The Prince of Wales is to pay his first ever official visit to Wigan.
His Royal Highness will be in the town next Wednesday, dropping in on three very different but equally high-profile institutions: that blooming cultural hub The Old Courts, the historic William Santus factory that makes Uncle Joe’s Mintballs, and Wigan Little Theatre whose present home is the same age as the 70-year-old Charles.
Bosses of all three organisations this week voiced delight at the honour and promised to give him a right royal Wigan welcome.
Exact details of his schedule will be kept under wraps for security reasons, but there will inevitably be a strong police presence. Santus bosses revealed that no fewer than 10 officers were at their Dorning Street factory last week to conduct an assessment.
A Clarence House spokeswoman confirmed that Prince Charles would be spending several hours in the town next week at places which all chime with matters close to his heart, including the arts, long-running family/voluntary businesses/enterprises and organisations which help with children’s wider life experiences and tackle social exclusion.
The Prince’s first port of call of the day will be the British Muslim Heritage Centre in Manchester but he then heads to the Old Courts on Crawford Street to learn about the building’s restoration into a community arts centre and meet participants from a variety of local arts projects.
Then the royal limousine makes a very short journey just round the corner to the toffee works to see Mint Balls and other sweets being made before heading to the Little Theatre for a tour round its recently refurbished premises too.
The foundations of this visit may have been laid as long ago as 2012 when Santus co-director John Winnard was presented with his MBE (Mint Ball Executive badge as he jokingly calls his royal honour for services to the food industry) at Buckingham Palace.
He said: “I received my medal from the Prince and, because I didn’t think he knew anything about my business, I said our factory made boiled sweets, pear drops and so on; but he had clearly been better briefed than that and said ‘I believe you are famous for a particular sweet,’ and so we got on talking about Mint Balls and how the company dates back to 1898 and my brother Antony and I were fourth generation family members running it.
“He said he loves old factories, especially ones with original equipment, so the next day I wrote a tentative letter inviting him to see us if he was ever in the vicinity.
“We received a very nice reply kindly declining it and we thought nothing more of it until the Lord Lieutenant of Greater Manchester’s office rang recently to say Prince Charles would very much like to attend, so it looks like patience was rewarded.
“It’s great timing too because the factory is celebrating its 100th birthday this year - although we have updated some of the equipment he so likes since that MBE conversation!
“When I came off the phone I was on Cloud Nine though.”
Mr Winnard said that as the reason he got his MBE was because his brother did all the leg work in the factory, it would be Antony showing the Prince round.
Wigan Little Theatre’s call from the Lord Lieutenant’s office came completely out of the blue.
Spokeswoman Anne Woolley said: “We were delighted and overwhelmed to hear that the Prince wanted to visit us and are very much looking forward to showing him what we do and have been proud of doing for decades through the hard work of volunteers.
“By a happy coincidence we moved into this present building in 1948, the very year Prince Charles was born, so that’s a nice
The royal visitor will be greeted by WLT president Margaret Kinley and chairman Paul Dawson to be given a tour of the theatre, including its newly upgraded and extended parts.
In the auditorium he will be treated to an excerpt from the company’s latest production Ladies’ Down Under and then Youth Theatre members will perform a sketch.
Charles will be introduced to committee members and trustees and unveil a plaque marking the visit.
The Old Courts arts and culture hub, created out of the town’s Victorian former courtroom, say they too received an unexpected message from Clarence House that the Prince of Wales was interested in visiting the building.
It is expected that he will watch two performances from the Wigan Arts Festival programme, with one being a theatre show aimed at families and children.
The Old Courts is also hoping the royal visitor will be able to attend a workshop. Director Rebecca Davenport said: “We are delighted to be welcoming HRH The Prince of Wales to The Old Courts.
“It’s a fantastic opportunity for our staff and volunteers to show the great work they have done to transform a derelict historical building into a thriving arts centre for all.
“It’s also really satisfying to be able bring together various individuals and organisations under one roof for the day to show how much is going on in Wigan and how well organisations like ours seem to be valued in the community.”