ACTOR Kevin Whately has returned to his native North East to open a dementia care centre which he praised as "a trailblazer".
The Morse and Auf Wiedersehen Pet star – whose mother Mary suffered from dementia before her death in 2009 – grew up in Northumberland and was at the Dementia Care in Brunswick Village, Newcastle, to open the new centre.
The day care centre and five-bedroom respite wing is the only one of its kind in the North East Refurbished with a grant of £300,000 from The Ballinger Trust, it offers 24-hour home support, day clubs and respite care to give families a break, helping over 280 people in Tyne and Wear.
As well as a craft room, hair salon, film room and café, there are facilities for music, singing, table tennis and pool.
The design aims to minimise confusion and create a calming environment with large picture signs and red colour recognition toilets to aid residents.
In addition, each bedroom has a glass box filled with an individual’s photos and mementos attached to the wall, so they can identify their room.
“There are very few places like this and the joined up thinking is really in evidence here,” said Kevin, who met with residents and performed a ribbon cutting ceremony.
“The changes in dementia care over the last six or seven years have been extraordinary.
“A few of these places are starting to pop up now, but we need about a thousand of them around the country.” The former Barnard Castle school pupil from Humshaugh, near Hexham, said his mum would have loved the centre.
“There’s much more space and light and it feels like a new build,” he said.
“The support this centre offers at every stage of the condition would have been invaluable to me and my family.
“What Dementia Care are doing here as a charity is magnificent.
“It should be Government-funded, but that’s another story.”
Gillian Stacey, chief executive of Dementia Care, said: “We’ve tried to make it as homely as it can be.
“The local authority said day care was dead, that nobody wanted to use it, but actually that isn’t true, they just want good day care.
“There really isn’t anywhere that’s specialist and nice that people can come to, and the quality of respite care is really poor in Newcastle.” The charity also has five supported living houses on the same site, where people live together as a family in small groups helped by specialist care staff. It has been named by Prime Minister David Cameron as an example of best practice in his recently-announced £100m dementia strategy.
Dementia Care is hoping to roll the model out throughout the region.
Ms Stacey said: “With an increasing elderly population, dementia is one of the biggest health and social problems we face and the North East has the one of the worst projected growth rates for dementia in the country.
“With ill-treatment of elderly people hitting the headlines, people do not know that one of the pioneers of quality dementia care is based here in the North East, and that we are championed nationally as an example of good practice.”