The Prince of Wales was told about the benefits of oxygen therapy for long Covid and a range of other health conditions on a visit to Caithness on Friday.
Charles, known as the Duke of Rothesay when in Scotland, officially opened the refurbished Healing Hub at the Braehead in Wick with invited guests and members of the public looking on in glorious sunshine.
A blunt pair of scissors caused a brief delay to the ribbon-cutting ceremony, but the royal visitor duly completed the task to an impromptu round of applause.
Charles spent more than half an hour chatting to volunteers, users and others associated with the centre which is run by MS Therapy Centre Wick.
The barochamber in the Healing Hub can help people with a range of health issues, from multiple sclerosis, fibromyalgia and rheumatoid arthritis to sports injuries.
Jan Farrington, 75, the group’s treasurer and secretary, said: “He was a charming gentleman, and knowledgeable – he wanted to know more about it and he was willing to listen to users.
“He was so interested in it, and he also said that he was trying to establish a clinic in Norfolk and could he contact us for any information. He said it is so interesting and so beneficial, if you are prepared to give it time.”
Charles opened the original facility in 2005 when the building still belonged to Highland Council.
It has since been acquired by the group through an asset transfer, with support from Caithness Voluntary Group, and has undergone a major refurbishment.
Mrs Farrington said: “I was diagnosed with MS in 1982. I use the chamber once a week. Without it I don’t think I’d still be walking.
“People have to realise that they can help themselves, that’s the main point. Give it a chance.”
Sharon Florence, of Watten, has been using the Healing Hub after suffering from long Covid.
After meeting the Duke of Rothesay the 46-year-old said: “I just explained to him why I was using it and how much it has helped me and that I had returned to work. He certainly seemed really interested in what I had to say.”
Centre user Stephen Lay, who has ME and fibromyalgia, also spoke to Charles.
The 60-year-old retired civil servant, of Thurso, said: “It has given me more of an outlook. I feel I’m actually living more now than I was prior to having the treatment.”
The Healing Hub currently has 50 users and there are three volunteer chamber operators.
For more than 40 years local haulage company D Steven & Son has transported used oxygen cylinders from the chamber down to Aberdeen and brought full cylinders up – at no cost.
David Steven, managing director of D Steven & Son, attended the event with driver Alex Martin.
After speaking to the prince, Mr Steven explained: “He said it’s very good of us, what we’re doing. He was really impressed with the whole set-up here.”
Accompanied by Willie Watt, Vice-Lieutenant of Caithness, the prince had earlier viewed the nearby Pilot House and met Peter Sutherland, who refurbished the 114-year-old building.
The prince went on to meet volunteers from Caithness Foodbank at their base in the town’s former Carnegie library, along with representatives of 17 other community groups.
Mr Watt said later: “We are so lucky and privileged in Caithness that we get so many royal visits, especially through Prince Charles, and he has obviously got a huge affection for the place.
“It was nice to say ‘welcome back’ to him today.”