great and free safe place to spend time with young chil­dren’ on Tri­pAd­vi­sor.

It is also home to Chaf­ford Gorges, an idyl­lic na­ture re­serve which is per­fect for those want­ing to en­joy a walk among wildlife with ge­o­log­i­cal in­ter­est too. The place is a re­minder of the area’s in­dus­trial past and serves as a con­trast to the var­i­ous as­pects of modern in­dus­try that are very much present in this part of Es­sex.

From the 18th cen­tury right up un­til the late 1950s, Chaf­ford Hun­dred was a quarry site for bricks, gravel and chalk. Flint was a by-prod­uct of this in­dus­try. It was used in mor­tar and, in later years, ce­ment pro­duc­tion. The 200-acre na­ture re­serve now fills the site and is home to bats, newts, var­i­ous birds and fea­tures grass­lands, ponds, mead­ows and wood­land. It is re­port­edly one of the best places to spot king­fish­ers in the county and has nine species of orchid, in­clud­ing the bee orchid. The re­serve also has des­ig­nated path­ways that are ideal for cy­clists and walk­ers too.

A more hid­den gem is the Es­sex Fire Mu­seum, which is sit­u­ated at Grays Fire Sta­tion. The mu­seum of­fers a valu­able, hands-on ex­pe­ri­ence which ap­peals to peo­ple of all ages. Young chil­dren and big­ger ones (dis­guised as par­ents!) will en­joy look­ing at the old fire en­gines on dis­play and might even get a chance to sit in them and try out the flash­ing lights and sirens too! The ex­cite­ment doesn’t end there as there are fire hel­mets to try on and even the chance to use a wa­ter hose. There are many items of equip­ment on dis­play that have been used through­out the ages on dis­play, demon­strat­ing the changes in fire­fight­ing tech­niques and the brav­ery of fire­fight­ers. Dis­plays in­clude doc­u­ments, uni­forms, pho­tos and, of par­tic­u­lar in­ter­est are arte­facts with ref­er­ence to World War II.

Thur­rock Mu­seum is an­other

‘Up un­til the late 1950s, Chaf­ford Hun­dred was a quarry site for bricks, gravel and chalk’

great venue, pop­u­lar with school par­ties but great for any­one in­ter­ested in lo­cal his­tory. Ex­hibits show sev­eral finds of re­gional sig­nif­i­cance in­clud­ing mam­moths from Ave­ley, pre­his­toric flint tools, Ro­man pot­tery and Saxon arte­facts. There are also dis­plays of items from the Mid­dle Ages that were dis­cov­ered in Grays. Ev­ery sum­mer, the mu­seum or­gan­ises out­door fam­ily friendly her­itage ram­bles, ideal for dis­cov­er­ing more about the area and, with 239 listed build­ings and 15 build­ings of ‘ac­knowl­edged na­tional im­por­tance’, there is clearly much to dis­cover.

One of the area’s largest hous­ing de­vel­op­ments is built around the Chaf­ford Gorges. Chaf­ford Hun­dred is home to many res­i­dents oc­cu­py­ing the 5,600 flats and houses that have been built there since 1989 on 353 acres of brown­field land. There is also a dis­creet rail­way sta­tion con­nect­ing the pop­u­la­tion to Lon­don, Grays and Southend, bring­ing peo­ple in to visit the pop­u­lar re­tail fa­cil­i­ties of Lake­side.

For res­i­dents want­ing to get in­volved in the arts, there are many op­por­tu­ni­ties it seems to paint, act, sing and play in­stru­ments, along with groups for those in­ter­ested in lit­er­a­ture, film and pho­tog­ra­phy. A great re­source for find­ing out more about these or­gan­i­sa­tions and where they meet is art­sthur­rock.co.uk

The Thame­side The­atre is pop­u­lar with those want­ing to en­joy per­for­mance rather than par­take in it and, through­out the year, a var­ied pro­gramme of cin­ema, the­atre and mu­sic is on of­fer with some­thing to suit all tastes. In De­cem­ber, the the­atre will be putting on Al­addin, a pan­tomime to ap­peal to the whole fam­ily which this year has, in its star­ring role, Dan Os­borne, a Celebrity Big Brother fi­nal­ist and Es­sex boy.

The town cen­tre it­self is all set for a makeover, de­signed to cater for the town’s grow­ing and di­verse pop­u­la­tion, as well as sup­port­ing lo­cal busi­ness. Plans are be­ing put in place to make the town a ‘qual­ity des­ti­na­tion for peo­ple to live, work, shop and so­cialise’.

Back in Fe­bru­ary 2017, it was an­nounced that over £10 mil­lion had been awarded to Thur­rock from the Lo­cal Growth Fund for the Grays South Project.

It is es­ti­mated that more than 1,500 houses will be built and more than 1,600 jobs cre­ated as a re­sult of the in­vest­ment.

De­vel­op­ments will in­clude the build­ing of new homes, new shops, a the­atre and restau­rants as well as the cre­ation of a new river­side area as an at­trac­tion for both res­i­dents and vis­i­tors.

Im­proved re­tail fa­cil­i­ties will pro­vide wel­come job op­por­tu­ni­ties and bet­ter rail con­nec­tions will help foot­fall into the town cen­tre.

Safety con­cerns sur­round­ing the ex­ist­ing level cross­ing will be ad­dressed by the build­ing of a pedes­trian cross­ing un­der the rail­way.

At the time, the leader of the coun­cil, Cllr Rob Gled­hill, was quoted as say­ing: ‘Our plans to im­prove the bor­ough for res­i­dents have re­ceived an­other stamp of ap­proval from gov­ern­ment. It will give our com­mu­nity a town cen­tre they can be proud of and want to use reg­u­larly.’

Cabi­net Mem­ber for Re­gen­er­a­tion, Cllr Mark Cox­hall, added: ‘It is clear that projects such as these make Thur­rock an even more at­trac­tive place to live and work. Com­pa­nies look at Thur­rock and can see the ex­cit­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties avail­able to them and want to be part of it. The re­gen­er­a­tion of Grays is a key part of our plans to im­prove Thur­rock for gen­er­a­tions to come.’

The coun­cil are also work­ing with the Ed­u­ca­tion and Skills Fund­ing Agency on pro­pos­als to build three new schools in Grays. These in­clude a 140-place all-through school for chil­dren with autism and moder­ate learn­ing dif­fi­cul­ties. Tree­tops Spe­cial School will be built on the site of the Tor­rells County Sec­ondary School for Girls in Bux­ton Road.

Build­ing on the town’s dis­tinct his­tory and cul­ture, and with the coun­cil’s clear com­mit­ment to its re­gen­er­a­tion pro­pos­als, it would seem that the fu­ture is look­ing rather rosy for Grays.

‘The town cen­tre it­self is all set for a makeover, de­signed to cater for the town’s grow­ing and di­verse pop­u­la­tion’

ABOVE RIGHT: Rede­vel­op­ment is set for GraysBE­LOW: Chaf­ford Gorges by Pe­ter Bow­den

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