HOVERCRAFT racing and a delve into sub-sea engineering helped to create an action-packed visit to the North-East for the Duke of York today.

HRH Prince Andrew was in the region to support an ambitious project tackling youth unemployment in the area.

A buzz of excitement followed the prince as he joined apprentices, students and industry professionals to learn more about the Darlington Foundation for Jobs.

The project- which has helped to create more than 230 apprenticeships and 200 internships - works to tackle unemployment by helping youngsters aged eight to 24 develop their skills.

Prince Andrew spent the afternoon visiting a number of projects linked to the award-winning scheme, which is led by The Northern Echo, Darlington Borough Council and a partnership of public and private sector organisations.

At Darlington College, he opened the prestigious C-STATE Subsea Training and Education Centre, developed through a partnership between the college and engineering company Modus.

After exploring the £4m underwater robot at the core of the centre and speaking to apprentices about their aspirations, the Prince congratulated the Foundation for Jobs on their work.

He said: "I wish them every success as they endeavour to be that link between business and young people.

"What's going on here that is important is matching young people's desires and aspirations with the business need. The Foundation is having an excellent run at it.

"The challenge is to get small and medium businesses to recognise that taking on an apprentice is a good idea.

"The apprentice won't be the finished article, but they need to be given the chance to gain experience."

Modus apprentice Michael Gregory said: "This visit is important as it shows the Royal family are trying to support more employment in the North-East.

"It's been hard here, especially with the closure of places like Corus, and this small thing means a lot."

A hub of activity greeted the Prince at his next stop - an engineering challenge day hosted at Queen Elizabeth Sixth Form College and supported by the Foundation for Jobs and the University of Bradford.

Students there were working with pupils from schools across the borough to build working hovercrafts, with the finished creations racing head-to-head.

Prince Andrew began the first race - won by Hurworth School after their competitor's hovercraft tragically fell apart at the seams - by joking: "This is the first time any member of the Royal Family, let alone the Duke of York, has been asked to present the Duke of York Hovercraft Trophy but I am very proud."

The Prince ended his visit to Darlington - which was arranged by The Northern Echo - by visiting the social enterprise Bike Stop, which helps homeless people by giving them the skills to repair and recycle bikes.

Councillor Chris McEwan, chair of the Foundation for Jobs said: "This visit is national recognition for a project that is really important in dealing with the blight that is youth unemployment more effectively.

"However, we believe there is still more to be done and we will stretch and challenge ourselves to see if we can do more to deal with this issue in our town."

Earlier in the day the Duke of York unveiled a plaque after a tour of North Durham Academy, Stanley, and spoke to students.

The academy was formed two years ago following the merger of Stanley School of Technology and Greencroft Business and Enterprise Community School and opened its doors to pupils in September.

Prince Andrew said: "I am really rather proud that it has been me who has been the first member of my family to come here.

"A few things have struck me today. There has been a huge amount of commitment by a lot of people to deliver an absolutely outstanding educational establishment here to enable young people to make the most of the opportunities."