THE Duchess of Cornwall was in Winchester yesterday and couldn't resist the opportunity for some Christmas shopping.

Camilla is royal patron of Emmaus House, a charity providing both work and accommodation for homeless people. Residents at the centre in Bar End, or companions as they are known, restore furniture donated by the public, before selling it on.

And after a guided tour she stopped to purchase two wooden toy boxes for her grandchildren.

“I love coming to Emmaus. They have the most wonderful atmosphere and I just wish I could have more time to shop,” Camilla said.

It was the second time the Duchess has visited the Winchester site and she said was impressed by their progress.

“Having seen this place in its embryonic form, it's so nice to see it like this,” she said.

The Duchess was accompanied on the tour by Terry Waite, president of the charity.

After taking a look around the bedrooms, Mr Waite, who came to public attention after being held hostage in Lebanon for nearly five years, joked: “It's a lot better than my accommodation in Beirut!”

The future queen consort took time to chat to companions and even had an early Christmas present for 40-year-old Steve Gibson.

Mr Gibson, who has been at Emmaus for three years, said: “She gave me a bag full of stuff from the Duchy of Cornwall. She was a very, very nice person.

”I used to work in a shop but I couldn't handle it. But since I've come here and working in the shop here I've been fine. I feel I could go out and work now.”

The Bar End community accommodates 26 companions and there are 24 Emmaus communities across the UK, with plans for at least 10 more. Many of the sights are in metropolitans areas such as Manchester or Liverpool.

Emmaus chief executive Arvinda Gohil said: “Winchester is a small place but we provide communities in all places. It's about identifying places where you can make the enterprise successful and Winchester does that.”