The Blackadder actor and Time Team presenter was at the specialist centre in Bretton, Peterborough, for its official opening, where he unveiled a commemorative plaque at the PJ Care owned Eagle Wood to mark the occasion.
Click here to watch highlights from the day
He heaped praise on the £12 million centre, its staff and facilities, and said: “I’m really proud to be here, and I just wish Eagle Wood was replicated in every other town and city across the country.”
Sir Tony added: “It’s important to celebrate best practice. And Eagle Wood is just the best practice you could possibly have.
“As soon as you walk through those doors the first thing that hits you is a wave of optimism, and it doesn’t leave all the time you are here.”
“It is such a glory to see somewhere where you have genuine personalised care. Each individual here is treated not as a bunch of symptoms on legs but as a person with individual needs which are constantly reassessed.
“There’s always a test when you go into any type of care establishment to see how many of the care workers know the names of all the residents. Here everyone’s first name, and everyone’s second name is known by everyone, and that’s quite a sign.”
Around 200 visitors, including the Mayor of Peterborough, Councillor June Stokes, and representatives from the design team, and the builders and architects involved in the Eagle Wood project, were at the opening.
Another special guest was 11-year-old William Flanagan, a local schoolboy, who won a competition to come up with a name for the centre. William, who was joined by his parents, grandmother, and three brothers, also unveiled a plaque.
They stood alongside staff, the families of residents, and the residents themselves to watch Sir Tony explain why he is so passionate about the quality of care.
Both his parents suffered from dementia, and he spent ten years dividing his time between his television work and looking after their care needs. Sir Tony is now an ambassador for the Alzheimer’s Society.
Eagle Wood, which provides specialist care and treatment for people with neurological conditions, accepted its first resident last year. It is already caring for 52 people, including some with early onset dementia.
It’s thought that by spring next year there will be more than 80 residents being cared for in its five neurological care units.
PJ Care, which manages Eagle Wood, also runs two specialist care centres in Milton Keynes.
Being showcased at the official opening on September 9 were Eagle Wood’s therapy facilities, sensory gardens, and its specialist hydropool and gym. Headway Cambridgeshire runs regular therapy sessions from the centre.
The official opening coincided with the return of a number of Iron Age and Roman artefacts discovered at the site when construction work began. A selection of artefacts is now on display in the centre’s reception area.
Until now the artefacts have been in the hands of archaeologists working for Oxford Archaeology, one of the largest independent archaeology practices in Europe.
The experts believe the Eagle Wood site was originally a settlement in use from Iron Age 100BC to 300AD, when Britain was part of the Roman Empire. They say the settlement featured a Roman well, which may have been used as a public ‘healing spring’.
Several massive stones which surrounded the well have been moved from their original location which is under the centre’s car park, and have been incorporated into the design of the centre. They are on display as part of a small enclosed garden, clearly visible from the reception area.
At the opening, Sir Tony, who presented 20 series of Channel 4’s archaeology programme Time Team, said he believed the well was probably connected to the goddess Coventina. She was a British goddess of wells, springs and healing.
He said it was quite romantic to think that the healing that was going on 2000 years ago was being continued today.
Neil Russell, chief operating officer for PJ Care, came up with the initial design for the centre. He said: “We built our care home on the site of a Roman care home. It’s great that we can continue that ancient tradition.”
PJ Care’s founder and chair, Jan Flawn, said: “It was wonderful to have Sir Tony and his wife Louise there at the opening. He’s such a champion of good quality care, and also made a real impression on the people he met at Eagle Wood with his warmth, compassion and empathy.”
“It was lovely to hear him speak in very flattering terms about the work we do here at Eagle Wood. And, he’s right, it would be fantastic to have this centre replicated across the UK, because we genuinely believe we are providing our residents with the very best care and treatment available.”