The Duke of Cambridge spent #999Day in Devon today, celebrating the important work of our emergency services and the charities supporting the individuals and families working on the front line of our communities.
Prince William visited Harcombe House in Devon, one of the three UK residential centres run by The Fire Fighters’ Charity, where he met with members of the Blue Light community alongside crisis volunteers. The Fire Fighters’ Charity assists thousands of serving and retired fire service personnel and their families in time of need, and empowers individuals to achieve mental, physical and social wellbeing throughout their lives. The centre has just undergone a £1.8 million refurbishment.
William met serving firefighter Dan Bills and his three children, Joshua, Mia and Isla, who showed off their artwork to William during an art therapy session. The Duke of Cambridge noticed a unicorn made from colourful balls and said to the children: “My daughter loves unicorns. Loves them. Very cool!”
On the topic of mental health, Dan told the future King, “It’s changed in the last 10 years. If you went to an incident that was difficult it was barely spoken about. People don’t hesitate now, there’s no shame now.”
Dan and his family have been visiting the centre for the past 8 years after struggling with Joshua’s autism diagnosis.
Speaking on the important work of the blue light charities, William said, “What I always find with the blue light community is that you put the hat and the uniform on day in day out and you see whole families torn apart. You try and compartmentalise, you try not to bring it back to your own family, but after a while one or two jobs catch up with you.
“If the blue light community can be more open about the things that bother them, then others can as well. We are not robots and, if you are in the emergency services for long enough, you see really distressing things. All that weighs upon you, and if you have something going on at home – family, illness – it all gets on top of you, too many things to keep a lid on.”
The Royal served four years as a search and rescue pilot in the RAF, before spending two years with the East Anglian Air Ambulance. The Duke has previously spoken of the dark nature of some of what he has seen, which gives him unique insight into these emergency roles.
Richard, 70 from Tiverton, uses a wheelchair after having both legs amputated due to the illness; he said after William’s visit, “You can tell he’s a family man, he’s a natural. What a gentleman. I never thought I would have to show the future King of England my legs! If you don’t speak out, nobody is going to know. The things you see, the things you do. They do a fabulous job here.”
The Duke of Cambridge then visited Shout UK, the crisis support organisation.
Shout UK launched their partnership with the emergency services to provide 24/7 crisis text support to frontline emergency responders, retired or serving, and their families at any time to be connected to a trained and supervised Crisis Volunteer.
When chatting to volunteers, the Royal revealed his plans to train as a volunteer counsellor for Shout; he said: “I’m aiming to set myself up for it, I really want to do it. Even if I can only do an hour on my laptop. I want to do the training and be able to help.”
Making a speech later on in the day, The Duke of Cambridge said, “As a society, we owe our wellbeing, and indeed our lives, to the men and women in our emergency services to work tirelessly to protect us in some of the most difficult circumstances.”