A huge Southend city centre store which has sat empty for almost three years is set to be transformed soon.

One of the Royals Shopping Centre’s most-loved shops, Debenhams, shut its doors for the final time in May 2021.

It first opened along the High Street in March 1988 and quickly became a firm favourite with residents and daytrippers visiting our seaside city (then a town) for the major shop.

Online fashion firm Boohoo acquired all intellectual property assets of Debenhams from its joint administrators in January 2021.

However, the £55million takeover did not include the purchase of its shops.

This led to tearful scenes inside the Royals when staff and shoppers said goodbye to the chain for the final time.

Now the former shop is being transformed by the Utilize Project to create a new bustling home for small businesses and organisations to flourish and grow.

The idea of the initiative is to give small businesses from different retail sectors the opportunity to grow, expand and have a place to trade.

A shortlist of 10 companies has been drawn up, including plus size female fashion brand Dearcurves, which has been featured in Vogue and Elle, after the team forged a partnership with the Royals in June.

It had been due to open on August 4, but it had been revealed there was a setback and the opening has been pushed back. However, bosses have stressed it will open at "some point this year". 

While we await the unit opening up for shoppers again, we have delved into the archive to rediscover a selection of photos from Southend's former Debenhams through the years.