OLYMPIC champion swimmer Rebecca Adlington was in Malton this week to open the new headquarters of an international charity which helps victims of the brain disease encephalitis.

Rebecca, a double Olympic gold medal winner and OBE holder, was joined by actor Mathew Bose, who played Paul Lambert in the TV soap Emmerdale. The pair are both ambassadors for the Encephalitis Society, which is the only resource of its kind in the world. It has recently moved from Saville Street to more spacious premises in Castlegate.

Rebecca said she knew from personal experience how the illness affected people and their families.

“My sister Laura suffered from it a few years ago and when the family was first told by doctors none of us had heard of encephalitis or knew where to get more information about it,” she said.

“When you are given news like this it can be overwhelming but as soon as we were put in touch with the Encephalitis Society they were so helpful and offered brilliant support.”

Rebecca, who was confirmed as part of Team GB for this summer’s Olympic Games at the weekend, said the work of the Encephalitis Society in offering support and practical advice was vital.

“It means a lot to me and my family that I can use my success in the swimming pool to help the society increase understanding of the disease in the hope that other families don’t have to go through what we did, as well as hopefully help raise funds to undertake additional research,” she said.

“Although my sister is now a teacher and copes very well, if she does suffer a setback she knows that the society is there for her.”

Encephalitis is an inflammation of the brain, usually caused by infection, which strikes adults and children alike, with high mortality rates.

Of those who survive it, many are left with an acquired brain injury, the degree and severity of which will vary. Their difficulties may include cognitive, physical, emotional, behavioural or psychosocial consequences.

Mathew Bose said the work of the society was close to his heart because he had a school friend who contracted the disease in 2006.

“At the time I knew nothing about encephalitis. I had to look it up on the internet and found that this charity here was the only one in the world,” he said.

“They looked after my friend so well and at the time I was working on Emmerdale in Yorkshire so I was delighted to put my name to the society and to help to get the name out there to make as many people aware as possible.”

Mathew said that it wasn’t just the person struck down by the illness who was affected, but family and friends too.

“They instantly become carers and they need to know that there is help and support out there,” he said.

“No one knows when this illness can strike and it affects people of any age. And it is very rare for that person to return completely to how they were before.

“The work that the Encephalitis Society does is fantastic and I am always keen to support what they do.”

Rebecca and Mathew were joined by the society’s president, Professor Barbara Wilson, and the chairman of their professional panel, Professor Tom Solomon.

After officially launching the new premises, they also thanked donors of the new state-of-art meeting and training room, which will be available for the local community to hire.

The Encephalitis Society was founded in 1994 by Elaine Dowell after her son Andrew became ill with the disease.

Development manager Ava Easton said they answered more than 2,000 calls for support and information from people affected and their families each year.

“We are delighted to have moved to these new premises,” she said.

“We are also very proud to have Rebecca and Mathew here.”