Caroline Davis reports on plans to add a seat of learning to Southend's deckchairs
It was Queen Victoria's favourite seaside resort and has the longest pier in the world, but now Essex University is hoping that Southend-on-Sea will also become well known as a seat of learning.
The university has bought the disused Odeon cinema onSouthend's High Street and is planning to turn it into the focal point of a £75 million campus for thousands of undergraduates.
Richard Lister, the university's head of external relations, said: "Southend is the UK's largest urban conurbation without higher education. It has been identified as an area needing enormous development at all levels of education."
"It will become an educational and cultural centre for the Thames Gateway," he added.
The cinema building will be integrated with the adjacent South East Essex Further Education College campus.
Mr Lister said the development would help the university's widening participation programme.
Essex already accredits the degrees of about 800 students at the college who are studying for courses developed in conjunction with industry. These courses are predominantly in business studies, media production and design.
Mr Lister said that the campus was expected to generate "substantial and significant" growth of student numbers and would allow expansion into health studies.
In addition, he said the university would collaborate with Southend Borough Council to extend its business services with a Business Innovation Centre, also located on the High Street.
The cinema purchase has been funded by the Thames Gateway Initiative and the East of England Development Agency.