FORMER Emmerdale actor John Middleton, who played vicar Ashley Thomas in the soap, visited the National Science and Media Museum today in support of a dementia awareness project.

An exhibition of 18 picture portraits, known as the ‘I Am Still Me’ project, opened in the foyer of the museum and is the culmination of a year’s work for photographer Helen Williams, of Harrogate.

It showcases members of local charity Dementia Forward’s singing group with the focus being on capturing the true identity of each individual, rather than the illness that society often defines them by.

Ms Williams said: “I had preconceived ideas about what dementia was and all of them were wrong.”

This changed when she began attending the singing group every Thursday morning for a year. She wanted to give those suffering with dementia a voice. Each subject was able to write “who they thought they were” on their print.


She said: “They had the opportunity to say who they thought they were. The most interesting thing about all 18 of them is not a single one defines themselves as having dementia – dementia isn’t used in there at all.”

Since the photos were taken by Ms Williams, several of the subjects have passed away, making the legacy of the project even more poignant.

She said: “It’s lovely to see all their faces again, but it’s sad as well to see the people who aren’t with us any more.”

The singing group was one of the first groups award-winning actor John came to when researching the now nationally-acclaimed storyline of Emmerdale’s Ashley Thomas and his experience with early-onset dementia.

Mr Middleton said of his support of the exhibition: “It’s a privilege. Most of these people I’ve met because they’re all part of the Singing for the Brain group in Harrogate.

“People like this, we couldn’t have told the story without their help because our stories came from their stories – we’re almost like vampires if you like, absorbing the lifeblood of these stories.”

He added: “You can’t overstate the importance of dementia as a health concern at the moment. It’s overtaking cancer and heart disease as a cause of death.

“It requires an enormous amount of awareness, an enormous amount of funding, to the extent that major political decisions have to be made about this. It’s the only way we’re going to tackle it. If exhibitions like this raise that awareness in only a tiny way, that is doing something.”

The actor is now a patron of the Dementia Forward group and has become friends with a number of members, including founder Netty Newell.

She said of his support: “I’m lost for words really. He’s local, he’s in the heart of our community and that’s what we’re about.”

The photographs can be seen in the museum foyer until June 10, including during Dementia Awareness Week in the UK, from Monday, May 21 to Sunday, May 27.

For more information about Dementia Forward, visit