“It has really made all the difference. It is such a joy to come out here now, for both myself and the family,” says the Afghanistan veteran at his home in South Shields, Tyneside, as he eagerly awaits this year’s Great North Run to pass his home.
“For anybody with the restriction of movement I have, this kind of lawn is a godsend really. There’s no mowing and only the simplest care, but it can be used all year. For me, it looks beautiful and is a peaceful place to just sit.”
We were delighted to come to the aid of this true British hero after hearing from fellow commandos from the Royal Marines Charitable Trust Fund. We joined volunteers transforming his family home into a comforting, easy-care environment capable of coping with the life-transforming injuries he suffered in a rocket attack in Helmand province in 2011.
Evacuated on a giant US Blackhawk helicopter, Jason,45, was forced to quit at the height of a dedicated 26 year Royal Marine career. The cumulative effects of injury, pain and stress meant he initially struggled to cope with crippling post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and rarely ventured outdoors.
“There was nothing to tempt me into the back garden here anyway. It sloped to one side and there was a giant manhole in the middle. It was a mass of weeds, undulating, patchy. You couldn’t put a blanket down or anything. When Artificial Grass lads turned up I couldn’t really see what they could do. But they set out and levelled the ground, added sand and hard-packed it. When they laid the artificial grass it was just transformed. What was amazing is that they did it all in one day, just a few hours work. I will always remember that day. The kids had just finished school for holidays and they came home and there was this beautiful new garden to play in. Now we use it every single day – they are out there in all weathers.”
The paralysing injuries Jason suffered when hurled through mid-air in that mortar attack, will never heal. The father of three walks painfully slowly with the aid of a stick over short distances, but needs a stair-lift in his specially-adapted house. Outside the house he is mostly confined to a wheelchair or mobility scooter. His career was ended in a heartbeat, just as officer dreams were set to be realised.
As he struggled to recover, Jason couldn’t even manage the stairs to bed at night and spent days staring at a blank wall. As PTSD tore through him “like a tsunami”, he experienced the darkest thoughts. And it is these serious mental wounds that the new garden has helped most.
“It’s been massive for me mentally. Having fun with the kids in the back garden has put a smile back on my face that I’d lost,” says the father of three, holding hands with lovely wife Andrea.
Sitting on the beautiful wooden deck overlooking the lawn, Jason nods at the trampoline in one corner and reflects that he is not the only family member to benefit. Autistic son Ethan,13, has complex sensory issues and yet delights in the soft, synthetic yarn used in the Buzz range of grass.
“The kids’ cousins aged 4 and 8 come around and they all rush out to play. It’s brought our whole family together, improved relations and the garden is now an extension to the house. I can’t thank Artificial Grass enough,” adds Jason.
In a truly cruel blow, wife of seven years Andrea was diagnosed with crippling fibromyalgia at the height of Jason’s struggles. But both have learned to live with pain and a simple, inspiring, refusal to accept defeat is behind their constant smiles.
“We have got each other and our children and that’s all we need,” she laughs. “We live simply and probably more healthily than if we had not gone through all this.” Adds Jason, “And we have learned that there are good people out there. People who will come and build you a new home and garden just out of goodness. I can sit out here in our garden now and see a new future for us”.