THE Earl of Wessex was in the North-East yesterday, visiting three projects in the region and meeting both young and old.

Prince Edward enjoyed a day in County Durham, taking in a stage performance by local youngsters, launching a young people's service and visiting a new care home.

He was making his second appearance in the region in the past three months, having officially re-opened Sunderland's Empire Theatre, last November.

Yesterday's visit also had a theatrical theme, as the prince watched a play and dance presentation at King James I Community Arts College, in Bishop Auckland. The schools' renowned drama group, Bishop Auckland Theatre Hooligans, perform a version of their play, The Pitheaps.

The group are celebrating their tenth anniversary, while the school is in its 400th year and was recently awarded specialist arts college status.

The prince, who worked in the theatre and owned a production company, told the youngsters: "It's a very apt specialist status for you. I hope you'll make the most of it and go on to do great things in the future."

Earlier, he was at Aycliffe Young People's Centre, Newton Aycliffe, to launch the County Durham Young People's Service, which is at full strength after two years' development.

The service works with many groups to support young people in need, by helping with all aspects of life, such as benefits, education, jobs and accommodation.

Hollie Smallwood, 19, who the service has worked with, presented Prince Edward with a handmade vase and card to mark the occasion.

She said: "I was in foster care since I was 12 but thanks to the service I'm finally settled. It got me on to a health and safety course and I'm going to join a Prince's Trust scheme and do a music course at New College in Durham."

The prince also visited older people in the county, at Charles Dickens Lodge, Barnard Castle.

He met some of the tenants and unveiled a plaque to commemorate his visit to the 36-flat development, which opened last September.