DESPITE having lived on the other side of the world for almost 50 years, Irene Howell still loves Thurrock.

Even as she celebrated her 100th birthday in North Shore, New Zealand, surrounded by her family, Irene was checking the Gazette website to keep right up to date with what’s going on “at home”.

Of Grays today, Irene said: “My daughter Daphne reads the Gazette online and prints off news items of interest for me to read.

“I’m most interested to learn what is going to happen with the old State Cinema building after all this time. I would love to see that beautiful building remain as I have many memories of going there when my husband was alive.”

Irene emigrated to New Zealand in 1964 with her three youngest children Graham, Daphne and Haydn, after her eldest child, Maureen, went there with her husband and family.

She spent her Grays life in Belmont Road, working at the London Transport Garage in the town during the war years, and after that at Ford West Thurrock and South Ockendon.

Maureen went to Palmers Girls.

Her husband Watkin, who she met and married in Wales when she was young, died of cancer in 1958. Maureen and Graham have also died.

Great-grandmother Irene said she felt blessed to have such a loving, close-knit family of four generations.

She added: “In contrast to England, New Zealand was such a young country.

“The laid-back kiwi lifestyle and ocean views on the North Shore where we have lived still lift my spirits today.”