The Duchess of Edinburgh pays ‘flying’ visit to Bedford charity

HRH The Duchess of Edinburgh at the King's Arms Project. Image: The King's Arms Project

Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Edinburgh flew by helicopter into Bedford yesterday (23 April) to visit a charity working with refugee women.

The Duchess landed on the playing fields at Bedford Modern School before visiting the King’s Arms Project for a tour and a visit to their English Language Club for immigrant and refugee women.

Arriving in style. Image: Bedford Modern School

She was greeted by The Lord-Lieutenant of Bedfordshire, Susan Lousada, and accompanied by Kirstie Cook, CEO of the Kings Arms Project.

Learners attend the English Language Club to provide them with the opportunity to gain independence and have everyday conversations that they would otherwise be unable to.

This includes talking to their children’s teachers, GP visits, or conversations in their local shop. The club is part of the King’s Arms Project
Refugee Resettlement and advice service and has grown into a strong family community.

Ms Cook introduced The Duchess to the Mayor of Bedford, Tom Wootton; Chris Kilroy (previous High Sherrif and Retired Deputy Lieutenant); Deputy Lieutenant (DL) Elizabeth Toogood, King’s Arms Project’s chair of trustees, Vanessa Lipski and Laura Church, chief executive of Bedford Borough Council.

“The learners attending our English Language Club today were so excited to meet The Duchess of Edinburgh,” said Christy, English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) tutor.

“They were keen to present her with a gift to take away as a reminder of her visit to the King’s Arms Project. As part of our sewing club, Community Threads, we made a spice bag for the Duchess. It’s been a day for them to remember.”

HM Lord Lieutenant Susan Lousada said: “It has been a pleasure to join Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Edinburgh today. The facility has created a safe space for individuals to grow in confidence and independence through education and has become an asset to our local community.”

Ms Cook said it was an honour to show The Duchess the facilities, although said it was, “rather surreal too, as the hall was the home to our Winter Night Shelter up until just a few weeks ago.

“[The visit was] a brilliant boost to everyone here supporting those who are displaced, building their independence and confidence to live a full life.”

Two of the service users described what the visit had meant to them including Zarifa who is originally from Afghanistan.

“I am very happy The Duchess came to visit,” she said.

“I like English Club. I come from Afghanistan; I can’t speak English. Friday club is very good for me for conversation. Before in my country never I go to school. I come to the UK, I go to school. Thanks for my teachers, Christy and Alessandra.”

Rasha said that the English Language Club had improved her confidence.

“I am happy The Duchess came to see us and she cares about us. It is good. English class is very important for me. It is the only class that give me confidence to speak.

“When I came to the UK because I have a different accent, I am afraid to speak. But they assured me it is okay to speak. I know a lot of things about the UK, about festivals, about habits, because before any festival we speak about it because we speak about culture. Make me catch up with my children because I know about it.”

Elizabeth Toogood DL spoke to The Duchess of Edinburgh about homelessness in Bedford saying: “Bedford has a disproportionately high number of people living in temporary accommodation, a significant number of whom end up being placed in Travel Lodges or Bed and Breakfasts, far away from their support networks with no facilities to cook or do laundry.

“I have long been an admirer of the work King’s Arms Project do to tackle rough sleeping, homelessness and isolation. Their willingness to step into the gap, be part of the solution and respect people by getting to know them and providing person-centred support is inspirational; it brings hope for a better way forward in our borough.”

On her way out, Her Royal Highness briefly visited the creche which allows the learners to attend the club knowing their children are cared for.

A team of multilingual volunteers runs the creche, including people we have come to know through their attendance at language club, giving back the benefits they gained from the King’s Arms Project.

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