An ill-timed burst of rainfall failed to dampen the excitement of staff, students, and even lemurs at a college near Winchester as HRH The Princess Royal unveiled new multi-million-pound facilities.

Sparsholt College Group welcomed Princess Anne and guests to its Sparsholt Campus on Tuesday, November 1 to officially open The Animal Health & Welfare Research Centre (AHWRC).

Escorted by College Group principal and CEO Julie Milburn, she toured new housing for companion animals and enclosures for zoo animals as well as the refurbished Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons accredited Veterinary Nursing Training Centre.

Along the route, she had the opportunity to meet students and staff in situ, from Uniformed Protective Services students lining the arrival route to Veterinary Nurses and Foundation Learning students all showcasing their skills.

Andover Advertiser: HRH The Princess Royal visited Sparsholt College to unveil The Animal Health & Welfare Research Centre (AHWRC)HRH The Princess Royal visited Sparsholt College to unveil The Animal Health & Welfare Research Centre (AHWRC) (Image: Stewart Turkington)

Princess Anne, who arrived by helicopter, was also able to visit the new Ringtailed and Black Lemur enclosure, before heading to see the Meerkats to learn about research projects and see other species in the Collection such as Red Pandas, Porcupines and Pademelon.

The tour concluded with the unveiling of a commemorative plaque for the Animal Health and Welfare Research Centre in front of a host of dignitaries, students and staff.

Princess Anne last visited the college in October 1989 to formally open student accommodation and a management training centre.

The latter is now known as The Hampshire Rural Business Centre and is still in use as a conference and training centre today.

She joked: "You might be surprised to hear this place has changed beyond recognition since I was last here, and it's amazing to hear you're still adding to it. I hope this includes hot showers!"

Neil Hopkins, chair of governors at Sparsholt, said: "We're extremely proud of the facility and it's very good of the Princess Royal to come and join us - even though she almost got soaked at the end. There's so much to see here and we're delighted with what has been done."

He added: "She spent a lot of time walking around and spoke to a number of the students which perhaps rewarded them for standing out in the cold and wet. She was very good with them and showed a genuine interest." 

Isla Ingram, 16, studies animal management at the college. She had a chance to speak with Princess Anne during the tour.

She said: "It was a bit scary but she was really nice. She asked us what we were interested in, how the course is, and what our favourite animal is."

Andover Advertiser: HRH The Princess Royal visited Sparsholt College to unveil The Animal Health & Welfare Research Centre (AHWRC)HRH The Princess Royal visited Sparsholt College to unveil The Animal Health & Welfare Research Centre (AHWRC) (Image: Stewart Turkington)

Speaking on the new facilities, she added: "Once a week we come down here and get hands-on with the animals - it's so much fun. I'm hoping to end up working in a zoo so this is a really good experience for me."

Holly Knape, also 16 and studying animal management, said: "It was a bit intimidating, I was nervous waiting for her to come round but she was very nice."

Winchester City Council leader, Martin Tod, said: "It was brilliant to see how much all the young people here really appreciated The Princess Royal coming to see them, and it was brilliant to see this fantastic new facility.

"Sparsholt is so important to our area, the contribution it makes to our young people, our countryside and agricultural economy, and the county as a whole are really important. It was nice to see that recognised today."

The opening of the Animal Health and Welfare Research Centre represents Phase 5 of the development of facilities in which Sparsholt’s further, higher, DMZAA (the official qualification for zookeepers) and apprenticeship students are trained.

Sparsholt holds a BIAZA (British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums) licence and the Centre houses species of conservation importance, domestic, exotic and large farm animals.

Andover Advertiser: One of Sparsholt's two Red PandasOne of Sparsholt's two Red Pandas (Image: Stewart Turkington)

Students are given the opportunity to gain theoretical and practical experience as well as higher-level research skills at University Centre Sparsholt. 

The £2.5 million development was supported with funding from the EM3 Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) and is home to the National Zoo Academy – "the gold standard" for anyone aspiring to enter, already employed or wanting to develop their skills in the zoo industry.

Sparsholt has an extensive and growing collection of zoo and native species, including both exotic and companion mammals, an extensive bird collection, and an extensive reptile and amphibian department. 


Andover Advertiser: Animal Health & Welfare Research Centre manager, Calvin AllenAnimal Health & Welfare Research Centre manager, Calvin Allen (Image: Newsquest)Animal Health & Welfare Research Centre manager, Calvin Allen, said: "It has been frustrating at times but that's probably me being my own worst enemy and wanting things done yesterday. But that's just the nature of who I am.

"It has been great to see it all come together - the college, principal, and senior leadership team have all been really supportive.

"They identified us as an area of improvement and they back it. It's only going to benefit one group of people and that's the students."