Published: 18:55, 20 June 2022
| Updated: 19:04, 20 June 2022
A homeless ex-soldier with PTSD who felt he had nothing left to live for has praised a new £22m veterans' complex set to help others like him.
The Royal British Legion Industries, based in Hall Road, Aylesford, is aiming to build a Centenary Village to celebrate 100 years of employment, training, accommodation, care and support for ex-servicemen and women.
The village will be located in Hermitage Lane, near Maidstone, and is a £22m development that will provide home and welfare support to disadvantaged former Army personnel.
The site, due to open later this year, will comprise of 22 adapted apartments for veterans in urgent need, 16 new family homes, and a further 24 assisted living apartments for older veterans.
Future construction will also see a community centre with accessible gym built.
The project has already directly helped Jay Williamson, who served in the Army for 11 years.
He said: "I was an infantry soldier in the 1st Battalion Royal Anglian Regiment and after doing two tours of Afghanistan I was diagnosed with PTSD.
"Alcohol helped me sleep and was my way of blocking out what we had all seen and been through together.
"I couldn't go a day without drinking, it was so dangerous. My marriage broke down and I was homeless.
"My mental health spiralled out of control, I felt like I had nothing to live for and believed the world would be better without me.
"As much as I wanted to give up the alcohol, I was now at a stage where my body was dependant on it - it was a form of self medication. I was in a vicious cycle for a long time."
After sleeping in a tent in Folkestone, he decided enough was enough. His sister, Katy, contacted the RBLI, who offered Jay temporarily accommodation at Mountbatten Pavilion in April last year.
In November he was moved to a permanent flat in Victory House on Hermitage Lane.
The building has been open since September 2017 and is part of the first phase of the Centenary Village site.
It has been built specifically for veterans who are wounded, injured, sick, or at risk of homelessness.
The 40-year-old added: "I cannot thank RBLI enough for the emotional, mental and physical support I have received from them.
"They helped me do a home detox, found me some volunteer work and offered support for my mental health.
"I have stopped using alcohol for all the answers. I look at life a lot more positively. It might sound silly, but when you are sober you can see a lot more clearly."
Jay now works at Kent Life, gardening and fulfilling his passion of working with animals.
He said: "This is all thanks to my family who never gave up on me when I was at my lowest, and RBLI who helped me to rebuild a life that I now love.
"Words just don’t seem enough."
Jay says that the Centenary Village project has benefited him and will help many more in need.
He explained: "It's honestly brilliant for the veterans that need it.
"Ten years ago, I never thought I would be where I am now - I want everyone to know there is always light at the end of the tunnel."
The veteran recently received recognition in March, after raising £1,000 for charity by running 10k for 28 days straight.
Royal British Legion Industries’ Centenary Village project has also recently received a £100,000 donation from BAE Systems’ Electronic Systems sector based in Rochester.
Representatives from the company visited the site last month, signing the brickwork of a house set to accommodate homeless veterans upon completion.
Dave Banks, BAE Systems Rochester site director said: “We are immensely proud to be supporting this nationally significant village project right in the heart of Kent.
“It is no secret that military veterans can face immense challenges upon leaving the Armed Forces, or perhaps even many decades later.
"It is vital that people are there for them to provide the support they deserve, and that’s what RBLI do."
Lisa Farmer, RBLI’s chief executive said: “We have seen the demand for our homeless support services increase dramatically over the past year.
"Last year saw 45% more veterans come forward needing our help compared to the year before.
"Considering more than 6,000 veterans are estimated to be living on our streets, the support from BAE Systems has never been more important.
“We cannot thank BAE Systems enough for their generous gift and we are proud that Kent organisations are rallying to support this project which will be a beacon of light for veterans in need all over the country.”
The phase currently under construction will be completed in late July.