A NORTH-EAST credit union is winning its battle against payday lenders after clocking up more than £1m in investments for the first time.

Darlington Credit Union (DCU) passed the milestone after a £15,000 donation from Hummersknott Academy Trust.

Credit union co-ordinator Tony Brockley described passing the £1m point as an important landmark, while Darlington MP Jenny Chapman has also welcomed the development.

There has been a credit union in Darlington since 1988.

In 2009, when several credit unions in the town were merged to form what is now DCU, the organisation had share balances worth £120,000.

Mr Brockley said the influx of investments over the past five years was a measure of how far the organisation has come.

He said: "This is an important milestone for us and we are very excited about it.

"We were sitting on investments of £986,000 and thanks to an investment of £15,000 from Hummersknott, we have passed the magic £1m mark for the first time."

Mr Brockley said Hummersknott was the latest Darlington school to get behind the credit union, with others, including Carmel College, having already invested.

He added: "We are traditionally a means of help for people who are financially excluded and we are still supporting those people, 100 per cent."

However, Mr Brockley said DCU has seen more applications in recent years for what he called 'lifestyle loans' - for purchases such as holidays and cars, as well as 'necessity-based' lending for expenditure on, for example, school uniforms and Christmas.

Mrs Chapman described the milestone as 'brilliant' for DCU.

She added: "I am very happy for them, they have had to work hard to build themselves up in recent years.

"There's still a long way to go in terms of tackling payday lenders and promoting credit unions, but there is good momentum now and word is spreading about the services on offer."

Nigel Foster, vice principal of Hummersknott Academy, with responsibility for finance, said: "More businesses and organisations should use credit unions, as they provide such a vital service in the community.

“The credit unions do an excellent job, they are safe to invest in and keep people away from those lenders who may exploit the most vulnerable and the poorest in our society.”