The King has met schoolchildren learning about sustainable farming at the opening of a rural skills centre on the estate of a stately home he helped save.

The MacRobert Farming and Rural Skills Centre, on the Dumfries House estate in East Ayrshire, is intended to make the agricultural sector more accessible to those with no connection to it including school leavers, job hunters and secondary school pupils.


The multimillion-pound centre, in planning since 2019, will give students practical training on either day visits or residential courses, as well as training farmers on improving sustainability.

Charles met students taking part in a soil-testing workshop and watched them examine samples under microscopes.

Royal visit to CumnockThe King officially opened the MacRobert Farming and Rural Skills Centre at Dumfries House (Jane Barlow/PA)

The King met pupils, some of whom are involved in a Prince’s Foundation course, Food For The Future, designed to reduce food waste and to teach pupils about where food comes from.

He asked students “are you enjoying it?” and “you all like being outside?”, and about their relationship with farming.

Marcel Emmery, 15, from Saltcoats, North Ayrshire, has no connection with farming but is enjoying learning new skills.

He and his friends, from an urban seaside town, are taking part in Food For The Future.

Marcel said: “It was exciting meeting the King. He was really interested in the project and asked us lots of questions.

Royal visit to CumnockThe King meets students carrying out root and soil structure analysis (Jane Barlow/PA)

“He was asking us about soil samples and what were were working on.

“I’m not from a farming family but I found it really interesting coming here.

“It’s a really good insight into jobs, and I like working with animals.

“I’m really enjoying it here.”

Charles also watched a workshop on the importance of nutrition in animal feed during an educational session on regenerative agriculture and pasture grazing.

Students wore navy boiler suits and wellies on their first day at the centre, and some used tweezers to examine different plant bases.

Charles also watched Texo-Cross Mule sheep being weighed at an educational barn, where sheep and cattle handling workshops take place.

Royal visit to CumnockCharles visited the livestock shed (Jane Barlow/PA)

At the end of the visit, the King unveiled a wooden plaque commemorating the official opening, in front of an audience of students and trustees.

The centre has capacity to train 1,800 participants a year and was funded by The MacRobert Trust, a grant-making charity based in Aberdeenshire.

Iona Murray, farming and rural skills education manager, said: “It’s been in planning since 2019 and the King has been updated on the progress.

“It’s so exciting seeing it open. We have got quite a reach of students and we will work with adult learners, and farmers who want to become more regenerative.

“It tends to be children who aren’t engaged with school and maybe aren’t reaching their full potential, bringing them out here gives them the chance to be very practical and hands on.”

Chris Hockley, CEO of The MacRobert Trust, said: “The MacRobert Trust is delighted to have been able to work with The Prince’s Foundation on this project.

“We hope the new centre will inspire and enable people to learn and then use the skills that the sector truly needs.”

The King, then the Prince of Wales, led a consortium which paid £45 million for the dilapidated estate in 2007 in a bid to save it from ruin and help regenerate the deprived local community.

Last year, Dumfries House, which opened to the public in 2008, featured in the ITV documentary A Royal Grand Design which followed its renovation over more than a decade.