A HOLLYWOOD actress who was born in Southend is backing an exhibition aimed at dispelling the negative stereotype of "Essex girls".

Dame Helen Mirren, who went to St Bernard's School, in Westcliff, has donated a pair of high-heeled teal blue shoes to the exhibition which is has opened at the Epping Forest District Museum.

Snapping the Stiletto is a two-year project by Essex County Council exploring how women’s lives in the county has changed since obtaining the vote in 1918.

It aims to dispel the outdated stereotype of the Essex girl and their white stiletto with stories of strong Essex women from across the county.

The stories will be shared through exhibitions and events around the county as well as online.

Accompanying Mirren's shoes are a pair of Penny Lancaster's heels and and BBC presenter Kate Silverton's shoes worn for the rumba in Strictly Come Dancing.

Speaking about the exhibition, project manager Pippa Smith said: “A lot of people were saying they were fed up of the Essex girl perception.

“We wanted to prove that amazing people do come from here. When people think of Essex it’s still the white stilettos and not bright. It needs to be challenged.”

Ms Smith said the project first came about after her colleague was gathering research on what to showcase.

To mark the opening weekend, visitors can make their own rosettes.

The Snapping the Stiletto website says: “2018 is the Centenary of the of the Representation of the People Act 1918 which gave the first British women the vote, the 90th anniversary of the Equal Franchise Act 1928 which gave all women the vote and the 50th anniversary of the Dagenham Ford Workers’ Strike.

“These important national and local anniversaries are serving as a catalyst to explore, record and celebrate the diverse and inspirational stories of Essex women.”

Ms Smith added: “There will be something for all ages. There will be clothes to try on, soundbites to listen to and things to read. It will be a good way for boys and girls to learn."

The project received a £95,445 grant from the Esmée Fairbairn Collections Fund to work with 11 local museums and galleries to explore their collections and uncover inspirational stories.

The display can be viewed at Epping Forest District Museum in Waltham Abbey from January 12 to March 16. Donations are welcome.

The exhibition will be heading to Southend on July 6.

For more information about the exhibition visit www.snappingthestiletto.com