IT was no laughing matter for television funnyman Ricky Tomlinson when he opened a foodbank extension needed to cope with spiralling demand for the service.

Mr Tomlinson, well known as Jim Royle from sitcom The Royal Family and roles in Brookside, Cracker and Mike Bassett: England Manager, unveiled the new storage facility created by East Durham Trust, in Peterlee.

The Northern Echo:

The charity has seen demand for food parcels, benefit advice and debt support rocket in the last year, since Universal Credit was rolled out to the area as part of the Government’s Welfare Reform package.

Staff and volunteers now help well over a hundred individuals and families every week and– having seen so many people struggle to cope within a month of the Universal Credit’s introduction– they have sarcastically named the new foodbank facility The Universal Credit Room.

Launching it on Saturday morning, Mr Tomlinson said: “It makes me so very, very proud to be here and be part of this but it also makes me very, very angry because in 2019, in one of the richest countries on the planet, this shouldn’t be happening.

“We are a very, very wealthy country and can afford to look after our own, whether they are old, young or whatever.

“So, while I’m delighted to be here and see the work that the local community people are doing– that's tremendous– they shouldn’t have to do it.”

The Northern Echo:

The Trust’s chief executive Malcolm Fallow said: “The introduction of Universal Credit has had a devastating impact on vulnerable people in communities like East Durham. “Along with other austerity measures we are seeing more and more people pushed into poverty.

“Food parcels are just one aspect of this and we have had to convert a former office space to cope with demand.”

Describing Mr Tomlinson as a working class hero- in his professional life as the relatable Jim Royle and personally as a political activist- he added: “It gives the staff and volunteers a great boost to have our work recognised by someone like Ricky who is not afraid to put his head above the parapet and support vulnerable people.”

The actor appeared at Redhills in Durham on Saturday night in support of a fundraising campaign at Durham Miners Hall.

Chair of the Friends of the Gala, Dave Anderson, said: “Although our last East Durham pit closed 25 years ago we continue to do everything in our power to support the work of organisations like East Durham Trust as they try to deal with the social and economic fallout of closures.”