Recently, Gravesend Sappers made the short journey to Aylesford in Kent to the RBLI factory to see first hand the work that goes on and to understand the objectives of the RBLI.
The tour was arranged by Emma Nugent who had previously visited the branch during the year.
From the battlefields of the First World War, many soldiers left to find they were now fighting a personal battle against tuberculosis. In 1919, Industrial Settlements Incorporated began helping thousands of the 55,000 soldiers who were discharged from the service with tuberculosis. In 1920, Industrial Settlements Incorporated purchased Preston Hall which was home to 240 ex-servicemen and women. This was the start of a Village ideology where healthcare, training and employment was provided. Shortly after the end of the Second World War our name was changed to British Legion Industries (Preston Hall) Incorporated. We are proud to be a sister charity of the British Legion, with a shared ethos of supporting the Armed Forces community. In December 1975 the Village was visited by the Queen Elizabeth II who was hugely impressed. Local school children were given time off to come along to see the Queen during her visit. In the early 2000’s we began our LifeWorks courses, providing employment support to Veterans across the UK. This has since expanded, and we now also deliver courses abroad and to the families of serving personnel. In 2013, RBLI was awarded National Charity Times Awards Charity of the Year. At this point, The RBLI had been providing training, employment and support to the Armed Forces community and disabled people for 94 years.
On arrival at the factory we all booked in and made our way to the boardroom . There was a presentation on the Lifework project which is a UK wide employment support programme designed to help veterans back to work when they leave the services. It is a 5 day intensive course followed by 12 months of reachback and remote support.
After the presentation had finished we donned hi-vis vest’s and made our way to the factory. We were met by Mr Tim Brown Ex-RE who was to be our guide around the factory. In 2016, the.RBLI re-launched their social enterprise as Britain’s Bravest Manufacturing Company (BBMC). Today it provides employment for a team of over 100, 70% of whom are either ex-service or have a disability/health condition.
The products made in the factory vary from road signs to safety signs for the railway network, wooden pallet refurbishment and another product is the “There But Not There” a commemorative Perspex Tommy partly inspired by a photograph taken in WWI by Horace Nicholls a keepsake Tommy, a 25cms (27.5cms with stand) transparent figure of a World War One soldier. The Tommies and their commemorative packaging are made by the Royal British Legion Industries and, appropriately, by ex-Service Veterans employed by RBLI.
After leaving the factory we made our way to the Base Camp community hub and café which is available to be used by anyone, walking through the Garden of Honour a permanent reminder of the Sacrifice’s of the Armed Forces, we made our way to the Mountbatten Pavilion which is short term accommodation for veterans who have fallen on hard times or in need.
The tour finished back in the boardroom with lunch, all branch members agreed it was a very worth while visit and to see the good work done by the RBLI.