A new centre opened in an East Durham church hall this week will help people access a credit union instead of turning to ruthless loan sharks.
The Horden Centennial Centre will enable people to engage with NE First, the credit union for Durham and Gateshead, which uses the centre as a collection point each Wednesday from 9:30am to 10:30am.
John Barnett, Chair of the Centre and of Horden Colliery Residents' Association, said the credit union had gone from strength to strength since being set up two and a half years ago.
"We have had a big problem for a long time with loan sharks and the only way for lesser well off people to access a decent loan is through a credit union," he said.
The centre is located in the former St Mary's Church Hall in the town of Horden and was officially opened by HM Lord Lieutenant of County Durham, Mrs Sue Snowden, with a blessing by the Bishop of Jarrow, the Right Reverend Mark Bryant.
It has been made possible by a £500,000 grant from the Big Lottery and its facilities will be available for use by local groups.
Bishop Bryant said: "We are working to get church buildings in use on as many days of the week as possible and what is exciting about this project is that this centre has clearly been designed with the community in mind.
"We know how much credit unions are needed but one of the problems for them is finding buildings from which to operate."