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Breakfast Clubs are completely FREE…. And will remain free!

There are no fees or subs; they are not a business or charity; they do not exist to raise funds for any national charity, organisation or business; Breakfast Clubs exist simply to facilitate veterans, and often currently serving service personnel, meeting face to face, in a relaxed, safe, social environment; that is our primary aim and function above all others, to allow veterans to ‘return to the tribe’.

All any veteran or service person will ever have to pay for, is their own breakfast, and even then, clubs tend to ensure that the cost of breakfast for WWII veterans, and those who are suffering financial hardship, is taken care of.

I am Dereck J. Hardman,, former soldier, and founder of the Armed Forces & Veterans Breakfast Club network, an organisation run by Armed Forces veterans, for veterans and serving members of H.M. forces, which began here in my home town of Kingston-Upon-Hull, East Yorkshire.

Other than a few fundamental principles designed to protect members (our National Constitution), each club is autonomous, to enable them to tailor their clubs to their own demographic. Each club has its own team of admins, and we have a team of ‘National Administrators’ supporting them, headed by our ‘National Organiser’, providing them with information beneficial to members and clubs.

Although nationally, the network is not affiliated to any charities, by consensus of their members, individual clubs are free to raise funds and spend them locally if they so wish, but this must be ‘low key’, local, and never be allowed to threaten the core principal of veterans associating. Veterans should not be put off attending because they think they may be shamed or brow-beaten into standing in a supermarket with a bucket.

afvbcThe National, trademarked logo is designed to give the Armed Forces & Veteran’s Breakfast Clubs organisation a national identity; it signposts the national network, which in turn enables veterans to locate & identify legitimate Veteran’s Breakfast Clubs, allowing veterans & service personnel to enjoy the banter, camaraderie and networking with all the benefits that this affords…so look for the logo!

A national identity also gives all involved a sense of belonging, which many of us lost when we left our respective services, and let’s face it, is part of the reason we now attend Breakfast Clubs; because we have ‘returned to the tribe’ and are stronger together!

The original concept came about in 2007 when I took a vehicle to a motor engineer here in Hull, an ex REME veteran called Peter Barker. While working on this vehicle over the coming months, a couple of Pete’s former comrades would drop by every so often for a brew, which got me thinking, and I hit upon the idea of inviting other local veterans I would meet randomly, to join us at Pete’s garage, and meet every Saturday for some banter, a ‘brew’ and a ‘butty’.

It wasn’t long before there was a group of veterans meeting every Saturday morning, and they all just kept coming back! One day I suggested we call it a ‘Breakfast Club’ and I thought it would be amusing to call it the ‘BBC’ (‘Barker’s Breakfast Club’)… and the first Armed Forces & Veterans Breakfast Club was came into being.

When veterans from other areas of the country visited in 2014, on the occasion of my 50th birthday, they thought it was a wonderful idea, saying they wished they had something similar in their own areas. I suggested they start their own, and used my experience running the BBC to get them started. The Breakfast Clubs proliferated organically from there at an astonishing rate, and spread into Europe, and further afield. The uptake has been phenomenal, both here and overseas (Germany, France, Spain, Croatia, Cyprus, Bulgaria, Australia and more), with us being on track to open our 250th club by the end 2017, and as I edit/update this (30th Oct 2017) there are around 230 clubs, with, we estimate, in excess of thirty-five thousand members (there is a percentage of members in all of the clubs who do not use Facebook, which we can’t accurately count).

We have seen first-hand the huge, positive impact the Breakfast Clubs are having on the lives of so many veterans and their families. It is truly STAGGERING, and it has driven us to work very hard on them since it all began. The mutual support they afford, and the connections they are making, even outside of the clubs, is incredible.

armed_forces_covenantBreakfast Clubs have been discussed in the House of Commons, and our profile grows day by day: we have met with Mark Lancaster in 2016, while he was Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence Veterans, Reserves and Personnel, and with representatives of the Armed Forces Covenant, resulting in Breakfast Clubs being named as only the third ‘Support Group’ affiliated to the Armed Forces Covenant, along with the RBL & SSAFA

As far as the current format at club level is concerned, nothing should, or will be changed. Long ago, I realised the informal nature of our Breakfast Clubs, the ‘Squadron bar/mess room/cookhouse/wardroom’ atmosphere that allows veterans to feel like they have indeed ‘returned to the tribe’ is the crown jewel. They are informal to allow veterans to feel at ease, allow them to ‘turn up’ if they want to, when they want to; they do not have to send ‘apologies’ if they don’t. They are not being ‘shamed’ into donating to/helping out with, this charity or that, and are not bombarded with information, advice and literature.

