REGULAR guests to Dumfries House’s Tea Dances received a royal surprise after their Christmas lunch.

The Duke of Rothesay popped in to say hello and see first hand the work being done to counteract loneliness and social isolation in Cumnock and Doon Valley.

Many friendships have been formed at the three-weekly Tea Dances and Auchinleck’s own Shiona Johnston is one of the driving forces behind the programme.

Shiona – integrated health and wellbeing co-ordinator for The Prince’s Foundation – said: “We do a tea dance every three weeks and we wanted to make it something special for Christmas.

“We invited the 130 people who come every three weeks and also some of our participants in some of our programmes. We’ve got four programmes that run just now, a pain management programme, women’s health, fertility and a health and wellbeing programme.

“The people who attend the programmes love it. They come in feeling quite scared and with poor confidence/low self esteem and then by the end of the six weeks they go out different people.

“It is amazing to see them and to see them coming back here. They want to come back and we bring them back quite a lot but we’ve not brought them back to anything like this before so that has been really special for them and obviously, seeing the prince today has been a huge surprise for them, it’s been lovely.”

Established health initiatives at Dumfries House tackle issues including isolation of older members of the community, the management of cancer, mental health, diabetes, fibromyalgia, and women’s health.

“The opportunity to work with people outside a clinical setting is important,” Shiona added. “They appreciate coming to such an inspiring setting. Straight away, that makes a difference. We have tried to replicate elsewhere programmes from here, and it’s not the same.”

Martha Hendry, 66, from Ochiltree attends the foundation’s pain management programme and was taken aback by Prince Charles’s attendance.

She said: “It was an absolute shock but it was lovely to see him. I’ve seen him in the grounds many times but I’ve never actually met him. It was really nice to meet him.

“He spoke to us but I can’t remember what he said. I just said: ‘How do you do? It’s lovely to meet you.’

“He knows about all the events that go on here and how wonderful and helpful they are to everyone that needs to come to them. I think everyone loved it.

“I started on a course in July and I’ve been twice since and this was the Christmas lunch. It has helped me realise that the condition I have got is going to be with me and how to accept it.”

Dalmellington resident Ros Borland, 56, attended the women’s health programme and she was equally appreciative of the royal visit.

She added: “It was a great surprise, I thought it was terrific. It was fantastic for the children and local people here.

“Shiona was running a six-week menopause clinic and I was invited to come along through my GP. It was terrific in terms of nutrition, sleep, dealing with anxiety, questions about HRT etc.

“We were able to meet an esteemed gynecologist, a nutritional consultant, all sorts of different people from the medical industry that are quite hard to come by everyday. It was great just to be with other women who were going through the same thing.”

Cumnock and New Cumnock Councillor Jim McMahon, East Ayrshire’s spokesperson for older people said: “It’s always a pleasure to see older people being socially involved and mixing.

“You can see the joy in their faces after Prince Charles came in. It was obviously a big surprise but you can see how ecstatic these older people are to meet Charles and he did a really good job, going round about and talking to everybody so that was great.”