In 2016 the Jo Thompson Landscape & Garden Design gold-medal-winning garden for the Chelsea Flower Show had a very special final destination. The garden was generously donated to Royal British Legion Industries (RBLI), by the Chelsea Barracks Foundation, as part of an exciting new development for disabled and disadvantaged veterans of the Armed Forces.
The garden is now enjoyed by residents of RBLI’s newest apartments, Victory House and Invictus Games House, near Maidstone, in Kent. The apartments were built for veterans recovering from injury, living with disabilities and managing mental health problems. Some of the apartments were individually adapted for the new residents. The garden is a perfect space for reflection with a restful water feature.
Another wonderful element of this project was veteran involvement in the re-construction and maintenance of the garden. RBLI’s expertise is in employability and veterans were involved in formal horticulture training and in practical learning to re-build the garden in time for its grand opening by the Secretary of State for Defence.
One of the veterans, John Ahben, who suffered a severe brain injury during service, was unemployed at the time with very low expectations of his future. Through this project John was able to imagine working outdoors and was encouraged to explore and undertake formal horticulture qualifications at nearby Hadlow College. Even though John was very anxious, particularly about remembering all the different plant names, he stuck with the course and was absolutely overjoyed to pass his exams.
John is now employed as a full time groundsman working across RBLI’s 70 acre Village. He loves his work, is financially independent, settled with his partner, and has just had a baby girl! John’s world has completely altered since 2016, and we are very proud to be involved with such a positive and life-changing charity.