We also try to keep Breakfast Clubs simple and easy to run for the sake of the ‘admins’ or ‘Group Leaders’. There would be no incentive for them to take up the challenge to start a club if the administrative duties were too time consuming or labour-intensive, because they are veterans too.

Currently, the stark contrast between military & civilian life, is simply too great.
For many, leaving service, which often is all they have known since school, ‘Civvy Street’ is an alien environment, with different values and ethics, without recognisable landmarks. This is further exacerbated by the fact that they are no longer a member of a team of their peers, giving mutual support, which all too often leads to isolation, depression, and sometimes even suicide.
The Breakfast Clubs provide familiar surroundings for service leavers, and to that end, we would like to see the details of their nearest Breakfast Club being provided to service leavers in their resettlement packages, so that they need not be alone, and can draw on the experiences of those who have already left service… it should be more like being ‘posted’ back to civvy street… ‘Your new unit is the South Hertfordshire Veterans Breakfast Club’ (for example)… lessening the impact of transition, and decreasing any feelings of isolation.

Service personnel near to the end of their service career should be encouraged to attend a Breakfast Club local to their final posting, to allow them to begin to tap in to the depth of experience available to them, and allow them to familiarise themselves with this resource.

Local resettlement officers regularly attending their nearest breakfast clubs, as well as representatives from local T.A. units and the local council’s ‘Veterans Champion’, would allow Breakfast Clubs to be a ‘half-way house’ for new leavers… a mixture of military and civilian life, which the Breakfast Clubs already are by their nature. People being released from prison are supported by organisations such as ‘NACRO’ (National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders), so why shouldn’t Service Personnel get the same, if not BETTER support?

Setting up support agencies and services, and expecting veterans to go to them has long been the normal practice, but from a psychological perspective, this clearly has its limitations when dealing with individuals who have been trained and conditioned to persevere and succeed under all circumstances, despite all adversities. This means that often, these organisations only become aware of individuals when the situation is already desperate. Increasingly, the Breakfast Clubs ARE the veterans: the number and attendance of Breakfast Clubs is increasing weekly, and it makes more sense for the agencies to go to them, and exploit the peer pressure that Breakfast Clubs could bring to bear.

Reps from support agencies like local VWS (Veterans Welfare Service), DMWS (Defence Medical Welfare Service), RBL (Royal British Legion) & SSAFA (Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Families Association) would be welcomed at their local breakfast clubs, even as an associate member (full member if they are a veteran themselves). Regular attendance would make them familiar with their local club members, so that when someone does walk through the door with a problem, they are firstly among friends they trust, have a recognisable, friendly face they don’t feel too proud to talk to, and probably by then, will also a friend.

This already occurs in some of our clubs, albeit sporadically; RBL/SSAFA reps do attend some Breakfast Clubs, but often simply because they are veterans themselves, and attend anyway; which is of course preferable, reps themselves being veterans, which would make Breakfast Clubs a source for recruiting reps for these organisations too, as well as mentors for organisations like ‘Care after Combat’ or ‘Buildforce’ etc.

We are building a legacy; forging links between organisations which potentially will stretch into the future, for the benefit and welfare of future veterans.

The Breakfast Club network is already in place and developing, as are the people in it; the organisation as it stands represents NO COST to anyone, so with very little effort, Breakfast Clubs could connect service leavers and veterans to support services, and the Armed Forces to civilian life, in a way which has never been seen before. It could become the best support organisation for veterans this country has ever seen, and probably the best in the world.

If you wish to find your nearest club, please use the search facility on this site. Should you find you are a long way from the nearest club, and you know of other local veterans who would benefit from an Armed Forces & Veterans Breakfast Club, please do contact us; we do most of the work for you, and can assist you in starting your own.

My very best wishes to all, and good luck finding, starting and enjoying Armed Forces & Veterans Breakfast Clubs

Best regards,
Dereck J. Hardman
Founder of the Armed Forces & Veteran’s Breakfast Clubs