The Duchess of Edinburgh visits the King’s Arms Project

The Duchess of Edinburgh visit

We were delighted to welcome Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Edinburgh on 23rd April for a tour and a visit to our English Language Club for immigrant and refugee women.

Mrs Susan Lousada, The Lord-Lieutenant of Bedfordshire greeted The Duchess of Edinburgh GVCO and observed: “It has been a pleasure to join Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Edinburgh at the English Language Club at King’s Arms Project 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.”

The Duchess was accompanied by Kirstie Cook, CEO, at King’s Arms Project who commented: “It was an honour to welcome The  Duchess of Edinburgh to King’s Arms Project. Rather surreal too, as the hall was the home to our Winter Night Shelter up until just a few weeks ago! A brilliant boost to everyone here supporting those who are displaced, building their independence and confidence to live a full life.”

Kirstie Cook introduced The Duchess to Mr Tom Wootton (The Mayor of Bedford); Mr Chris Kilroy (previous High Sherrif and Retired Deputy Lieutenant) and Elizabeth Toogood (Deputy Lieutenant); Vanessa Lipski (Chair of Trustees, King’s Arms Project) and Laura Church (Chief Executive, Bedford Borough Council).

Learners attend the 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.

The learners attending our English Language Club today were so excited to meet The Duchess of Edinburgh. 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!” said Christy, ESOL Tutor at King’s Arms Project.

These are the experiences of two learners in the English Language Club, in their own words:

Zarifa [pictured below] shared: “I am very happy The Duchess came to visit. 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.”

Reflecting on the visit Rasha said: “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.”

Kirstie explained the history of the King’s Arms Project to the Duchess: “We have three core services running alongside our work with refugees, focusing on supporting homeless people through Outreach, Supported Accommodation and Pathways Community. Taking people on a journey often the starting point is to build trust, guiding them in their new life off the streets, teaching new skills to employability and sharing tools to help them integrate into the community. With the Language Club this is through teaching English, but it’s so much more than that. It’s a thriving community with an energy of its own!”

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. It comes full circle!

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Bedford winter night shelter