Vote will decide future of Fakenham’s General Townshend Club

The General Townshend Club, in Fakenham.

The General Townshend Club, in Fakenham. - Credit: Archant

A nobleman whose family gave Fakenham a social club for veterans returning from the First World War says it should retain its ties with the Royal British Legion.

Members are voting on whether the General Townshend Club, in Cattle Market Street, should disaffiliate from the RBL.

Officials say it needs to become independent to survive. A postal vote is under way in which they need the backing of three-quarters of its 350 members to ratify the move.

But Lord Townshend, whose great aunt gave the building to the town said: 'The club's land and building were purchased by my family for the benefit of ex-soldiers, sailors, and now airmen, and their dependants in and around Fakenham.

'The club became affiliated to the Royal British Legion, when that was formed. But the present committee has chosen to influence the members to vote against the original intentions of the club and to disaffiliate from the legion.

'As well as benefiting from real comradeship and events within the Club, the members have always seemed to welcome the charitable aspects involved in helping our returning servicemen and women, and their families.

'To create change for the wrong reasons would damage the whole ethos of the Club and threaten its members' interests.'

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Lord Townshend said the club needed 'an injection of enthusiasm' and 'a return to its original purpose'. But he added: 'I am sure it can be made to prosper and grow again into a well meaning and enjoyable environment, for the benefit of its members and those they wish to support.'

David James, chair of the Fakenham branch of the Royal british legion said: 'Norfolk today has the highest proportion of veterans per head than any other county in the UK with Fakenham playing its full part in this statistic.

'The club is as important today to the selfless service community and supporters as it was when it was formed and only by continued affiliation with the nation's largest military charity, the legion, will we secure a genuine safe haven for future generations of veterans, their families and sympathetic friends for the next 85 years.'

Officials say anyone wishing to join the club must also join the legion, with £16.25 of their £21.25 subscription going to the RBL.

Treasurer Andrew Purdy said: 'This is an argument of heart versus head, of hope versus reality. The heart says we have always been a British Legion club therefore we must always be an RBL club and that people want to join the legion and only join the club as an add-on. 'The head says that we want to support service veterans and their families but the club is dying as it is and need to be allowed to grow and flourish in order to be able to provide that support, and that experience tells us that those who want to join the club and use the club are not necessarily the same people as want to join the legion.

'We want to be able to allow new members to join and suggest that they join the legion too, rather than being obliged to join the legion in order to join their club. It is being said that the club committee is anti the legion.

'Far from it, the club chairman helps to organise the poppy collections each year in the Fakenham area and I was in the Army for nearly 32 years and strongly support veterans' charities.

'But there are well over 2000 charities that support service personnel, veterans and their families but as a legion affiliated club we are not permitted to raise any money whatsoever for any charity, other than the RBL.

'An independent General Townshend Club would continue to provide a place of solace in Fakenham for veterans to enjoy the comfort of sharing comradeship and social events with like minded people that they experienced when they were serving their country and defending our freedoms.

'Members would continue to enjoy all the facilities that they have at present. The club would be delighted to continue to host the Fakenham branch of the legion and to be the home of the legion in Fakenham. However, we want to be able to do it on our terms not in the straightjacket imposed by the RBL, which is slowly strangling the club.'

A postal vote closes on Saturday. Ballot papers will be counted by an independent scrutineer on Wednesday, November 11 - Remembrance Day.