IT was the first time the group of young people with additional needs got to meet each other again since lockdown – and the occasion on Tuesday was crowned by a Royal visit.

Members of the Cheesy Waffles Project, in Durham, were delighted to host The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge who were touring the region. 

The charity, which provides its young members with the skills and independence they need to transition to a happy and healthy adulthood are one of the beneficiaries of The Key charity. It, in turn, was chosen by the couple in 2011 to benefit from donations made to their Royal Wedding Charitable Gift Fund.

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At one point during the visit to Belmont Community Centre, Prince William got to chat to Evan Jones, 18, and Lee Middleton, 23, who have earned their gold Duke of Edinburgh Awards.

Prince William told them “Did you know he was my grandfather?” adding “he would so pleased you got your awards”.

Evan said later: “Today has been brilliant. It’s the best thing that has happened to me in my heart.  

Lee added: “It made me feel really good. They were really friendly”. 

The Duke and Duchess also met with Tom Crosby and Alumbeni Makwaela-Wali, who told the couple how they had organised a Christmas project during lockdown for the community. It included an elf trail, online bingo, afternoon tea delivery to older members of the community who had supported the charity. 

Engaging with as many people as they could, the couple asked how everyone had coped with lockdown and whether they had go their jabs. Kate said: “It must be good to get back together again. You must have missed each other. 

Prince William and Kate concluded the visit demonstrating their golfing skills, to cheers of onlookers.  

Richard Haigh, chief executive of The Key said: “We got £33,000 in from the wedding gift fund. We were absolutely delighted because we were one of 33 organisations selected by the Duke and Duchess.

“We were able to take on an extra member of staff, which enable us to increase the number of young people we were working with within the North-East and also allowed us to start working with young people from outside the region.
“We hosted the Royal couple almost 10 years ago, so this has been chance for them to come back and catch up on what has been happening.

“It’s fantastic to have that relationship with them.”

He added: “More 9,000 people have benefited from the work of The Key over the last three years.

“Generally we have a range of over 110 partner organisations that we are working with and we would expect to work with between 1,500 and 2,000 young people every year.

“With the knock-on benefit in the wider community up to 15,000 people end up benefitting from the activities of the young people.

“What we think is brilliant about it because young people get to choose what they want to happen. That means the funding gravitates to what young people want.

"They get the chance to do some great things as well as enjoy activities themselves
"In doing all of that they are developing their own skills and abilities and often these are young people who who are living in challenging circumstances.

“Finally when all that adds up together people are doing stuff that they enjoy, are developing their skills and it’s benefits to the wider community and that is the magic of The Key.”

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The Cheesy Waffles, is one of the beneficiaries of The Key.
Mr Haigh said: “since we started working with them in 2014 we have had 64 project which involved 143 different young people.

"What we love about these guys is they have done lots and lots of projects for the local community and the centre as well.”

Cheesy Waffles manager Erika Denholm said: “The day has gone brilliantly. There hasn't been a lot of prep gone into it. We only found out about it last week. The visit was very natural and very relaxing.

 “We weren't sure whether all the young people would get a chance to interact with the Kate and William, but they were just so sociable with them and wanted to speak to absolutely everybody.

“It's just fantastic they have come to our little community garden. And it's been just brilliant for the young people to have them as visitors.

“This has been a chance to show them some of the activities that we do.”

She added: “We are all about disability awareness showing everybody the positive images  of young people and what they can do rather than what they can’t.

“And it will hopefully just show people what are group does and how amazing are young people are really. They take stuff on and they do it.

"This has been an immense morale boost especially after the year that we have had."

“We have been working with young people just in small groups during lockdown and this is actually the first time we've been here as one larger group.

"And it's just fantastic for everyone, including our staff and volunteers who have worked really hard over the last year.”

Cheesy Waffles works with about 85 young people at the moment but the numbers can go up to 120 from across County Durham.