By Emma Duncan

EAST Lothian played host to a distinguished guest as the Princess Royal made a special visit to the county.

Her Royal Highness Princess Anne paid a visit to Leuchie House, the respite care centre near North Berwick which offers respite breaks for people with a variety of long-term conditions as well as their carers, last Thursday.

The Princess Royal previously visited Leuchie in 2013 and launched the ‘Leuchie Forever Fund’, a new fundraising initiative for the charity, of which she became patron. She also visited in 2016.

On her latest visit, the Princess – who was described as a “lovely lassie” by one guest – was greeted by Mark Bevan, chief executive, and Bob Brannan, chair of the fund, and taken to meet Leuchie’s guests, staff, supporters, patrons and trustees.

The meeting was held in Leuchie’s lounge, with a series of paintings hanging on the walls created by Rachel Mylne, who had turned 85 two days prior to the royal visit.

Money raised by the Leuchie Forever Fund had allowed the lounge to be redecorated, and when hanging the paintings on the wall a signature from the 1800s, a mark from a previous painter, was discovered.

On her arrival at Leuchie, Princess Anne first met some of the guests and their carers. She asked questions including “How did you find out about this place?” and “How long have you been coming here?” She listened to their stories and the difference Leuchie had made in their lives.

Moving on to the trustees, donors and patrons, she was interested in hearing how they had discovered Leuchie and how they had become involved in the charity.

Among those present was Scottish rugby legend Gavin Hastings, who is also a patron of Leuchie.

Describing his involvement in the charity, he said: “It’s a great place to come along and it’s great to support the work that they do here because they do such great work – not just here in Leuchie but all over Scotland.”

After meeting the Princess, many praised her humour and willingness to take the time and talk to everyone, listening to their stories. Others mentioned how hardworking and well-briefed she was and how much she knew about Leuchie.

Regular guest Iain Elder described the Princess as “a lovely lassie”, while others praised her interest and passion for the charity.

Jim Maxwell, who is the primary carer for wife Jane, a guest at Leuchie, said of his conversation with the Princess: “She asked where we lived and how we managed to find Leuchie House. I told her as a carer it is very important for the both of us to come here.

“She really took the time to speak to us and hear our story.”

Afterwards, some of the guests gave a speech where they explained how much Leuchie House had helped them.

Alex MacCarthy-Morrogh has multiple sclerosis and visits Leuchie every Tuesday as a day guest. As well as attending physio and fitness classes, which he describes as essential for his physical and mental wellbeing, he talks to fellow guests to keep them company.

He said: “I come here to help myself and to give my wife a break and give her some freedom. Me being here, she knows I’m safe which is very important to me.

“This place is important to the people here, there’s no other place like it. They treat you like a person and see you beyond the wheelchair.”

His wife Susie said: “It’s great when Alex comes here. Falling is his biggest concern and I don’t worry he is going to fall when he is here. Him being safe is so important to me and they really look after him and everyone here.”

Mairi O’Keefe, patron and former chief executive of Leuchie House, said: “Princess Anne loves the work we do here and the respiratory things that we do; everyone gets physio and everyone gets a respiratory assessment. She also sees what it does for the guests.

“She really cares about Leuchie.”

A tour of Leuchie followed, with Princess Anne meeting one volunteer who wrote the calligraphy on the invites and who gave the Princess a humorous wink.

When speaking to the dieticians, Princess Anne expressed how difficult it must be to keep up with a variety of different diets.

She took an interest in one, a soon-to-be graduate, asking about her experience in Leuchie in relation to her studies and saying: “You’ve probably come across more diets here than on your course!”

Her tour led on to the art room, while in the TV room Princess Anne met one guest who had been coming to Leuchie since 2003, jokingly saying: “You’re keeping them on their toes!”

The Princess was taken into a further lounge and met a man taking part in a virtual reality experience.

When she noticed he was in London, she said: “I know London very well.” She was told he caught a whale earlier – “not in the Thames, I hope,” she replied.

Mark Bevan, chief executive of Leuchie, said: “We were thrilled to welcome HRH The Princess Royal, and patron of the Leuchie Forever Fund, to Leuchie House once again and for her to meet and thank our many supporters.

“She saw first-hand the importance of providing quality respite to our guests and their carers.

“The visit was a wonderful experience for our guests and colleagues who were able to spend time with Her Royal Highness. She spoke to them about their experiences and the difference that spending time at Leuchie makes to their lives and those of their carers.”

Bob Brannan, chairman of the Leuchie Forever Fund, said: “The Princess has taken time since becoming our patron three years ago to really understand Leuchie.

“Today as on previous occasions, she has used this understanding to encourage our many generous supporters to ensure Leuchie can continue to develop and provide such a great service to so many people across Scotland for years to come.”

As the visit came to an end, the Princess signed the visitors’ book and was presented flowers and a card by Rachel Mylne, who said: “Thank you for all your hard work, we are very grateful. Leuchie is a wonderful place, will you try and keep it going?”

Princess Anne replied: “I will definitely try my best.”