Axa's call centre staff in Colchester and Darlington responded to call from actor Tom Conti this week by manning a charity hotline.

The 90 staff played a key role in in raising more than £40,000 for a BBC charity appeal aiding research into a life-threatening skin condition – dystrophic epidermolysis bullosa.

The Axa volunteers answered over 1,300 calls to a hotline for the charity (DEBRA) – Dystrophic Epidermolysis Bullosa Research Association. Following the appeals, which were broadcast on two separate evenings, a further £60,000 has been donated over the internet and by post.

DEBRA chairman Phillip Evans said: "We are extremely grateful to Axa insurance and our thanks go to the staff who have given up their free time to answer calls and take pledges."