Countess of Wessex opens play park, attends memorial reception & gala dinner on busy Wednesday

The Countess of Wessex had a full day on Wednesday, which included opening a play park, attending a memorial reception and additionally, a fundraising gala dinner.

Sophie started her day off with a trip to RAF Wittering, Cambridgeshire, in her capacity as Honorary Air Commodore, to open the new centenary play park for the village.

Sophie in Wittering (Photo courtesy of Royal Family)

The newly refurbished play parks throughout the village, were paid for by the Royal Air Force Benevolent Fund. This year marks the centenary of the fund, whose purpose is to provide real life support for all RAF personnel, including their families, as well as any veterans who may be in need. Through the generosity of the RAF Fund, a £196,000 grant was given towards the refurbishments of the parks, the largest grant given this year. Over £400,000 in grants have been given by the RAF Benevolent Fund since 2015.

Children from around the village created many imaginative and vibrant plans, which were used by Proludic UK in the design process for the parks. Included in the renovations are features such as climbing frames, zip wires, timber features and new surfaces. One of Proludic UK’s designers, Daniel Baxter, was instrumental in working with the children and helping to transform all of their unique ideas into reality.

Mr. Baxter expressed: “Their energy and sense of fun was an inspiration to drive the project forward with their creative ideas and drawing skills.”

As The Countess of Wessex arrived, she was met by over 200 pupils from the Wittering Primary School,  who greeted her with exuberant cheers, as she cut the ribbon and declared the park open. Sophie received a gift of flowers from one of the school’s students, Hannah Avery, who is also one of the members of the Airplay youth club.

The Countess of Wessex opens play park in Wittering. (Photo courtesy of Royal Family)

vSpeaking about the Airplay youth club, Mark Quinn, Regional Director shared: “Airplay is the RAF Benevolent Fund’s flagship youth support scheme, supporting thousands of young people living on RAF stations. We know life can sometimes be tough for military families, with parents being deployed and moving around regularly, that’s why the fund provides play parks like these.”

After opening the park, Sophie spent time meeting with individuals from the RAF Benevolent Fund, Proludic UK, and members from the RAF Wittering’s community team. Some of the children present discussed with the Countess the different ideas that they came up with for the parks and if they were pleased with the outcome.

Sophie was accompanied by Group Captain Tony Keeling, Station Commander at RAF Wittering. Of the Countess’ visit, Group Captain Keeling said: “It’s been an honour to have Her Royal Highness here with us today, these new parks are wonderful, and they can be enjoyed by all the young people who live in Wittering, they are intended for the whole village.”

Countess of Wessex in Wittering (Photo courtesy of Royal Family)

Countess of Wessex opens play park in Wittering. (Photo courtesy of Royal Family)

Additionally, he said: “For the last hundred years, the RAF Benevolent Fund has stood shoulder to shoulder with those who serve their country and has been helping personnel and their families in their time of need. We at RAF Wittering are exceptionally fortunate to have their support for this important project.”

Once back in London, in her role as trustee of the Jill Dando Fund, Sophie attended a 20th anniversary reception in memory of the late BBC presenter Jill Dando. Held at The Royal Society in London, friends, family and colleagues gathered to mark the anniversary of her death: Ms. Dando was shot outside of her home in Fulham, on 26th April, 1999, though the case remains open.

The Jill Dando Institute of Security and Crime Science was set up at University College, London, in the presenter’s name, posthumously. Some of the work that the institute focuses on is how to increase security and figuring out new ways to cut crime rates, drawing upon the experience from the many disciplines represented at the university.

A number of emotional tributes were paid to Ms. Dando throughout the evening and her former co-host, Nick Ross said: “The Institute of Security and Crime Science that was founded in her name, was a legacy of which those who knew and loved the presenter could all be proud.”

Furthermore, he said: “We all know there’s a blaze of publicity about Jill this month. Sadly, most of the attention is about the manner of Jill’s death. Tonight is about her life: it’s to celebrate her life and her remarkable legacy, a major department in a world class university that bears her name.”

Rounding out her evening, The Countess of Wessex made her way to Canary Wharf where she was guest of honour at the British Bobsleigh and Skeleton Gala Dinner. Organised by the membership committee, the gala’s aim was to raise funds to build the youth and Para-sections of skeleton and bobsleigh.

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\Additionally, the evening was a time to celebrate the upgrading of Britain’s four-man bobsleigh team from the Sochi Olympics to the bronze medal winners. Last month, the International Olympic Committee Executive Board confirmed the disqualification of the Russian teams in third and fourth place for doping offences and awarded the bronze medals to the British team. It was a wonderful way to publicly acknowledge the bobsleigh team’s incredible achievement.

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