MINUTES before meeting a real-life Princess, seven-year-old Amber Townsend practised her royal curtsy.
The Dorchester St Birinus School pupil and her classmates spoke excitedly about meeting Sophie, Countess of Wessex, who visited Oxfordshire yesterday.
- The Countess of Wessex is greeted by children of Class 3 at Dorchester St Birinus CofE Primary School
The Queen’s Oxford born daughter-in-law was in the county to celebrate the work of two charities and open a hospital unit.
At Dorchester Abbey the parade of pupils waved Union Jacks and cheered as the blue Range Rover pulled up.
The Countess helped bury a time capsule for fostering and adoption charity Parents and Children Together (PACT), marking 100 years since it was founded in Oxfordshire.
Amber handed the Countess two cookies for her own children, Lady Louise, 10, and James, Viscount Severn, six.
She said: “It was fun because I like the Princess and she looked very nice.”
PACT was founded in 1911 when the Bishop of Oxford donated £100 to start it.
Sarah and Tony Harris, from Goring, adopted daughter Nicheala five years ago.
Mrs Harris said: “She was only one and didn’t know what was going on, she didn’t understand and it was difficult at times because she was unsettled. But PACT really helped us work through it and still support us today.”
The Countess then visited the Warneford Hospital in Headington to open the £11m Highfield Unit, which treats 11 to 18-year-olds with mental health problems.
Teenager Tish Hedges, 19, spent three months at the unit struggling with depression when she was 14.
She helped to design the unit and spoke to the Countess about her progress – she now has an offer from Warwick University to study biomedical sciences.
Miss Hedges, from Kennington, said: “She was really down-to-earth and easy to talk to. It was great to be able to meet her and get that opportunity as a former patient.”
“The unit was hugely important. It is the skills you learn there and the confidence and support you get.
“You feel a lot less alone.
- The Countess is presented with an apron and a mug by Artwell at the Oxford Food Bank
Later the Countess was told about the work of the Oxford Food Bank provides for homeless and vulnerable people in Oxfordshire. The charity celebrates its fifth birthday this year after being founded by journalist Robin Aitken and businessman David Cairns in July 2009.
It provides about 8,000 meals a week to people in food poverty in the county.
The charity, based off Botley Road, West Oxford, collects food donated by supermarkets and wholesalers in Oxfordshire and delivers it around the county.
Mr Cairns said: “I could never imagine five years ago we would be here today, it has taken on a life of its own.
“It is fantastic to have the Countess here to recognise the work of our more than 100 volunteers. I never imagined the impact we would have on people across Oxfordshire.”
For 23 years Icolyn Smith – known as Ma Smith – has been cooking meals for the city’s homeless at the Asian Cultural Centre in Manzil Way, off Cowley Road. She said she has been able to help more people since the Oxford Food Bank started delivering fresh food.
She said: “It is a lifeline – some would surely die without it.”
The Countess of Wessex said: “I have heard from the charities how grateful they are for everything you do for them. It is amazing you can trust so many people to pull together and get on with the job for the love of it and the people they are helping.
“Thank you on behalf of all the people you are helping.”
The Countess was born at the Radcliffe Infirmary in Oxford in 1965. She married the Queen’s fourth child, Prince Edward, in 1999.