Saturday in Southend is quiet, and lacking in the usual buzz of a seaside town on a weekend.
Local MP, Sir David Amess, has been murdered and everyone is talking about it. People here seem to be seeking solace, or someone to share their grief, or better still someone to tell them this nightmare isn’t true.
Sky News surrounded itself with some of the people who knew Sir David best – the charities he supported and with the locals who credit the late MP with changing their lives for the better.
Sir David was the president of The Music Man Project, founded in Southend by David Stanley.
They had been close friends for 25 years and share a deep passion for helping children and adults with learning disabilities be creative through music.
“His big personality was what marked him out,” Mr Stanley tells Sky News.
“He would light up every room and he would come into the concert or a fundraising event for my charity, and immediately he would be spreading the word about how great the music is and what wonderful achievements people with learning disabilities can do through music.
“I’d often pass him a microphone for a speech at the end of a concert but he’d brush it aside and say ‘I don’t need that microphone!’ and he didn’t, he just bellowed enthusiasm and genuine passion.”
In 2019, Sir David helped a group of 200 students from the charity perform at the Royal Albert Hall and again at the London Palladium.
“David’s effect on students was enormous. He had this passion for what we were doing. He told the students that they could go to the Albert Hall and that we can all go to Broadway and do a concert tour of New York, which is our next dream.
“But when Sir David said it, they believed it, because it’s Sir David Amess, a knight of the realm, he’s an MP, he has great connections, he can open doors and he can get people to support us.
“So our families and musicians believed every word he said and everything he told them did come true, he was true to his word.
Proceeds from the sales of Sir David’s book Ayes and Ears, published in 2020, all went to three charities close to his heart, of which The Music Man Project was one.
Sir David was passionate about animal welfare charities too, serving as patron of the local RSPCA branch and supporting the local stables that run riding for the Disabled Association programmes.
The Belfairs Riding School is a short walk from the scene of Friday’s tragedy and was a place regularly visited by Sir David, and Fiona Smith from the stables fondly remembers his cheeky humour.
“He was a nightmare, absolute nightmare, he would just want to get in and meet the horses that you didn’t want him to be in with, he would just go and tap them on the backside, he was all over the place and absolute nightmare in the best way. But we loved him.
“He was always enthusiastic, always smiling, always energetic and whatever you asked him for he would try and oblige.
“I don’t remember a time where I ever saw him, that he wasn’t energetic and enthusiastic. There was integrity to what he did, he was passionate about animals, and he believed in animal rights.”
David Bowles from the RSPCA had been chatting to Sir David at the Conservative Party conference in Manchester a couple of weeks ago and having known him for almost 20 years, Mr Bowles understood the MP’s fierce love of animals.
“David was really passionate about two things. One was Essex itself, the other was animal welfare.
“Sometimes those combined – as he was president of the local RSPCA in Southend, he worked a lot with animal welfare in the area, but also did an awful lot in Parliament.
“One of his greatest achievements that he felt he did was passing a private member’s bill back in 1988 which improved tethering of horses, which he saw day to day in the Essex area.
Improving the lives of local people is also highlighted by business owners on Southend high street.
Joseph Strauss remembers a cause Sir David fought on their behalf for, when it felt like no one else would listen.
“Southend Council wanted to turn the road outside our shop into bus lanes and there’s hundreds of us and he fought for us.
“Otherwise all these shops up here, employing hundreds of people, would have been closed, and he even mentioned it in parliament.
Joseph’s son Nicholas also met Sir David a couple of times as their children were of similar ages.
“I met him on a personal basis, because his youngest daughter used to play football with my oldest daughter, we used to see him every so often watching his daughter play football.
“We knew him as such a charming man and decent man, no airs or graces, just a lovely man.”
There’s a sense of deep shock and sadness in Southend. The grief is swirling through the streets as the town remembers and mourns the loss of their MP – who was simply proud of doing his job.