Sophie, The Countess of Wessex, opened two mental health facilities in Gloucestershire on Wednesday. She opened the Pied Piper Room for Children and Families in Wotton Lawn Hospital. She also officially opened The Alexandra Wellbeing House, in Alexandra Road. She also met pupils attending the National Star College in Ullenwood.
At the Alexandra Wellbeing House, the Countess observed the support given to patients. The house is ran by Swindon Mind. With five bedrooms, the facility allows those recovering from a mental health crisis. They stay and are provided assistance to integrate back in to the community. It may also help them avoid a stay in hospital or help them after a hospital stay.
She spoke with both staff and residence, learning firsthand how the facility is assisting them.
Dr Donna Lovell, chief executive of Swindon Mind, told Gloucestershire Live: “The Countess’ visit went well.
“She was really interested in their stories and what they had to say. That went down really well.
“She was very interested in mental health and different models of mental health. She was very much interested in the idea of a wellbeing house.
“She said she thought it was a lovely environment and she felt it was a very welcoming home.”
The next facility the Countess opened was the Pied Piper Room. Designed to be a place where children and families with loved ones in hospital, the room is partially funded by the Gloucester-based charity, the Pied Piper Appeal.
The welcoming space was created in conjunction with the Gloucestershire Young Carers. They were assisted by young people who either have mental illness themselves or have relatives who do.
Ruth FitzJohn DL, chairman of 2gether NHS Foundation Trust, discussed the pride she and the staff had to show the Countess their facility: “Both facilities have been developed to support people affected by mental health conditions in our county, in partnership with local charities.
“We are very proud to be able to show Her Royal Highness the work being carried out here in Gloucestershire, and introduce her to some of our staff, partners, service users and carers.”
To conclude her day, Sophie toured the National Star College campus near Cheltenham where she met dozens of students. The college just received the royal seal of approval for enabling those young people with disabilities to have a “limitless life” rather than a “life with limits.” She met staff and supporters of National stars charity at their 50th anniversary celebration.
The foundation has come a long way from supporting only ten students. Fast forward 50 years, and National star helps over 1,000 people throughout England and Wales with learning and other disabilities.
Two lucky students who had the opportunity to meet the Countess were Georgie Williams and Megan Luscombe. The two girls were the physiotherapy department.
“We talked about Georgie and Megan going skiing in Andorra and the Countess asked if the girls enjoyed the apres ski social,” Joanne Cherrison, physiotherapy assistant told the Gloucestershire Live.
“When we said that Georgie’s favourite cocktail was a ‘woo-woo’ the two of them started laughing and the Countess asked Georgie how she drove her chair after a couple of cocktails.”
Sophie took off her heels and got down on the floor with student, Richard Cadbury during his therapy session. David Ellis, Chief Executive of National Star spoke of her empathy and compassion: “The Countess was wonderful with the students. She took time to stop and chat with so many of them and understood that some of the young people have very different ways of communicating.”
19-year-old student Alisha Williams had the distinct pleasure escorting the Countess around the campus. “The Countess asked me if I had physiotherapy and that once a year we should turn it around and the students run the physiotherapy treatments for the day.”
National Star is also staging an art exhibition featuring work by the students. Their pieces are in the performance and creative arts.
Connor Boswell, a student, described what it was like when the Countess sat beside him to admire what he was working on: “She said what I was doing very nice which was very humbling.”