LOCALS lined the streets to greet a special guest on Friday (May 12) as Her Royal Highness Princess Anne made an official visit to the Forest.
The Royal interest for Foresters continued on from last week’s Coronation of King Charles III, with dozens of people lining up to meet or get a glimpse of his sister, The Princess Royal on their doorstep - quite literally for some.
The Princess embarked on a highly-organised tour of two of the Forest’s most prized developments, accompanied by Forester Roger Deeks in his role as Vice Lord-Lieutenant of Gloucestershire.
Her Royal Highness met with local councillors and dignitaries at a newly-built Coleford housing estate to celebrate the town’s twinning with Saint Hilaire de Riez in France, before visiting the successful AccXel Construction School in Cinderford to meet its founders, students, District Council Leader Tim Gwilliam and Forest of Dean MP Mark Harper.
The first port of call on the tour was to newly-built homes at St. Hilaire Avenue and Sion Place off Tufthorn Avenue, which were officially named in honour of the twinning.
There, the Princess Royal met with Coleford Mayor Cllr Nick Penny, who presented her to Lydney-based Gloucestershire County Council Chair Alan Preest and Forest of Dean District Council Chair Julia Gooch.
Cllr Preest described the Princess Royal’s visit as “great for the Forest of Dean”.
Cllr Penny walked Her Royal Highness around the development, where Monsieur Jean Marc Dubois, the Deputy Mayor for Culture and Heritage in Saint Hilaire de Riez, and Cllr. Marilyn Cox, the Chair of the Coleford Twinning Association, were presented to her, along with local residents and representatives from the developer, housing association and builder of the homes.
The Five Acres School Choir serenaded the Princess during the tour, while Cllr Penny also presented members of the Berry Hill and Drybrook Rugby Clubs who have been involved in exchanges, the Coleford Community Choir, who are set to perform in St Hillaire de Ruez next month, and members of both the Coleford and St Hillaire de Ruez Twinning Associations.
Monsieur Jean-Marc Dubois and Cecile Brasseur, a founder member of the Association Exchanges Franco Britanniques, unveiled the street names to officially cement the relationship between the towns.
Marilyn Cox, Chair of the Twinning Committee said: “It was fitting for Cecile to be involved in the naming of these streets as she was in attendance at the Planning meeting of the Town Council when the request for suggestions of street names was considered”.
Mayor Penny then made a short speech before the Coleford Community Choir sang both the British and French national anthems.
The Princess then unveiled a special Forest of Dean stone at the entrance to the development, commemorating the visit and the twinning.
Mayor Penny said: “The twinning between Coleford and Saint Hilaire de Riez is strong and productive and in just seven years we have already seen over 30 exchanges between the towns ranging from attendance at Civic and charity events, school exchanges, sporting and music tours.”
He added: “The twinning of our towns has brought strong personal friendships, with hardly a day passing when I don’t communicate with someone from Saint Hilaire.
“More importantly are the opportunities that it has given to our young people to experience the different cultures between the towns”.
Next, The Princess Royal headed to Cinderford to tour the town’s industry-led construction school, the AccXel Learning Centre, which is co-funded by the Government and Cinderford-based construction firm K W Bell.
There, she was met by Deputy Lieutenant Mrs Diane Savory, who presented AccXel’s Founder and Managing Director Nicola Bird, former Leader of Forest of Dean District Council Tim Gwilliam, Forest of Dean MP Mark Harper and Chief Executive Officer of the GFirst Local Enterprise Partnership David Owen.
She was then introduced to Managing Director of the K W Bell Group Peter Bell, Non-Executive Director and Governance Board Member of AccXel Yvonne Bell, Founder and Chairman of the K W Bell Group Keith Bell, and Operations Director of AccXel Natalie King.
Mrs King then escorted Her Royal Highness on a tour of the centre, where she met with graduates and apprentices and viewed demonstrations of their work.
The Princess Royal met with students undertaking a drawing lesson, headed ‘on site’ to get a look at students practicing their bricklaying and ground working skills, and even had a go on the centre’s state-of-the-art plant machinery simulators.
Then before departing, the Princess Royal unveiled a special plaque to commemorate her visit in the centre’s reception area.
The visit was the second time in a week that Mr Harper, as Secretary of State for Transport, had the honour of meeting members of the Royal family, having attended the King’s Coronation at Westminster Abbey earlier this month.
The MP, who worked closely with the AccXel team to secure Government funding for it, said of the impact of the Princess Royal’s visit: “I think it recognises something that I know as the Member of Parliament who gets invited to go and see local companies and local organisations - we have got some fantastic people and fantastic organisations here in the Forest of Dean.
“I know that, and it’s brilliant when it gets recognised more widely so that those who aren’t lucky enough to live here get to see that we’ve got some fantastic stuff to offer.
“It’s a great place for companies to come and invest and hire fantastic - and brilliantly trained - local talent thanks to organisations like AccXel.”
Leader of Forest of Dean District Council Tim Gwilliam, who was recently re-elected as a councillor in Berry Hill, said of AccXel: “When I took over as Leader of the Council in 2017, the Government released a study on social mobility for young people, asking them what sort of future they thought they had and whether they had to move away from where they lived to be successful.
“The Forest of Dean I think came 217th out of 220 odd, and I remember saying that when we finish, we need not to be, we need to be a lot higher.
“This place (AccXel) and places like it - Hartpury College and University and all sorts of partnerships with other businesses - is giving young people in particular hope that they can achieve their aspirations here.
“It’s not like it was 20 years ago - ‘where can I go to university?’ or ‘where am I going to go to get a job?’ - because it can be here in the Forest, and the Forest of Dean can really benefit from that.
“I think what Natalie and Nicola are doing here will end up going nationwide, but I expect that alongside our friends at Hartpury, they will go down as trailblazers for changing the future of the Forest of Dean, and I don’t say that lightly.”