Posted by: madkentdragon | August 14, 2010

What are Royal British Legion Clubs – an overview

There is a lot of confusion out there about Royal British Legion Clubs, and as someone who was on the “inside” of the organisation; I felt that all the common misconceptions should be put straight. 

History:                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          In 1921 the then British Legion was set up by amalgamating all the little ex-service organisations that had started as a protest movement after the return of those who had been fighting in the “Great War”. It was agreed that it would follow the pattern of the trade union movement, with a National Executive, County Councils and Branches in nearly every town and village. The organisation was set up to help all those who found themselves penniless, injured, disabled or homeless – despite the fact that the government of the time promising them help when they returned.                                                                                                                                                                   To do this the Branches often begged a piece of unused land to build a meeting hut on – some Branches were lucky and were given halls etc. These were places were the committee and members would meet and work out how to help the less fortunate ex-service; and it worked.

Clubs:                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            The brewers looked at these little meeting places and saw a way to sell more beer, posing as being patriotic (although some truly were), the salesman would offer to donate a barrel of beer for the members to sell amongst themselves to raise funds for their cause. Of course like most Brits they didn’t say “No” and so began the selling of beer in the British Legion. Of course they had to buy the next barrel, and the glasses and all the usual accoutrements that go with the trade. Then the licensing act caught up with them; some refused and stopped doing it but the others signed up to this and their Branch huts became licensed to sell alcohol. These bars were called “Amenity Bars” and the beer was only on sale to members.                                                                                                                          However, as in most bars run this way, there would be an element of carelessness or too many free pints given out and sometimes downright theft! And the bar was being subsidised from poppy funds or other charity dos.

At this time, each Branch had to be registered separately with the Charity Commission and had its own registered charity number and submit a set of accounts to the Charity Commission. This newly formed organisation bared its teeth and threatened to withdraw the British Legion from its list of charities, and stated that money raised in the name of the charity should not be used to subsidise a pint of beer!                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              And so the (Royal) British Legion Club was born, it is a mutual trading society, limited by guarantee and is registered under the Industrial & Provident Societies Act of 1965. This means that the members actually own the business and elect a committee to run it on their behalf. At first the British Legion allowed these businesses (for that’s what they are) to stay free of charge in the huts and other properties that it owned and often the committees consisted of the same people. At all times members of the club were also members of the Branch as that way they could make sure no “undesirables” came and spoilt the club                                                              But again, the Charities Commission bit! It told the BL that as a charity it should not be allowing these businesses to use our properties without paying rent, despite the plea that the club attracted more members and that all members were members of the BL, it was not to be! “It is your duty as a Charity to maximise the money invested in these properties to use to maintain the aims of your organisation” – came the reply. It was also at this time that each Branch had to give up its own registered charity number and come under the umbrella of the national registered charity number.

So much to the consternation of all, minimum rents were charged – the Commission still say they are not high enough – and some only pay £1-£2k per annum and the rent was paid to the Branch for use in welfare.

Unfortunately, with the best will in the world, these clubs are run by untrained amateurs and do fail, despite the fact that the RBL employ Clubs Business Advisors who will advise and assist clubs, free of charge, to help them back on their feet.                                      As soon as a club fails and has to close there is an outcry – “Why doesn’t the Legion pay their bills and help them?” – It can’t, it is not allowed to; the Legion hurts every time a club closes because all those who joined the RBL as a “bum on a barstool” do not renew their membership and numbers fall.                                                                                                                                                                                               The Legion is then left with an empty property, often in disrepair, that the Branch cannot afford to maintain and so often grudgingly they vote to sell the building and headlines blare out about “Heartless Legion not caring” or words to that effect, of course it looks like that – but it isn’t. Should the RBL spend money maintaining an empty property and pay rates and insurance on it – or should they sell it?                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Of course it is sold and the money is held in trust for the Branch to hire a room to use for their meetings, to open a Poppy Shop during Remembrancetide and to spend on welfare in their area, not used as some mutter to pay “fat cat’s wages in HQ” 

I hope I’ve put the matter straight – oh and by the way – those original members back in 1921 were only in their 20s & 30s! So why aren’t they joining now???


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