WHAT a difference a year – and £2.3million – can make to a derelict building and the lives of Southend’s homeless.

Builders have finished transforming the derelict former Darnley Hotel, in York Road, into charity Harp’s new 24-hour homeless centre, the Bradbury Centre.

Exclusive photos taken by the Echo as work started last May and when the 18-bed hostel and day centre opened this month show the amazing transformation of the landmark building.

Shaun Hickton, site manager for contractor AW Hardy and Co, said: “It has gone really well. It has been a lot of work. Everything went to plan.” 

Southend Standard:

BEFORE: Mr Hickton, Harp chief executive Gill Garwood and project manager Nicky Houston in the former hotel basement

Southend Standard:

AFTER: Volunteer co-ordinator Alison Williams and volunteer Anne Young in the basement laundary room after work was finished

Completion marks the end of Harp’s ten-year hunt for new premises.

A decade ago, chief executive Gill Garwood started planning a revamp of its day centre in Valkyrie Road, Westcliff, and 16-bed hostel further up York Road.

Harp obtained planning permission in 2009 to rebuild its Valkyrie Road centre.

But the recession meant almost overnight the cost of this vision doubled and made the project impossible.

Southend Standard:

BEFORE: The former dance hall of the hotel, looking through to the former bar

Southend Standard:

AFTER: The bar area transformed into the homeless day centre canteen

Various properties in Southend and Westcliff were considered until Harp development manager Nicky Houston discovered the Darnley Hotel.

Southend Council granted planning permission for the new location in August 2011, but the Homes and Communities Agency asked for changes to the plans before agreeing the key £650,000 grant.

Work started last March, but faced further delays after contractors uncovered asbestos and a family of foxes in the 19th century building.

Homeless people finally moved at the start of this month and the charity hopes the centre will help eradicate rough sleeping in Southend by 2018.

For details, visit www.harp southend.co.uk