Average life expectancy is growing which is good news for all of us but as it does, it is creating problems. Dementia is a ticking timebomb with an estimated 750,000 sufferers in the UK — a figure that could double by 2050.

But while most of us will know of someone with dementia or be caring for an elderly relative, official recognition of its significance and its implications, not just for the individual sufferer but their families, is slow.

At the Vale House dementia centre in Botley, Oxford, the growing numbers of sufferers was recognised years ago as its 20 places were rapidly over-subscribed.

Now, a new facility is being built on a site between Sandford and Littlemore which will be moe than twice the size with double the number of beds, although it is likely to be filled as soon as it opens its doors in January.

And with little central funding, a fundraising campaign has been launched headed by senior Oxfordshire business figures in a bid to raise £2.5m to repay the capital costs.

These include Richard Dick, the former high sheriff of Oxford and chairman of engineering and property firm W Lucy & Co based in the city.

Mr Dick explained that £1m had been saved over the years but the total cost of the project is £5.5m prompting the launch of the appeal last year.

He explained: “When I visited Vale House I was immediately struck by how well the patients are looked after and the commitment of manager Tricia O’Leary and her team and the determination to make this new project work.”

So far about £500,000 has been raised thanks to access to funds from specialised trusts.

The new Vale House will also be a centre for training health care professionals on how to cope with dementia and £70,000 has already been dedicated to the provision of a seminar room.

Mr Dick added: “I see this as something for the people of Oxfordshire and hope that businesses will recognise that.”

It is hoped businesses will adopt Vale House as their corporate charity. In return they could have a room named after them and become involved in volunteering, for example with staff working in the garden.

The current Vale House dates back to 1990 when it was set up in a unit originally designed for social housing in West Way, Botley.

Mrs O’Leary, who has managed Vale House almost since it opened, said: “The current building has no en suite facilities and residents have to be taken along corridors to visit the bathroom which is undignified.”

The new building has been specifically designed to provide a large garden area and to be airy, roomy and, above all, light inside.

This is not only to provide a pleasant environment for residents but also to help address symptoms of dementia, one of which is described by Mrs O’Leary as “Sundown Syndrome.”

This involves sufferers continually feeling the need to move around in the late afternoon and evening, often looking for places and people from their earlier lives. The more space they have to do this comfortably and securely, the better.

Mrs O’Leary added: “One of our principles is not to stop anyone doing anything.”

To develop the new building, Oxford architects GBS and nurses from Vale House travelled to Stirling University which has a major dementia facility and is a centre of expertise.

“The principles of design are not terribly complicated, but involve lots of light and space and we are going to include a big garden,” Mrs O’Leary said. She has also lent the benefit of her experience in managing the care of dementia sufferers to the project.

She explained: “I have a very strong ethos focusing on what older people with dementia need and i am utterly committed to delivering it.”

That ethos is reflected in the fact that the current Vale House continually achieves the maximum three star rating from the Care Quality Commission.

Now she wants to develop the levels of care in the new building, not just for residents but for their families and for staff. Facilities will include a separate family room, three hydrotherapeutic baths and ‘memory boxes’ containing special mementoes belonging to residents situated outside their bedroom.

Mrs O’Leary said: “I want our care home to be a homely, friendly, pleasant place and we want families to have fun while they are here.

“It has to be a place people want to visit rather than being like an elderly ward of a hospital.”

Vale House employs a family support worker dedicated to helping the loved ones of residents with any concerns or queries about the facility and the level of care it provides.

Mrs O’Leary added: “They also help with the stresses and strains and offer moral support.”

Various events will be held to help raise awareness of the fundraising campaign which will also help cast a light on the growing problem of dementia in society in general.

“There is an absolute need for this new facility,” said Mrs O’Leary. “We are doubling capacity but we have more than that number of people on our waiting list.”