A DRIVE to turn a derelict seafront tram shelter into a space for disabled and community groups has taken a huge step forward.

Southend Council and the Tram Stop Project have agreed a lease for the building on Thorpe Esplanade, by the junction of Thorpe Hall Avenue.

Retired policeman Bob Craven, 66, came up with the idea to convert the space more than 18 years ago, and has been working towards giving it a new life ever since.

His vision is to make the site a seafront space where groups, including disabled day-trippers, can meet and take shelter from the elements.

Dozens of volunteers have helped come up with viable plans to take over the site and more than 70 community groups have said they will use it.

As part of the deal with Southend Council, the project will also take responsibility for maintaining the public toilets below ground level.

Mr Craven, of Marcus Chase, Thorpe Bay, said: “So many in our community have stepped up to the plate.

“It is a wonderful experience to meet so many kind people. We are not complacent.

"The hard work is not over.”

He said that surveys show that damage to the building means that much of it needs refurbishment, including the toilets.

He said: “These toilets are essential to the users of the Tram Stop Shelter and our seafront community, so our trustees have agreed to take these over.

“Fortunately, the outer walls and foundations of the lower building are solid and will last another 100 years.

The group is still trying to raise thousands of pounds towards paying for the refurbishments of the toilets and the rest of the building itself, and the contract on the shelter is yet to be signed.

The last tram stopped at the site in July 1938, after trams had been overtaken by buses as the preferred method of transport.

It was used as a changing room for bathers afterwards, but has been derelict for about 40 years.