As the charity’s patron, the Duchess unveiled a commemorative plaque in the café and congratulated staff and volunteers on their hard work during difficult times in keeping the centre and services open.
“It’s very impressive,” she said.
Founders Janice and John Ranger joined Ann Boughton-Leigh, whose late husband Charles was a founding partner, at the official opening last Wednesday.
Special guests also included High Sheriff of West Sussex Neil Hart, Worthing mayor Lionel Harman, Worthing West MP Sir Peter Bottomley and West Sussex County Council vice-chairman Sujan Wickremaratchi.
Ferring Country Centre provides day services for adults with learning disabilities. It opened in 1986 with a staff of six and just 12 young people, working in the stables and horticultural area. Today, 120 people with learning disabilities visit the centre every week and are looked after by a full-time equivalent staff of 49.
There are working opportunities in a wide range of activities, in the stables and indoor riding school, at the garden centre, on the farm with a large variety of animals and now at the spacious café.
Hannah Tombs, chief executive, said: “The café has already made a huge difference, turning the centre into a destination venue.
“During the summer, it generated more income in one month than in the whole of a previous year. This income can be reinvested into the organisation for the benefit of those with learning disabilities.”
The latest project has provided a covered walkway through the horticultural area to a new visitor centre and shop.
The café has an indoor children’s play area and two terraces, one overlooking the horticultural area and the other overlooking the outside children’s play area. It can seat more than 100 people and replaces a potting shed and greenhouse, which housed the original small café.
Bob Rogers, chairman of trustees, said: “Our principal mission is to provide meaningful training and work experience for our day service adults so they can develop work and social skills in a safe, supervised and supportive environment.
“As a secondary objective, our facilities are open to the public so they can enjoy what we offer and they can see and support our charitable activities.
“To do so, we need the very best facilities to ensure the atmosphere here is stimulating and empowering for all who attend.”
He said improvements over the years had included better riding therapy equipment, better classrooms, a wet room and sensory room, IT suite and small multi-use pavilion. A farm and children’s play area had been created and the car parking improved.
Mr Rogers thanked West Sussex Country Council for funding to support the day service customers but stressed that building projects and improvements at the centre were funded by the generosity of local people and businesses in the form of donations, legacies and fundraising.
Mrs Tombs shared with guests the charity’s Covid story and explained the impact the pandemic had on people with learning disabilities. She showed a video of interviews with three centre attendees in which they talked about the effect of the pandemic on their lives.
She said: “As an organisation, we have had to make decisions and changes to what we do that 18 months ago would have been totally unthinkable.
“We have had to respond to the needs of those we support throughout this time in an agile manner, adapting to an ever-changing situation.”
The Duchess of Norfolk arrived with her young dog and took the opportunity to visit her two ponies, Mango and Pixie, which are kept at the centre.
The centre’s next project, a woodwork workshop, funded by the charity Wooden Spoon, will be officially opened on Friday, October 22, by England rugby player Joe Marler.