A TV star from Whitley Bay helped launch a charity’s biggest ever event.
More than 5,000 people united against dementia by taking part in the North East’s biggest ever Memory Walk on Saturday.
The event, organised by Alzheimer’s Society, raised an estimated £362,000 towards research and treatment to support those living with the condition.
A sea of people wearing bright blue Alzheimer’s Society T-Shirts set off from Bents Park, South Shields, before snaking their way along the spectacular 7km coastal route.
The walk was officially started by BAFTA award-winning actor John Middleton, whose Emmerdale character vicar Ashley Thomas, died following a long-running storyline that chronicled his decline after being diagnosed with dementia.
The father-of-two, who has lived in Newcastle and Whitley Bay, said: “I loved playing Ashley and the dementia storyline in particular – it has been the role of my life so far.
“I could have walked away from this story once filming had finished, but I can’t – in fact I can’t walk away from this story for the rest of my life because I now realise how many people are affected by dementia.
“My eyes have really been opened about dementia and I’m willing to dedicate myself to the cause for the rest of my life.”
Walkers Sandra McFarlane, 61, of North Shields, was walking for both her parents, and was joined by daughter Carly Middleton, 28, and friend Christine Darn, 62.
Sandra said: “I lost my mam Evelyn in February and my dad Stan is living with dementia and in a care home.”
“Families in our situation end up grieving twice because when dementia takes hold it’s almost as if you’ve already lost them already, but then you have the inevitable to deal with also.”
Alzheimer’s Society Memory Walk Officer Rebecca Scott said: “We’re so grateful to John for his support – it makes a huge difference to have such high profile people helping us in our bid to raise awareness of dementia.
“We really could not have hoped for a better turn out. The North East Memory Walk has increased its numbers every year, but to smash the 5,000 barrier is a real milestone.
“The atmosphere has been inspirational and incredibly uplifting. It’s taken a lot of hard work to make it happen, but it has been worth every minute.”