A UNIQUE centre for same-sex couples who want to have children is to open.
Danbury couple Barrie and Tony Drewitt-Barlow will run the British Surrogacy Agency, which will be the first of its kind in the country.
The centre will operate from Chandlers Quay, Maldon, and will also have offices in San Francisco, where the couple spend a lot of time.
Local jobs will be created by the project, which is set to open in late January.
Barrie Drewitt-Barlow said: “The centre will focus on all things surrogacy-related and will be the first centre of its kind in the UK.
“Its aim is to bring together intended parents with egg donors and surrogate, along with sperm donors, and offer legal advice from qualified legal professionals.
“I will be responsible for the assessment of intended patients and the assessments of potential egg donors and surrogates, and for helping with all legal documentation to allow each couple to bring home their baby to the UK.”
According to Mr Drewitt-Barlow, the company is already employing “several” local people, the number of whom will increase as it grows. It will have a web presence at www.thebritishsurrogacycentre.com which is set to launch this week.
The couple made history 11 years ago when they were named on the birth certificate as parents to twins, Saffron and Aspen, who were born to a surrogate mother – the first same-sex UK couple to do so.
They now have five children having fathered another set of twins, Jasper and Dallas, last year and have another son, Orlando, who is seven.
Barrie Drewitt-Barlow was pleased to hear Elton John and his partner David Furnish became parents over Christmas.
The couple’s baby boy was born to a surrogate mother in California, after they tried unsuccessfully to adopt an orphan in the Ukraine last year.
Mr Drewitt-Barlow said his and his partner’s parenthood has paved the way for other gay couples to become fathers.
He said: “Tony and I never set out to be trail-blazers in any way whatsoever. But we are happy many people over the years have followed in our footsteps.
“It’s even better to know celebrities like Elton have done the same thing now. It’s positive news for gay parenting.
“The more high-profile the people using surrogacy to start their families, the more mainstream it becomes.”
The substantial press coverage given to the pair over the years has raised awareness of the issue of surrogacy.
Barrie, 41, a businessman from Danbury, said: “Elton and David will not have the same issues as we did.
“Like any first, we have taken most of the criticism and the flak which will make it easier for anyone else taking this pathway to parenthood.
“There are many gay parents now in the UK thanks to the measures we took more than a decade ago.
“The awareness to gay parenting is 100 times higher now.
“Elton and David will be amazing parents. I just wish they would adopt me!”
He added society is now more tolerant towards gay parents, but “there is a long way to go”.