“THERE was one woman,” says Hedley Bishop. “She was 100, had light dementia, had virtually stopped speaking.
“We spent half an hour showing her these photos, and that was it. She came to life. By the end of the afternoon we could hardly shut her up.”
It is not the first time the 42-year-old has been surprised by the power of pictures – but it was perhaps the most significant.
He was kind of taken-a-back, for example, when the website he founded in 2008, Pictures Of Sheffield Old And New, attracted more than 3,000 members contributing 15,000 images of the city.
And he was sort of shocked when he was approached to turn the collection of snaps into an exhibition at Castle Market in 2009.
But he has been left more than a little gob-smacked by the latest success – improving the lives of elderly people affected by dementia and Alzheimer’s.
“The idea is we show them the old pictures and that sparks their memories,” explains the mental health nurse. “From there their brains become engaged and you can actually see these older people coming out of their shells.
“They start talking about the past, and then you can have a conversation.
“We’ll maybe then show them the modern picture, and say ‘Well, this is how it looks now’.
“I was sceptical at first but we’ve done it a few times and the difference from when we arrive to when we leave is wonderful. I don’t know if it has long- term benefits but if you can make people happy for a few hours, that has to be worthwhile.”
Certainly Sheffield’s Alzeimer’s Society thinks so.
Bosses have noticed such improvements in the people who Hedley and fellow volunteer Jim Lambert have dealt with, they have asked the pair to make their reminiscence sessions a regular thing.
“They empower our elderly people and give them more confidence,” says Maria Flude, information officer with the society.
Now, in the run-up to Christmas, they’ll be holding sessions at dementia cafes in Beighton and Hillsborough, at the Alzeimer’s Society city centre HQ, in Arundel Street, and at a selection of care homes.
“Comparing pictures can help cognitive processes,” says Hedley, of Woodseats.
“We tend to show landmark buildings – like Redgates or Castle House – because they are the background to people’s lives.
“We showed some pictures of buffer girls at one session, though, and there was a lady who’d done that for a living.
“Listening to her was fascinating.”
The pair – Jim is a 55-year-old builder of Netherthorpe – are also now hoping to turn the project into a hardback book with profits going to (where else?) the Alzheimer’s Society.
And, as a side project this Christmas, they will hold another exhibition in the windows of the old Redgates toy shop on Furnival Gate.
“When we started the site, I never imagined how it would take off,” says Hedley, who was also behind the Sheffield Street Art book featured in The Diary this summer.
“For it to have an impact like this is wonderful.”