Sun, 22 Sept 2019
PRINCESS Anne visited Prior’s Court as the Hermitage-based school celebrated its 20th anniversary.
The Princess Royal returned after officially opening the residential school for young people with autism in May 2000, a year after it had begun operations.
On this occasion she was joined by 150 dignitaries and guests who had played significant roles in the development of the school.
The Princess was welcomed by the school’s founding patron, Dame Stephanie Shirley, and went on to see the wide-ranging changes that had taken place since her first visit during a tour of the school.
She was accompanied by Prior’s Court chief executive Mike Robinson and members of staff.
She also visited The Seasons building, which houses a laundry, skills room, social hub and the activity centre, designed to help pupils’ development.
The Princess then looked inside Bread & Beyond, a ground-breaking commercial bakery, which provides vocational learning opportunities for young people with autism.
Following the tour, the party watched a group of pupils’ take part in a circus skills workshop and met parents, trustees and staff members in two big top-style tents specially set up for the event.
The Princess also attended the presentation of gifts to the director of care services and safeguarding, Sarah Butcher, and the centre’s health and wellbeing manager, Lynsey Preston.
Both have worked at Prior’s Court for 20 years. Debra Reid, whose son Peter was working in the bakery during the Princess’s visit, said: “It’s impossible to overestimate how thankful we are, as Peter’s parents, for all the effort and hard work Prior’s Court has invested in him over the last 10 years.
“Peter has made huge strides.
“Because of the range of expertise each of the practitioners have, he has managed to get to a position where he can cope with his anxieties and, in so many ways, thrive.
“We reflected on how far he has progressed. We are able to eat in a restaurant as a family and Peter is able not only to just cope with activities and holidays, but actually take delight in them.”
Mrs Reid added: “Prior’s Court has become a second home for him where he feels safe, secure and happy.
“He could not have been in a better place for such a formative period of his life. He has become a young adult of whom we are immensely proud.”
Mr Robinson said: “It was a huge pleasure to welcome the Princess Royal to our 20th anniversary celebrations and to show her how Prior’s Court has developed since 2000.
“We started off as a team of 28 supporting two young people and now we have more than 500 employees and 90 young people.
“What has remained the same since day one is our fundamental aim – providing young people with autism and complex learning difficulties the skills and tools they need to thrive, as envisaged by our founding patron Dame Stephanie.
“The Princess was hugely interested in how we go about achieving this aim and learning of the very real differences our practices make to the lives of young people here.”