DEVOTED diners have been rewarded for their loyalty after eating at a college restaurant for 25 years.

Bill Arnott and his wife Gladys are eating free during the month of January at the Oak Room Restaurant at Darlington College of Technology.

"We started coming here after it was recommended by my golfing partner, now we come three times a week," said Mr Arnott, 82, of Barmpton Park, Darlington.

"It's good food, good surroundings and we like to help the young people get on."

The Oak Room is open to the public but is used to train students hoping to work in the catering business.

Mrs Arnott, 85, said: "They are just children when they arrive here from school and you see them develop and grow to provide five star cuisine."

Hospitality and catering tutor Lisa Voss said: "I remember serving the Arnotts 12 years ago. Now here I am teaching students who are waiting on them."

Head of Hospitality and Catering Peter Bell said: "We are incredibly grateful to everyone who uses the restaurant. The customers are as important as the staff.

"Without them we would not be able to perform the training with which students secure good jobs around the world."

He said the students were one of Darlington's hidden exports.

Mrs Arnott had stumbled across one when she was in hospital recently, another had just secured a post in a five star London hotel, while a third had waited on a couple of college restaurant regulars - while they were on holiday in Australia where the student now worked.

The catering school currently trains 250 full time and 500 part time students in a wide range of catering services including restaurant, functions, outdoor events and weddings.