HIGH speed internet services have come to Stanley - and youngsters are the first to benefit.

Communications giant BT has spent more than £200,000 upgrading the former pit town's telephone exchange so it can provide broadband internet access to 12,000 residents and 852 businesses.

One of the first places to test out the new service is East Stanley School. Headmaster Tony Blackett said: "It is absolutely brilliant.

"The beauty of broadband from an educational point of view is that we use our computers a lot for looking at pictures. With the new system, they are instantly there at the press of a button."

North Durham MP Kevan Jones met pupils from the school - and the giant, three-headed dragon that is the broadband mascot - at the official launch at Asda in Stanley.

Mr Jones, who campaigned for BT to install the high speed service, said it was vital to the regeneration of the area.

He said: "We need access to the latest technology if we are to see economic improvements here.

"More and more people are using the internet and broadband is the future.

"My aim now is to get the rest of my constituency up to the same standard."

Across the region, there is almost 70 per cent access to broadband and many towns, including Consett, Chester-le-Street, Durham, Peterlee and Seaham are already on-line.

BT will only upgrade a telephone exchange to carry broadband if at least 400 people in the area register their interest for it. Some parts of the county are too sparsely populated to qualify.

Alan Hodgson of Durham County Council said the authority was looking at offering grant aid to BT to make installing broadband more viable.

He said: "There are a lot of communities that are so small, they are never going to reach BT's trigger level for broadband.

"We are going to work with them to provide some funding. We are desperate to get this technology out in the dales."

BT regional director Ray Smith said: "We need to know there is sufficient demand, before BT can make the necessary big investment in upgrading local exchanges."