PRINCE Edward visited Chester city centre today (October 14) ahead of officially opening Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service's new £11m state-of-the-art training centre.

The Earl of Wessex visited a number of businesses and charities - including ShareShop Chester's Northgate Street premises - to thank them for their work throughout the Covid-19 pandemic.

He made the visit prior to being welcomed by firefighters and staff from Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service to officially open its new training centre in Winsford.

He arrived in Northgate Street and started the visit at the Cheese Shop, moving on to Francis Thomas greengrocers and Sweet Elements Patisserie.

The Earl of Wessex also went to see the progress being made with the Northgate development and new market (pictured below).

He  was introduced to Ian Hall and Geoff Hughes from Chester Indoor Market, two of the many traders who worked throughout the pandemic as essential retailers.

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The Share Shop on Northgate Street was the next visit before being welcomed to Chester Town Hall by The Lord Mayor of Chester, Councillor Martyn Delaney.

A hundred invited guests from thirty Cheshire charities supporting mental health, food banks, and poverty who all helped communities throughout the pandemic met The Earl at a gathering in the Town Hall.

Council leader Louise Gittins said: “It was a great honour for the city to welcome His Royal Highness for this visit which allowed him the opportunity to walk through the city and meet with local businesses and charities who have worked hard through the pandemic to support our communities.

“I would like to thank The Earl of Wessex for his kind words to the charity workers, volunteers, retailers and front-line Council staff who have all supported residents through this really difficult time for our borough and the country as a whole.”

The Earl of Wessex signed the visitor book in Chester Town Hall accompanied by The Lord Mayor of Chester before leaving the city.   

Arriving in Winsford, The Earl was greeted by chair of Cheshire Fire Authority, Councillor Bob Rudd, and he was given a guided tour of the multi-million pound facility.

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Firefighters put their skills into action and demonstrated how the training centre will be used to ensure Cheshire’s firefighters have the expertise and knowledge to keep residents safe for years to come.

The facilities have been designed to immerse firefighters in real-life operational situations making them better equipped and skilled to keep the communities of Cheshire and surrounding areas safe.

The centre utilises innovative technology and real-life scenario sets, ranging from serious motorway collisions to dealing with building fires and chemical incidents.

As part of his visit, the Earl also met with a number of key emergency services staff from Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service, Cheshire Constabulary and North West Ambulance Service to thank them for their dedication throughout the Covid-19 pandemic.

Cllr Rudd said: “It was a great honour to welcome HRH The Earl of Wessex and see him officially open our new state-of-the-art training centre in Winsford today.

“We recognise the need to invest in our firefighters to ensure they are as well equipped as possible to deal with the wide variety of incidents they are called to.

"I’m certain that the investment we have made in this facility – which is among the best of its kind in the country – will help us to continue providing the first-class fire service our county’s residents deserve.

“I’m also delighted to have welcomed representatives from Cheshire’s three blue-light emergency services to the event, so that they could be thanked from us all for the vital role they have played over the past 20 months in responding to the Covid-19 pandemic.

"They truly deserve a huge amount of praise, and we’re fortunate that in our time of need, they were there.”

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Chief Fire Officer Mark Cashin added: “It’s with immense pride that we’ve been able to demonstrate some of the Training Centre’s capabilities to HRH The Earl of Wessex.

“This ambitious project suffered a setback early last year when the Covid-19 pandemic struck, but thanks to the hard work and diligence of our Service colleagues and our construction partners, the centre became operational earlier this year.

“I’m delighted that our firefighters can no benefit from world-class training facilities that will help us to keep our communities safe for years to come.”

Prince Edward had earlier visited ShareShop Chester which opened its doors in January 2016.

All funds raised from the sale of donated goods at the store are split equally between its homeless and refugee projects.

Twice a week, the 'Share van' – loaded up with hot drinks, food, sleeping bags and warm clothing – provides valuable outreach services to those living rough on the streets of Chester.