East Sussex welcomed royalty this morning (October 17) as the Duchess of Cornwall officially opened a charity’s new £3.1million facility.
The Duchess, 72, visited Chailey Heritage Foundation’s new DREAM (dynamic, real, experiential, amazing, magical) Centre, at its North Chailey site, accompanied by her sister Annabel Elliot.
It was her second visit to the charity where their mother Rosalind Shand volunteered for 17 years – in 2013 she opened its Life Skills Centre.
Among those formally greeting the royal party was Lord Lieutenant of East Sussex Peter Field and Verena Hanbury, president of the charity and granddaughter of its founder Grace Kimmins.
Speaking of the new centre before the Duchess arrived, Mr Field said: “It’s stunning. Absolutely stunning.
“It’s a terrific facility. There’s so much hard work gone into putting it together.”
He added: “I’m absolutely delighted to be here and welcome her royal highness to Chailey again.”
Also welcoming the Duchess, were some of the children and young adults with complex physical disabilities and health needs that receive care and support at the charity – many sporting Union Jack Flags.
In the activity centre’s hall she met with staff and supporters and was able to watch a game of table cricket, an adapted version of the sport.
Sports development officer Al Carter, who has worked at Chailey Heritage Foundation for four years, led the activity and spoke to the Duchess.
He said: “She had lots of questions. She wanted to know what the game was, how we scored it, what the devices were.”
He added: “She was asking about how the different children access the switches, some were head switches, hand switches, leg switches.
“It was lovely to be able to explain that to her and for her to see it in action.”
Another highlight saw Chailey Heritage School pupils perform a colourful circus-themed show called Cirque du Chailey on the new centre’s stage.
The Duchess, who wore a green dress and jacket, then unveiled a plaque to formally open the facility and gave an impromptu speech.
She said: “Can I say before I leave what a huge pleasure it is to be back at Chailey again and also to be back in Sussex where my family and I spent so many happy years.
“As most of you know my mother was a volunteer here for 17 years.
“She loved this place, she loved the children, she loved the people she worked with and I know she would be so proud today to see that Chailey has gone from strength to strength and this amazing new dream centre is now in action.
“I know she’d also be very pleased to see that my sister and I have come back here again today to be able to open it, so congratulations to everybody who’s been part of making this wonderful centre happen.
“Thank you very much for inviting me here again to open it.”
In memory of their mother, the visit also saw the Duchess and her sister plant a crab apple tree in the courtyard.
Among the young adults the Duchess met was Toby, who wore a gold crown. On display in the centre, too, was a castle he had made in art class featuring members of the royal family, which the Duchess saw while signing the visitors’ book and described as ‘beautiful’.
Support worker Michael James, who has been with the foundation for four years, was with Toby. On meeting the Duchess, he said: “That was surreal. You don’t really expect these things or I didn’t expect this to happen.
“It’s fun when it does – so exciting for all the kids.”
Alec and Vicki Harper, who have been active in fundraising and raising awareness for the charity, also attended the celebration.
Their son Sam, 11, has the rare genetic condition CDKL-5 and has received one-to-one care at Chailey Heritage Foundataion since he was five. It is a condition that can see him have up to 30 seizures a day.
Speaking of the charity, Vicki said: “It’s incredibly important to us.”
She added: “They support not just teaching the child but support the whole family.”
She said the royal visit was ‘fantastic’, adding: “It’s a great honour. It’s great that she’s got such a local connection.”
Chailey Heritage Foundation launched its £3.1million fundraising appeal for the indoor sports and activity centre, which features a rebound therapy zone and immersive 4D space, in autumn 2016.
Development director Sally-Anne Murray, who has been responsible for the fundraising, said that the appeal really captured the community’s imagination.
“It’s surpassed all our wildest dreams,” she said on the new centre. “I knew it wouldbe good but I didn’t think it would be this good.”
On welcoming the Duchess, she said: “She’s really lifted the day and made it a very special occasion.”
“She’s got a really close affinity with the charity because of her mother and having grown up in Sussex.
“She’s been absolutely wonderful. It’s really made it a proper celebration at the end of a pretty amazing three years.”
Following opening the new centre, the Duchess visited Ditchling Museum of Art + Craft, on Lodge Hill Lane. The Duchess, who is president of the museum, met with staff, volunteers, artists and architect Adam Richard, who designed the museum. She also viewed its current typography exhibition Kitching in Ditchling: The London Series and its forthcoming exhibition Disruption, Devotion + Distributism.
Today marked the second time the Duchess has carried our royal engagements in Sussex this year. On May 16, she visited the Charleston Trust, in Firle, the then newly opened Lewes branch of children’s charity Jamie’s Farm, the East Sussex Women of the Year Lunch at the Amex Stadium, in Falmer, Ridgeview Wine Estate, in Ditchling.