YOUNG people from the North-East are being offered the once-in-a-lifetime chance to discover the Antarctic with a renowned polar explorer and adventurer.

Robert Swan, who is UN Ambassador for the Environment and Youth, yesterday announced he is joining forces with the Aspire programme, which aims to create a culture-change among young people in the region.

The search is now on to pick a young person to take part, in February, in the first of two action-packed voyages to the Antarctic.

The first person to walk to the North and South Poles, Mr Swan, who was born in Barnard Castle, County Durham, is returning to live in the region following a long absence.

He has persuaded Aspire executive director Deborah Carrington to accompany him on the first voyage.

He will also be joined by John Lawler, who was inspired as a teenager by Swan to complete his A-levels and to go on to form the company Madventurer - which provides gap-year programmes.

Ms Carrington said: "This is an unbelievable opportunity for a young person from the region to take part in a voyage that will open their minds in the most incredible way."

A focal point of the voyage will be the opening of the first education base in Antarctica that will deliver curriculum material covering citizenship, environment, renewable energy, geography and history.

Mr Swan said: "They will take part in a 16-day voyage on the Ushuaia an ice-strengthened vessel, exploring the Antarctic Peninsula and visiting incredible sites only seen by those early heroic explorers.

"Along with the on-board experts they will gain first-hand knowledge of the continent's fragile ecosystem and observe its unique wildlife, including whales, dolphins, icebergs and penguins.

"Throughout the voyage we will conduct workshops on leadership and team skills and there will be a number of one-to-one sessions with myself and other members of my team discussing and debating issues facing Antarctica and the planet."

This will be the precursor to a much bigger trip in 2007, when Mr Swan plans to take a number of young people from the region to the Antarctic.

When these young leaders return home they will have a key role in promoting citizenship and environmental curriculum material in schools across the region.

Aspire will sponsor someone aged 18 to 30 to join Ms Carrington on the first trip.

A competition to pick that individual can be found on