A TOWN college was given a stamp of Royal approval as Sophie, Countess of Wessex, officially opened a new building.
She visited Hartlepool Sixth Form College yesterday and was given a guided tour before unveiling a plaque to mark the new £24.5m building officially open.
She was greeted at the Blakelock Road college by town dignitaries including Hartlepool Mayor Stuart Drummond and the chairman of Hartlepool Borough Council, Stephen Akers-Belcher.
The Countess, who is the wife of Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex, waved to waiting students eagerly watching out from inside the college as she arrived at around 1pm.
She then chatted with the college’s ambassador students, who were waiting inside, before being shown around some of the excellent facilities.
College principal Rick Wells spoke of his pride in welcoming the Countess to the college.
He said: “Welcoming a member of the Royal Family is a first for the college and it’s an absolute honour.
“It was my absolute pleasure to be able to show Her Royal Highness around our college.
“It’s a fine end to a year which started with the college being voted the Educational Building of the Year and Her Royal Highness was able to see the exemplary facilities on offer to students here.”
Head ambassador student at the college, Lewis McBean, 17, handed the Countess a bouquet of flowers as she arrived.
Lewis, who lives in the Rossmere area of Hartlepool, said: “I only found out on the morning that I was handing the flowers over, it was exciting.
“It’s a really important day for the college and one that will be remembered for years to come.”
Fellow ambassador students at the college, Hannah Gowland, 18, Helena Wray, 17, Jennifer Bullock, 17, and Kieran Briggs, 19, chatted briefly with the Countess as she was welcomed into the college.
Helena, who lives in the Bishop Cuthbert estate in Hartlepool, said: “She was really nice and was asking us what we want to study at university and how long we have been at the college.”
Mayor Drummond, who was delighted to welcome another Royal visitor to the town, said: “We have done really well with Royal visits over the past couple of years.
“I think this visit came from the Lord Lieutenant visiting earlier this year who was extremely impressed with the fantastic facilities on offer here.
“To be visited again and to be able to get the publicity is excellent for the college.
“Considering what the college building used to be like and what it has been turned into now, it’s wonderful.”