THE Duchess of Cambridge gave an assured performance in her maiden public speech as a royal today, praising a children's hospice which serves north Essex for its "inspirational" work.

Kate, the royal patron of East Anglia's Children's Hospices (Each), was in Ipswich to launch the organisation's new facility - the Treehouse - where dozens of youngsters are cared for by dedicated staff.

Kate looked confident as she stood in front of staff and volunteers from a charity and paid tribute to their efforts helping children with life-threatening conditions.

The royal sounded a little apprehensive but nerves never got the better of her and she had clearly committed her speech to memory as she glanced at her notes only occasionally.

Even the noise of the children failed to faze her as she spoke.

Kate told her audience: "First of all, I'd like to say thank you. Thank you for not only accepting me as your patron but thank you also for inviting me here today.

"You have all made me feel so welcome and I feel hugely honoured to be here to see this wonderful centre.

"I am only sorry that William can't be here today; he would love it here.

"A view of his - that I share - is that through teamwork, so much can be achieved.

"What you have all achieved here is extraordinary. You as a community have built the Treehouse; a group of people who have made every effort to support and help each other.

"When I first visited the hospice in Milton, I had a pre-conceived idea as to what to expect.

"Far from being a clinical, depressing place for sick children, it was a home.

"Most importantly, it was a family home, a happy place of stability, support and care. It was a place of fun.

"Today I have seen again that the Treehouse is all about family and fun.

"For many, this is a home from home - a lifeline, enabling families to live as normally as possible during a very precious period of time.

"What you do is inspirational, it is a shining example of the support and the care that is delivered, not just here, but in the children's hospice movement at large, up and down the country.

"The feelings you inspire - feelings of love and of hope - offer a chance to families to live a life they never thought could be possible.

"So thank you again for inviting me here today. I feel enormously proud to be part of East Anglia's Children's Hospices and to see the wonderful life-changing work that you do. Thank you."

The Treehouse has revolutionised children's hospice care across Suffolk and north Essex, and was only made possible by the generosity of donors who supported the Treehouse Appeal. raising £3 million in less than 12 months.

Each's former hospice in Ipswich was too small and unable to meet the demand from the surrounding counties.

The new centre has a hydrotherapy pool and dedicated sensory and music rooms and also features more bedrooms, reducing the need for short-break care to be cancelled if end-of-life care is being delivered.

Each chief executive Graham Butland said: "Everyone at Each is honoured and extremely proud to have the Duchess of Cambridge as royal patron."

He added: "Having our work recognised in this way by Her Royal Highness is not only a tribute to our staff and supporters, but a huge boost for the children, young people and families receiving our care and support."