A HISTORIC North-East building welcomed royalty to hear about its plans to become a tourist attraction and arts venue.

Pupils from Esh Primary School, in County Durham, welcomed the Duke of Kent to Ushaw College, with a cheer and waving union flags.

The duke, who is first cousin to the Queen, visited the former Catholic seminary, near Durham, to hear about its plans for the future as it transforms itself into an arts and events venue and business hub.

Peter Seed, operations director at the college, said: “We have confidence life is starting to come back to Ushaw.

“It’s different to what we did in the past, but it’s invigorating.

“We opened to visitors three years ago and had 7,000 in the first year, 22,000 the following year and last year we had 38,000.

“We hope in the future we bring those numbers up.”

He added: “When it was a seminary it was inclusive, so there wasn’t the opportunity to come in. Now it’s much more open and we are trying to break down the barriers we put up in years gone by.”

The duke was shown the college’s library, which is now looked after by Durham University, which is working to make the archives accessible for international researchers.

Archivist Jonathan Bush showed him some of the rare books held by the library, including the Nuremburg Chronicle, from 1493, which is considered to be the world’s first encyclopedia, an even rarer “pirated” edition of the same book and a coded letter negotiating Catherine of Braganza’s dowry prior to her marriage to Charles I.

Following lunch, he was treated to a performance by the County Youth Choir in the college’s impressive chapel and then planted an oak tree in the grounds.

Father John Marsland, president at Ushaw, said: “His Royal Highness was very interested in what is happening here and fulsome in his praise of what has been done so far. He was clearly impressed by the buildings and the size of the site.”

Earlier in the day, the duke visited UTC South Durham, in Newton Aycliffe, where he looked around their new specialist mechatronics lab, which houses industry standard equipment to train students in electronics and mechanical engineering.

The college, in Aycliffe Business Park, specialises in technical level engineering and advanced manufacturing for young people aged between 14 and 19

Principal Tom Dower said, “It’s fantastic for us to be host to a member of the royal family and have the opportunity to showcase the region’s students, their abilities and our unique facilities.

“The focus of the UTC is to help young people get ready for the world of work and find meaningful, technical and academic careers.”

He added: “Working in collaboration with businesses in the STEM sector to meet the needs of the industries that surround us is at the heart of what we do here. The UTC has responded to the gap in skills and the demand of students to develop this course.

“The skills they are developing make our students very employable.”