WORK has begun to build a charity's first dog rehoming centre in Essex – more than five years after its plans to come to Brentwood were scuppered.
VIPs of all shapes and sizes came out in force last week to celebrate the commencement of construction work on the Dogs Trust's state-of-the-art new facility in Nevendon Road, Wickford.
Managers at the charity had previously attempted to open a rehoming centre at Putwell Bridge Farm, near Brentwood's Brook Street roundabout, although that plan was turned down by Brentwood Borough Council due to its size and impact on the Green Belt.
Former The Only Way Is Essex star and dog lover Amy Childs was the most high-profile of around 100 guests at Wednesday's sod-turning ceremony.
She was joined by Basildon Borough Council leader Tony Ball, Wickord and Rayleigh MP Mark Francois, and Dogs Trust chairman Philip Daubeny – and rescue dogs Basil, a five-month-old Akita cross, Don, a five-month-old Labrador cross and Lionel, a two-year-old lurcher cross.
The rehoming centre is set to open in 2014 and will care for around 1,000 stray and abandoned dogs every year.
Mr Daubeny said: "We hope that this is the beginning of a long relationship with Essex .
"We have been looking for a site for ten to 12 years and it has been a long slog. Basildon planning has been superb and the site is excellent with great visibility."
The rehoming centre will have 69 class kennels, a dedicated training and rehabilitation area, exercise paddocks and runs, a training barn and a grooming suite.
Brentwood beautician Miss Childs, 22, told the Gazette: "It's great news that Dogs Trust is coming to Essex as it's such a good charity and one which I want to support. I have three dogs and they're my life – they are like my babies and I wanted to bring them along today.
"I'm completely behind this project and want to be involved as much as I can.
"I'm an animal lover and have always been around dogs since I can remember."
The centre, which will be the Dogs Trust's 21st facility, will create 30 new jobs such as managers, canine-carers, training and behavioural staff and maintenance workers.
Dogs Trust chief executive Clarissa Baldwin said: "This is a very exciting event and this fabulous site has been a long time coming.
"Over the next few years we hope to get to know the people of Essex better.
"On September 14 next year we will be holding an information day in Basildon where we will talk about job opportunities and hope to employ 30 people, as well as finding volunteers."
Mrs Baldwin added: "Last year, there were nearly 8,000 stray dogs collected by local authorities in the Anglia area, so our new centre is very much needed.
"We hope to be able to rehome 1,000 dogs a year at Dogs Trust Essex, so the future is looking brighter for dogs in the region."
Mr Francois said: "This is a day for celebration – what attracts me to this charity is its firm policy that they never put down a healthy dog.
"Lots of constituents are interested in animal welfare and this is a considerable investment in the area."
Kirsty Nunn, Louis Lee, Olivia Church and Tom Morris from West Horndon Primary School joined in the celebrations wearing hard hats and wellies.
Teacher Julia Bolton said: "The children are very excited and I think there are lots of dogs that need homes and this place will make sure that they get those homes.
"Our school had a charities enterprise scheme and this year they chose the Dogs Trust, who gave an assembly at the school."
Davis Harrison, the chairman of Shotgate Parish Council, added: "People in my area are very pleased.
"I have dogs myself so I'm very happy. It's much better than having another boot sale"