5 Big Questions taken to N. Ireland and Scotland by Duchess of Cambridge

Continuing her work to spread the message about the 5 Big Questions campaign, The Duchess of Cambridge visited Newtownards in Northern Ireland today, before taking a flight to Aberdeen.

Kate headed to the Ark Open Farm outside Newtownards, about 10-miles away from capital Belfast. Upon meeting the owners and staff, the Duchess was taken on a guided tour.

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The Ark Open Farm opened in 1990 as one of the first open farms in Northern Ireland. Having initially specialised in rare breeds of farm animals, the farm has now developed a number of play areas and activities for children.

During her visit she met representatives of local charities helping children and their families, and was in her element with youngsters outside.

Chatting to parents, the royal visitor heard about people’s opinions on the survey and bringing up children.

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One parent joked that the kids were disappointed because ‘they thought you were going to be wearing your crown’, to which the Duchess responded: “I know, I’m really sorry!”

“You know,” Kate told the children, “Charlotte and George will have been very sad to not have come and met you, and see this really cool farm.”

The visit followed on from the mini-tour a couple of weeks ago, in which Catherine spent time in Birmingham, Cardiff and Surrey, to promote the survey she launched on early years development.

Kensington Palace announced today that there had been more than 200,000 responses to the 5 Big Questions survey, making it the largest of its kind. A statement said: “Over the last eight years I’ve had the privilege of meeting people from all walks of life, facing all sorts of challenges. What has struck me most is that so often the challenges people face in later life, whether mental health, homelessness or family breakdown – can so often be traced back to experiences in their earliest years.

“It prompted me to delve deeper into the early years landscape and learn more from the experts, the scientists and the amazing people providing services on the ground. But now is the time to get the views from everyone in society.

“I wanted to hear directly from people across the UK and it’s great to have been able to talk to people in Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales and across England about their experiences. I want to thank the 200,000 people who have filled it out because each and every response will help show us what society really thinks about raising the next generation. I am excited to hear from even more people before it closes on 21st February.”

Inside, Catherine got friendly with an alpaca, and also had the chance to feed a lamb and pet a guinea pig with children.

The Duchess of Cambridge pets an alpaca in Northern Ireland (Kensington Palace)

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One unexpected visitor, however, was Sophie the corn snake! Owner of the farm Stewart Donaldson explained that he had been warned The Duchess of Cambridge wasn’t keen on meeting this type of animal in particular, but snake handler Sophie Wrigglesworth said the Royal insisted on holding the animal.

The visit had not originally planned to bring the snake out to Catherine as they had been advised she had a fear of them, but she got stuck in and held it.

“She’s got the most amazing skin,” Kate shared with the children. “This is the first time I’ve ever held a snake like that. How cool is that?”

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A tortoise was also brought out to show the little ones.

Over a cup of tea, the future Queen spoke to parents and grandparents about early years and children’s development, especially in relation to the 5 Big Questions survey.

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Outside, the Duchess unveiled a plaque to mark 30 years of the farm being in action.

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It was then to the plane for a journey to Scotland, where the Duchess touched down in Aberdeen. Catherine headed to the Social Bite café, which is a chain of five cafes as social enterprises. Social Bite distributes food and hot drinks to people experiencing homelessness; The Duke and Duchess of Sussex have visited in the past.

Inside, and with a quick change of jacket and shoes, The Countess of Strathearn, to give the Duchess her Scottish title, met and spoke to employees, volunteers and customers who have been homeless about how early childhood experiences can have a lasting impact.

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The Duchess helped to prepare meals in the kitchen at the cafe, which was chicken wraps today. Kate put on an apron and gloves for the task with Matt Thomas, 49. Matt was homeless five years ago but now works in the cafe full-time.

Mr Thomas said: “She made you feel very much at ease very quickly. She’s very interested in you as a person and finding out what your experience is.

He joked as they finished off the job: “You can come back and help me tomorrow.”

He chatted to the royal visitor about how Social Bite helped him and others who find themselves homeless.

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Catherine speaks with volunteers, employees and customers at Social Bite, who want to end homelessness (Kensington Palace)

“Making the wraps was actually really good fun, having something to do. I make them every day but I think hers was better looking than mine.”

He added that given the royal family member’s busy schedule it was “just magic” for her “to take time out and speak to us”.

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Those in the UK can take part in the #5BigQuestions survey until 21st February here 5BigQuestions.org.uk

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