Royal British Legion Industries’ (RBLI) Centenary Village in Aylesford, Kent, was officially opened by Her Royal Highness The Princess Royal on Friday, 20 October.
The £22m development, near Maidstone, provides a range of homes, welfare support and a community for the country’s most vulnerable veterans.
To commemorate the opening of 40 new homes for disadvantaged veterans at the Centenary Village, HRH The Princess Royal unveiled a plaque at Greenwich House, where 24 of the homes have recently been completed in an assisted living scheme that provides added on-site domiciliary care for veterans, or their spouses, aged 55 years and over.
HRH The Princess Royal was following in the footsteps of her late mother Queen Elizabeth II, who marked the charity’s 100th anniversary when she visited in 2019 to plant a time capsule there. Centenary Village now includes assisted living, disability adapted apartments, as well as new family homes. There are a total of 40 brand new homes for disadvantaged veterans.
During the visit to Greenwich House, HRH The Princess Royal was introduced to new residents Rod Eldridge, who served in the Royal Engineers for 18 years, and his wife Veronica. Before moving to the RBLI Village, they had suffered 19 months of abuse from a neighbour that had caused Veronica’s weight to plummet to just 6st 6lbs.
Veronica’s consultant, who was distressed by their decline, referred the couple to RBLI, and they were soon able to move to Queen Elizabeth Court, part of RBLI’s historic village, where they immediately felt at home and could recover.
Veronica said: “Rod was so strong throughout the abuse we suffered but if he hadn’t phoned RBLI when he did, I don’t think I’d be here today.
“When the Centenary Village opened this year, we moved into a two-bedroom apartment at Greenwich House and it’s perfect. We have wonderful neighbours, RBLI’s staff are so kind as nothing is too much for them. We’re safe here and everything is perfect.”
RBLI, which was formed in 1919 to provide support to sick and wounded soldiers returning from the First World War, launched a campaign in 2019 to build the Centenary Village which will enable the charity to support hundreds of military veterans and their families for another one hundred years.
HRH The Princess Royal was received by Lord Lieutenant of Kent Lady Colgrain who introduced RBLI representatives, before Lisa Farmer, Chief Executive of RBLI, showed the party around the new facilities.
Lisa Farmer said: “It was an honour to welcome HRH The Princess Royal to Greenwich House and for her to formally open the Centenary Village. We are extremely proud to showcase the support and accommodation available to vulnerable veterans and their families, and that we will be able to continue to support them for at least another century.
“It’s so important to provide a community and opportunities – rather than just a roof over people’s heads – and that is exactly what we have been able to achieve here. There’s a strong demand for homes, which currently outstrips supply, so we are continuing to work with our supporters to raise the necessary funds. We’re extremely grateful to all of the organisations that have made such valuable contributions to the build.”
The Centenary Village was made possible by donations from The Oak Foundation, Greenwich Hospital, The Colyer-Fergusson Charitable Trust, The Michael Uren Foundation and The Lawson Trust, all of which gave towards the Centenary Village development to enable RBLI to move ahead with the building programme.
Further support for the Centenary Village came from FM Conway, with Frank Brake Charitable Trust and Peter Cruddas Foundation, while The Royal Engineers Association supported Sapper House, which contains apartments for younger ex-service personnel of more recent conflicts.
RBLI is continuing to fundraise to complete the village, which will include ABF The Soldiers’ Charity community centre, the Sir Donald Gosling IT learning suite, a state-of-the-art accessible gym, community café and a shared workspace hub.
The community centre will also provide a base for RBLI’s welfare staff to work with veterans and their families. Meeting rooms will provide a central space to deliver RBLI’s award-winning Lifeworks employment support programme that helps veterans and family members of serving Armed Forces personnel to gain meaningful employment.
RBLI has raised £18 million in external donations towards the project. To learn more, visit www.rbli.co.uk/centenaryvillage