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