THE cast of this year's Christmas panto paid a welcoming visit to spread some fun and festive cheer to youngsters and staff at a learning charity.

Staff, parents and children at Together 21 were treated to an appearance from Darlington Hippodrome's Jack in the Beanstalk stars on Friday, December 13.

The Newton Aycliffe charity offers support to children and young people with Down Syndrome through fun learning activities, and is one of the Hippodrome's nominated charities this year.

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While at the centre, the cast got the chance to meet some of the children who attend the sessions and were taught some Makaton sign language - a form of sign language designed to support spoken language, for people with learning or communication difficulties

Together 21 provides a wide range of learning support and session to help children and young people, aged up to 17 years, with Down Syndrome to develop key skills.

The activities provide the opportunity for the children and young people to build friendships within peer groups as well as support their development in reaching their full potential.

The sessions are also a chance for parents to get to know each other, providing a vital friendship and peer support network for families.

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Friday's visit from the stars coincides with the anticipation of one theatre-goer becoming Darlington panto's 100,000th visitor.

This week, one visitor will buy 100,000th ticket to the annual pantomime since the re-opening of Darlington Hippodrome in November 2017.

The lucky individual will be presented with a whole host of goodies including a signed programme and an opportunity to meet the cast of this year’s pantomime, including Shirley Ballas, Britain’s Got Talent winner George Sampson, comedian Phil Walker and comedy actor Daniel Taylor.

Shirley Ballas, who plays a Fairy Godmother in this year's production, said: “This is only my second pantomime having been encouraged to give it a try last year by fellow Strictly judge Craig Revel Horwood.

"I am really enjoying appearing in Darlington and this wonderful theatre.

"The restoration is absolutely stunning and the audiences so far have been amazing, so warm and welcoming.”