DEAF people in a rural community are to be given a helping hand with the launch of a new sign language training centre.

The first sign language course will start at the Leap Adult Basic Education Centre, in Barnard Castle, in May, giving deaf people and those with hearing the chance to study to become tutors.

It is the first time a course has been run in Teesdale.

At present, sign language students have to travel to Darlington and Bishop Auckland to study.

Leap runs a variety of basic adult education courses at the centre, in Galgate.

The ten-week basic sign language course will eventually give the students a British Sign Language stage one qualification.

Jenny Lee, of the Leap centre, said: "This is an exciting prospect for deaf people in Teesdale, who are having to travel miles to learn sign language at the moment."

Signing teachers hope that many of the students will go on to gain stage two and three qualifications, which will give them the opportunity to become tutors.

Hilary Lane, who will be running the course, said: "We will be able to take on ten students at first, and it is open to those who are deaf and those with hearing. Anyone can join, be it carers who want to learn, or deaf people who are struggling to communicate.

"This will be the first centre for sign language in Teesdale, so we hope there is a good response."

The course will begin on May 9, at the Adult Basic Education Centre, at 12E Galgate. For more information call minicom (01833) 630205.