The Saltcoats Armed Forces and Veterans Breakfast Club has won Age Scotland’s Patrick Brooks Award for Best Partnership Working.

Formed in 2017 by a handful of veterans who decided to meet regularly at the town’s Melbourne Café, the club has gone from strength to strength and now provides a much-needed place for a relaxed get-together and plenty of laughs.

Ardrossan and Saltcoats Herald: The Breakfast Club

The club offers an informal atmosphere, with no hierarchy, forms to fill in or fees to pay. Members simply turn up on a Monday morning for some easy-going banter and to enjoy a free first cup of tea, generously provided by the Melbourne Café.

Members from across North Ayrshire, including a number from as far as Irvine and Largs, regularly attend the club.

Ardrossan and Saltcoats Herald: Veterans Breakfast Club

Many friendships have developed among veterans sitting around the café tables.

North Ayrshire has a significant number of ex-armed forces personnel living in the area, but feeling lonely and missing the comradeship of serving together is still all too common.

This can lead to other issues, including alcohol and drug dependency, which makes the existence of places like the breakfast club so important as somewhere to talk openly with people who understand the reality of time spent in the armed forces.

Ardrossan and Saltcoats Herald: Veterans Breakfast Club

The club also arranges activities for those who are interested, including a walking group (walks take place before breakfast club, so members can build up a healthy appetite), fishing trips and indoor bowls’ sessions.

Some of the club members are living with disabilities and long term health conditions, including cancer. To support them, the group arranges transport for hospital appointments, does shopping and makes home visits.

As well as welcoming guests from a number of veterans’ charities to share information and available support, club members have volunteered at the town’s food bank and helped prepare houses for homeless veterans.

Ardrossan and Saltcoats Herald: Veterans Breakfast Club

Paul Coffey, of the Saltcoats Armed Forces and Veterans Breakfast Club, said the group was delighted to receive the award.

He added: “In December 2017 after discussions over a period of months with Elaine at the Melbourne Cafe we decided to give a Veterans Breakfast Club a trial run. Monday mornings seemed to suit most so we went for it!

“There has been no looking back. Come rain, hail, wind or snow there will be members queuing up outside for a cuppa and a chat every Monday morning, some were lonely and isolated, some with PTSD some with serious health issues and others just enjoying the banter.

“It’s very hard to describe how we have laughed, cried and hugged over the past five years.” 

Ardrossan and Saltcoats Herald: Veterans Breakfast Club

Elaine Meney, ower of the Melbourne Café, said: “Although the café has been serving teas and coffees since 1932, I have only been the owner since 2016.

"In my first year I began to notice that on Remembrance Day events the cafe was one of the main meeting points both before and after services held at the War Memorial.

"I would see customers coming up and asking to pay for a veteran's tea or coffee and pass on their thanks for their service.

“Linking up with Paul and joining the network to host the Saltcoats Armed Forces & Veterans Breakfast Club was fitting.

"We have met many new friends over our first five years and it’s an ongoing privilege to support and show our appreciation to the veterans for their service.

“And we are getting good at returning the friendly banter too!”

Katherine Crawford, chief executive officer of Age Scotland, said: “I am delighted to present this year’s Patrick Brooks Award for Best Working Partnership to the Saltcoats Armed Forces and Veterans Breakfast Club.

“The club has developed into a strong network for older veterans in the community and provides a safe space to chat, share experiences and support one another through good times and bad. 

"It’s wonderful to hear how much the club means to veterans and ex-servicemen and women who meet in the Melbourne Café and the close bonds that have been formed.

“Congratulations to all involved in this well-deserved achievement.”