THE sun shone for Prince Edward’s visit to Tweeddale, as His Royal Highness officially opened the £1.7million Newlands Centre in Romanno Bridge.
Dressed in a smart suit, The Earl of Wessex was in relaxed mood throughout the day, having earlier arrived by helicopter to visit the Eastgate Theatre in Peebles.
He then flew to Romanno Bridge to unveil two plaques for the opening of Newlands Centre and to mark his visit to the adjoining primary school.
His visit heralded the end of a prolonged but ultimately successful campaign to save Newlands Primary.
The 70-pupil school had been earmarked for closure as part of a consultation by Scottish Borders Council in 2003, but a local campaign group drew up an initial idea for a new centre to provide modern facilities for both the school and surrounding communities in Upper Tweeddale.
Lottery and European funding was then secured to allow construction of the building, which includes a large sports hall, kitchen, dining area, conference room, IT suite and nursery. The school was also renovated as part of the scheme.
Major John Currie, director of Newlands Community Development Trust, described Prince Edward’s visit as fabulous.
He added: “This has been a five-year project, working closely with the council.
“Here we are today with a brilliant facility. The centre is vibrant, it is working and the community love it.
“There was previously a small community hall which served the community well. However, it was dated and couldn’t deliver what this facility can deliver.
“Prince Edward was delighted and impressed with the centre.”
“Very excited”, “Very nervous” and “Great to see his helicopter” were among the comments from pupils who welcomed the prince by waving miniature Union Flags.
The children later performed A Song for Newlands, specially written for visit of the Queen’s youngest son.
Principal teacher Mary Morrison added: “The opening of the centre has given us access to a new gym hall and dining room, which allows cooked meals to be made, whereas previously the food was brought in by bus or taxi.
“It has also meant we have had a refurbished school with bright colours in every classrooms.”
Prince Edward, who travelled without wife Sophie, was treated to a short scene from Twelfth Night, performed by Shakespeare at Traquair, while at the Eastgate.
The amateur group is currently performing a full version of the comedy in the grounds of Traquair House until Saturday.
Nine-year-old Jocelyn Vandenberghen has already chalked up five Traquair appearances and was part of the cast who entertained Edward.
She said: “It was really good and the weather was great for his visit.”
Fellow young thespian Charlotte Miller Stuart added: “I really enjoyed it.”
Shakespeare at Traquair director Richard Forsyth said: “It (performing in front of Prince Edward) raised their game and made it even better than their usual high standards.
“We were probably invited because of Prince Edward’s theatrical background and he seemed quite interested. He was laughing away, which is always encouraging.
“The first Shakespeare at Traquair programme which Richard Nisbet ran with Catherine Maxwell Stuart and Judy Steel was to raise funds for the Eastgate.
Mr Forsyth added: “There has been a close connection between the Eastgate and Shakespeare at Traquair and we would like that to be even closer.”
Anne Younger, wife of the Lord Lieutenant of Tweeddale, Captain David Younger, helped kick-start the plan to turn an old church into an arts venue in the 1990s, with the Eastgate eventually opened its doors in 2004.
She said: “At the time, the only facility in Peebles was the Burgh Hall, but we managed to secure lottery grants and European money to build the Eastgate.
“We have had highs and lows but it seems the Eastgate is now on a level footing, with Alistair Moffat and Jeremy Purvis both involved.”
A total of 62 pupils from Peebles High also met the prince to discuss the benefits of the Duke of Edinburgh Awards, founded in 1956 to develop young people’s skills for work and life.
Among them was 17-year-old Mark Robertson, a gold award holder, who is set to attend Edinburgh University in the autumn to study medicine.
He said: “It was an unusual experience doing a presentation to Prince Edward. The Duke of Edinburgh Awards have proved very worthwhile.”
Jenny Changleng, expedition co-ordinator at Peebles High, told us: “It is really nice for the pupils to see someone from the highest level in the country have a personal interest in their Duke of Edinburgh Awards.”