WORK to demolish a former convent and replace it with retirement apartments will finally begin on Monday. 

Developers were given approval in March last year to replace Nazareth House, in London Road, Southend, with 144 retirement apartments in two four-storey buildings.

But nine months on, no work has started. 

A spokesperson for demolition firm Shorts Group confirmed crews will begin to dismantle the building early next week. The process is expected to take up to 18 weeks.

The former care home at Nazareth House closed in 2020 after 147 years.

David Garston, Conservative councillor responsible for housing and planning, is “very pleased” to hear progress is being made.

He said: “It’s really good news.

“I think it was the right thing to do by granting planning permission as the building was empty and becoming derelict. We do need housing.

“But it’s sad to see such a historic building go.”

“I do like it when people get planning permission and get on with things. It’s a city-centre site with so much opportunity.

Mr Garston did raise concerns over the graves on site, and the chapel housed within it.

However, the floor of the chapel at the centre of site will be salvaged, along with the doors.

He added: “The sensitive part is the graves, as they’ve got some ancient ones there, and the chapel.

“I am reassured they’re going to reuse the materials, but I would like to know where they’re going. I hope they stay in the city as they’ve got historic value.”

Echo: An artist's impression of how the completed development will look.An artist's impression of how the completed development will look. (Image: McCarthy Stone)

Site manager Ben Milward said: “I’m sure a lot of people are excited that it’s kicking off.

“Crews will start by stripping the roof tiles off and removing asbestos. Once the roofing materials are salvaged, mechanical demolition will begin later in the week or a couple of weeks.”

However, Mr Millward says the public should not expect to see bulldozers or wrecking balls rolling into the site.

He said: “We use 360-degree excavators with rotating grabbers to dismantle the building. We don’t use wrecking balls or things like that anymore.”

It is hoped construction will begin once the site is cleared, thought to be in June.