Today, the Duchess of Cambridge took her 5 Big Questions tour to Northern Ireland and Scotland. It follows engagements in London, Woking and Cardiff in recent weeks to promote the survey and to hear from people across their UK about their views on early years. In excellent news, the engagement coincided with an update from Kensington Palace revealing 200,000 people have participated making it the biggest open survey of its kind in the UK to date.
Kate was welcomed to Belfast by Democratic Unionist Party Leader Arlene Foster. In a tweet, she said "lots of excited children....and adults" were awaiting the royal visit.
For her first solo visit to Northern Ireland, Lady Carrickfergus (as she's styled when visiting NI) began the day with a visit to Ark Open Farm near Belfast, to speak with families about themes covered in the survey.
I'm a very firm believer in the importance of royals travelling across the UK and connecting with communities and forging bonds with people who very rarely see a member of the family visiting their town of city. It was great to see today's visit focusing on that and involving locals.
Upon arrival, it was time to meet some of the excited children Kate heard about when she landed.
Kensington Palace said: "The Ark Open Farm opened in 1990 as one of the first open farms in Northern Ireland. Having initially specialised in rare breeds of farm animals, the farm has now developed a number of play areas and activities for children. Open farms such as this are important in providing places in the community for family members of all generations to spend quality time together, while allowing children to benefit from spending time outdoors."
The Ark Open Farm is a family run business with a team filled with animal lovers striving to offer the best care to animals and visitors alike.
The Belfast Telegraph reports:
'Owner Stewart Donaldson who runs the popular family attraction with his wife, Lorraine joked that he had been warned beforehand that there is one particular Ark Farm resident the Royal wasn't keen on meeting - a snake.
Mr Donaldson told Belfast Telegraph that he was delighted to welcome the Duchess of Cambridge to Ark Open Farm in what is a very special year for the family-run farm.
"It's our 30th anniversary. We're all very excited. It was quite a job keeping her visit secret. We had only 10 days notice," he explained. "We have a plaque which Kate will unveil to mark our 30th anniversary."
When it was time to meet Sophie the corn snake Kate said "Wow". She told the children "It's the first time I've ever held a snake".
The Duchess of Cambridge is a braver lady than me! However little Sophie the corn snake at the Ark Open Farm in Newtownards, Co Down seemed to be a charmer 🐍 pic.twitter.com/54S1hDoxgr— Rebecca Black (@RBlackPA) February 12, 2020
Kate seemed rather taken with this alpaca.
Kate joined a group of children to feed a lamb.
During a chat with parents, Kate was interested to hear their thoughts on children's earliest years and experiences.
The Duchess heard about the most important factors that ensure children become happy adults and the role of parents and society in ensuring children have the best possible start in life.
Kate met Education Minister Peter Weir and discussed her early years work.
Before leaving, Kate met a number of families. She thanked them for participating in the survey and said "It's really interesting to get everyone's perspectives" and told two children "Charlotte and George will be very sad not to have met you and see this really cool farm".
🎥 WATCH: Duchess of Cambridge on her visit to the Arc Open Farm. She was talking to local parents about charity Early Years and helping young families pic.twitter.com/c6TkObLaap— Cool FM News (@newsoncool) February 12, 2020
A video from the engagement.
From there, the Countess of Strathearn travelled to Aberdeen, Scotland.
Kate visited Social Bite café to speak with employees, supported volunteers and regular customers who have experienced homelessness.
Kate got to work in the kitchen and tried her hand at making a chicken wrap.
The Telegraph reports:
'The duchess asked Social Bite co-founder Alice Thompson: “Have you found examples of how an individual’s childhood has affected them, leading them to where they are now?
“You obviously see a lot of issues close up, people who come into the cafe to perhaps reach out and you help them. “It’s a really big thing to be able to do that and understand everyone’s story and the journey they are on.”
Ms Thompson said: “Oh absolutely, it’s such a massive factor in what we see in our work and we see so many of the same patterns emerging all the time.”
The Duchess rolled up her sleeves in the basement kitchen to try her hand at making one of the site’s most popular dishes - a chicken wrap. Ms Thompson announced “We’ll have to get you on the rota” to which Kate replied “Well I was taught very well”.'
When Kate sat down with a group of people involved with and supported by Social Bite she said "So often, many issues are caused by family breakdowns and that can have a huge effect on a child’s development in their early years."
Hannah Furness reports Kate discussed the "many issues caused by family breakdowns" that can impact someone from childhood through their adult life. She praised the work of the organisation and the "advantage" it offers.
Social Bite runs social enterprise cafés throughout Scotland and use this platform to distribute 100,000 items of food and hot drinks to homeless people each year, as well as employing staff who have experienced homelessness themselves.
A group shot before Kate returned to London.
There's a great video of the visit below with plenty of footage from the kitchen (as wraps were prepared) and a glimpse into the many conversations Kate had today.
The Duchess shared a message to thank all those who have participated thus far:
'What has struck me most is that so often the challenges people face in later life, whether mental health, homelessness or family breakdown – can so often be traced back to experiences in their earliest years.
It prompted me to delve deeper into the early years landscape and learn more from the experts, the scientists and the amazing people providing services on the ground. But now is the time to get the views from everyone in society.
I wanted to hear directly from people across the UK and it’s great to have been able to talk to people in Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales and across England about their experiences.
I want to thank the 200,000 people who have filled it out because each and every response will help show us what society really thinks about raising the next generation. I am excited to hear from even more people before it closes on 21st February.'
Now, a look at what Kate wore today.
The Duchess wrapped up in her Barbour Defence jacket for her visit to Northern Ireland. It's been a staple in Kate's wardrobe for years. Middleton Maven notes a new version of the classic style is available at Saks Fifth Avenue for pre-order.
Reiss Delaney Jacket. The grey jacket is from the brand's AW13 Collection and retailed for $520 before selling out. It's a collarless, wool-rich coat with seam detail to the front, back and sleeves, with slit pockets to the front, and fastens with a single concealed button.
Kate first wore the piece during a visit to Shooting Star Hospice in 2013.
Kate's new blue jumper appears to be the Pure Collection Cashmere Roll Neck Sweater (with thanks to Kate's Royal Closet). The £125 piece in 'Heather Cornflower' is available at Next and on the Pure Collection website. It's also available in several colours at John Lewis.
Kate wore her Penelope Chilvers Tassel boots.
Kate's Royal Closet). The Gold Fern Hoop earrings retail for £165.
If you haven't participated in 5 Big Questions, you can still do so by clicking here.