Countess of Wessex visits Keele University

HRH Royal visit 400

HRH The Countess of Wessex with, from L-R, Annette Aylen, Trevor McMillan and Pauline Hanrahan

Posted on 09 March 2017

Her Royal Highness the Countess of Wessex has visited the North Staffs Asperger and Autism Association (NSAAA) for their members’ afternoon tea at Keele Hall, Keele University, Staffordshire.

The Countess, who is the patron of the National Autistic Society, spent time meeting members, volunteers and trustees of the charity, along with Keele University staff whose work is centred around Autistic Spectrum Conditions.

As part of the visit, The Countess of Wessex met with families from across Staffordshire, who have all benefitted from the support offered by the NSAAA. In addition, the Countess joined in with various group activities, including a card game with teenage members, an arts and craft session and a LEGO-building game with some of the younger members.

Ashley Rooker, who presented Her Royal Highness with a bouquet of paper flowers handmade by younger members of the group, said:

“I was a bit nervous, but it was good, and I talked about my school badge - it’s the team captain badge for my school.”

HRH with Ashley

HRH The Countess of Wessex with NSAAA member Ashley Rooker

Ashley’s mum, Michelle Rooker, commented:

“Ashley has been nervous but excited about meeting The Countess of Wessex. We’ve been members of the NSAAA for about 12 months, and it’s been great for Ashley and the whole family. School can be isolating for someone with autism, and the groups and activities at the NSAAA are very inclusive - it allows him to take part in activities he wouldn’t normally be able to, and we can often all join in as a family.”

Along with the bouquet, The Countess was also presented with a necklace and bracelet crafted by members as part of the afternoon’s activities.

HRH group


HRH The Countess of Wessex taking part in activities

Speaking at the event, Her Royal Highness The Countess of Wessex said:

“Thank you so much for such a lovely visit, it’s been a joy to meet some of you today. You’re providing a wonderful service to these families, so please keep on doing what you’re doing. I hope that the charity does indeed go from strength to strength, as it clearly deserves to.”

HRH Smiling

HRH The Countess of Wessex

The NSAAA was established in 2002, and was awarded the Queen's Award for Voluntary Service - the highest award given to volunteer groups across the UK - by the Lord-Lieutenant of Staffordshire, Mr Ian Dudson CBE CStJ in 2015.

Annette Aylen, Chairperson of the NSAAA, said:

“It was wonderful to have HRH The Countess of Wessex pay us a visit today and to recognise the work we do for our members who have an Autistic Spectrum Condition, their parents and carers.  Our staff and volunteers provide a wide range of expertise which is invaluable to families and professionals as well as providing a much-needed environment to help our members to socialise and avoid isolation.”

Lisa Snape, a member and volunteer for the NSAAA, said:

“The NSAAA has really been a lifeline for us. We became members when my son Kyle was diagnosed with autism when he was four - he’s 18 now. We attend lots of events and meetings, and it’s helped Kyle’s self-esteem and confidence so much.”

Kyle, who will be starting university later this year, added that one of the many benefits of being a member is getting to connect with friends:

“It’s the understanding that you’re not alone. There’s always somebody you can connect to, somebody you can relate to.”

The Countess also met with Keele University’s Vice Chancellor Professor Trevor McMillan, along with teaching and support staff from the university.

HRH with Keele team

HRH The Countess of Wessex with, from L-R, Professor Trevor McMillan, Ali Botrill, Jo Miller and Dr Donna Berry

Dr Donna Berry, a lecturer in Psychology who researches Autism Spectrum Conditions, discussed the work she does with local schools and the police to increase understanding of autism. Dr Berry commented:

“I was fortunate to be able to speak with HRH the Countess of Wessex about my work and was impressed by her insight into the issues affecting people on the autism spectrum, and by her genuine warmth and compassion for this often marginalised group.”

Jo Miller, Deputy Director of the Keele and North Staffordshire School-Centred Initial Teacher Training (SCITT), also spoke to The Countess about her work at Keele. Mrs Miller commented:

“We discussed the importance of Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND) in Initial Teacher Training, in particular, our new Primary Pedagogy and SEND course which starts in September 2017.  This course is being developed in partnership with the SCITT and local special schools in order to meet a need for teachers with this level of training in mainstream and special schools.”

The Countess also discussed the University’s Disability and Dyslexia Support service with Keele’s Disability Manager, Ali Bottrill.

Pauline Hanrahan, Treasurer to the NSAAA, said of today’s event:

“It has been such a huge honour for our small charity to have had a visit from a member of the Royal Family. We hope that our charity will continue to go from strength to strength in our 15th year. We hope that HRH The Countess of Wessex enjoyed meeting us as much as we enjoyed meeting her.”