HRH The Princess Royal meets students at Livability Millie College

by Helen Barnes // October 16 2023

Have you ever met a member of the royal family? This week, some 200 Livability supporters, staff and students, did just that when they were invited to Livability Millie College to celebrate the college’s remarkable first year. Excitement was high – we take you behind the scenes for a snapshot of a royal visit.

Livability is honoured to have HRH The Princess Royal as our patron, who gives considerable time and energy to ensuring recognition and publicity for the charity’s work. Over a year ago, at a City event for supporters, Livability CEO Sally Chivers announced the opening of Livability Millie College. The princess had since expressed an interest in seeing progress, so the date for a first-year anniversary visit was set: Monday 9 October 2023.

A ‘recce’ ‘team visited weeks ahead to plan a workable programme for the nearly two-hour visit. The princess’ programme was planned: arrival at 11.55; meet and greet local dignitaries and Livability senior staff; an extensive site tour (fingers firmly crossed for good weather), followed by an anniversary rose planting by the princess, and an opportunity for her to meet guests.

Come the day, the weather was astonishingly fine, with sunshine and clear skies. Dozens of people were on site early, preparing refreshments in a large marquee, readying the various points around the college where students would be talking to Princess Anne about their learning and experience at Millie – and in the case of the police, doing final security checks with an enthusiastic sniffer dog. The princess and her party were to travel by helicopter, landing in a large field close to the college campus. Guests and princess alike had been instructed to wear stout shoes, as the campus is spread around grassed areas.

Future pathways

Student Tyler was on car-parking duty, directing traffic around the site into a field behind the marquee. Grabbing a quiet moment, Tyler described what his student experience has been like: ‘I loved it from the start. It’s everything – it’s freer and more grown-up than school, and you get to try everything you want.’ Tyler said he knew just one person when he arrived ‘but I made a best friend on my first day’.

Gaining catering and hospitality skills is part of the college’s enterprise curriculum, preparing students to be ready for the world of work, as they move into adult life. As the princess arrived, students Joe and Brandon were getting ready to show the princess their sandwich-making skills, in one of the classrooms. Starting her tour, the princess chatted to the students about what they were preparing and found out about their favourite fillings.

Such is the enthusiasm for catering – and eating – amongst Millie students that a Friday breakfast club has become a favourite weekly fixture. Sparked by Tyler, who enjoyed making special breakfast orders for individuals, the club developed into an ‘all welcome’ venue. Student groups take weekly turns to host and serve food, and to be customers.

Says enterprise manager Annabelle Pearsall: ‘The catering part of the curriculum allows students to learn some of the skills we all need in life, like safety in the kitchen, excellent hygiene standards, healthy eating and following instructions such as a recipe to get the end result.  Students get the opportunity to try many different areas of enterprise and find out what they really enjoy. We then develop those skills further over their time at Millie College and help them to create their future pathway.’

The tour continued, with the event photographer keeping ahead of the party as the princess was shown the many outdoor learning opportunities, including horticulture in the gardens and greenhouse, conservation activity, and animal husbandry work including four rescued goats, sheep and chickens.

The princess heard about the need for funds to create more classrooms – student intake has already doubled and more places are in demand – as well as a new sensory boardwalk, the need to extend the car park as student and staff numbers grow, and an equine therapy programme, based at the stable yard, which is awaiting renovation.

Sensory and therapy

The princess also learnt of generous donations Livability has received so far in the last month to our Livability Millie College fundraising appeal to help us create a sensory aquarium for students; and a plant nursery and kitchen garden for student planting, growing, creating our own food and produce to consume and sell in the future.

Working with animals is something three students named on the day as a favourite activity. For Charlotte, being around the college’s sheep and rescue donkeys is a highlight; Tyler loves building on his considerable experience with rescue animals, and Marnie named building a hide for watching wildlife as an activity she loved ‘and we saw robins’. If Tyler’s first career choice of joining the army does not work out, he says he would love a job with animals: ‘I’ve been passionate about them since I was three.’

Back at the marquee, guests were ready to meet the princess, who chatted to supporters, students and staff. Tyler was in the line-up: ‘I was a bit nervous but I shook hands. She asked me about the college and how it was and I told her it was brilliant.’

Speeches followed: the princess commented that places like Millie College are rare, the college is a setting where everyone benefits from their experience and it provides young people with disabilities with a wide variety of environments and routes to employment. She also noted that there is more to be done, which needed further investment.

Then it was time for the princess to fly off to her next engagement of the day, leaving guests to refreshments and the chance to further explore activities around the campus. Using his electronic talking aid, Brandon summed up what he feels about being at Millie College: ‘I’m happy. It’s a good place to learn and it feels safe. I love seeing all my best friends here.’