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Royal British Legion

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Royal British Legion
Formation15 May 1921; 103 years ago (1921-05-15)
FounderTom Lister
Merger of
TypeEx-service organisation
Registration no.219279
Legal statusCharity
HeadquartersHaig House, London, England
Region served
The King
National President
National Chairman
Jason Coward
Director General
Mark Atkinson
PublicationThe Royal British Legion
AffiliationsRoyal Commonwealth Ex-Services League

The Royal British Legion (RBL), formerly the British Legion, is a British charity providing financial, social and emotional support to members and veterans of the British Armed Forces, their families and dependants.


Service in the armed forces is no longer a requirement of Legion membership.[1] The Legion has an official membership magazine, Legion, which is free to all Legion members as part of their annual subscription.[2]


The British Legion was founded on 15 May 1921 as a voice for the ex-service community as a bringing together of four organisations: the Comrades of the Great War, the National Association of Discharged Sailors and Soldiers and the National Federation of Discharged and Demobilised Sailors and Soldiers, and incorporated the fundraising department of the Officers' Association.

Field Marshal The 1st Earl Haig (1861–1928), British commander at the Battle of the Somme and Passchendaele, was one of the founders of the Legion. Lord Haig served as the president of the British Legion until his death.

According to Mark Garnett and Richard Weight, it was established and run by Britain's upper class, but gained a broad membership. They argue:

It was a product of the First World War and the combination of altruism towards, and fear of, the working class. ... The social dislocation caused by veterans' mental and physical trauma, coupled with the industrial unrest and disillusionment with war as an instrument of foreign policy, made the need to bring officers and men together in one body seem more pressing.[3]

A royal charter was granted in 1925, accompanied by invaluable patronage from royal circles. During the Second World War, it was active in civil defence, providing officers to the Home Guard. Its membership grew rapidly from veterans of the Second World War, reaching 3 million in 1950. It declined to a half million elderly survivors by 2003.[4]


A wreath of artificial poppies featuring the Royal Logistic Corps emblem used on Remembrance Day

Perhaps best known for the yearly Poppy Appeal and Remembrance services, the Legion is a campaigning organisation that promotes the welfare and interests of current and former members of the British Armed Forces.

The Legion support nearly 36,000 War Disablement Pension cases for war veterans and make around 300,000 welfare and friendship visits every year.[citation needed]

Legion campaigns include calls for more research into: Gulf War syndrome and compensation for its victims; upgrading of War Pensions; the extension of endowment mortgage compensation for British military personnel serving overseas; and better support for British military personnel resettling into civilian life.

Poppy Appeal[edit]

The Legion holds a fund-raising drive each year in the weeks before Remembrance Sunday, during which artificial Remembrance poppy red poppies, meant to be worn on clothing, are offered to the public in return for a donation to the Legion. The Poppy is the trademark of The Royal British Legion, RBL states "The red poppy is our registered mark and its only lawful use is to raise funds for the Poppy Appeal".[5] The paper poppies are manufactured at the Poppy Factory in Richmond. Other products bearing the Poppy, the Trademark of The Royal British Legion[6][7][8] are sold throughout the year as part of the ongoing fundraising.[9]

Festival of Remembrance[edit]

The 2015 Festival of Remembrance

The Legion organises 'The Festival of Remembrance' in Royal Albert Hall, London on the Saturday before Remembrance Sunday. Originally featuring composer John Foulds's World Requiem it now includes military displays by current members of the armed forces, choral works, and prayers.[10] It culminates with Servicemen and Women, with representatives from youth uniformed organizations and uniformed public security services of the City of London, parading down the aisles and onto the floor of the hall. There is a release of poppy petals from the roof of the hall.

On the day there are two performances. The matinee is open to any member of the public. The evening event is open only to members of the Legion and their families, and is attended by senior members of the Royal Family; starting and ending with the British National Anthem, God Save the King, and includes the three cheers led by the army's London District Garrison Sergeant Major at the finale. In 2007, the second half of the evening event was aired live on BBC Radio 2. BBC One showed the event an hour later.[11]

Most parts of the Festival are of a formal, thought-provoking, and solemn nature. In recent years, the items have included more contemporary performers to attract a younger audience. They have included family members of serving military personnel (e.g. The Poppy Girls and the Military Wives choir); singers Gregory Porter, Joss Stone, Jim Radford and James Blunt, the latter two of whom being both military veterans; and the animatronic horse used in the war film War Horse.

Musical accompaniment for the event is provided by a military band from the Household Division together with The Countess of Wessex's String Orchestra, joined by musicians of the Royal Air Force (via the RAF Music Services through the RAF Salon Orchestra) and representatives of the Royal Marines Band Service.

Honour the Covenant campaign[edit]

Honour the Covenant is a campaign launched by The Royal British Legion in September 2007, which calls on the UK Government to honour the Military Covenant. The campaign aims to seek public support for the issues identified by the Legion and to encourage their Members of Parliament to act to ensure that Government policy is changed.

The campaign accuses the Government of failing to meet its commitments under the Covenant. The Legion highlighted the case of a 23-year-old paratrooper, injured in battle, who was awarded £152,150 despite injuries requiring care for the rest of his life. It also criticised the practice of treating soldiers in wards alongside civilian patients.[12] In his conference speech that October, Conservative Party leader David Cameron referred to the Covenant and said "Mr. Brown, I believe your government has broken it."[13]

Medical care[edit]

Responding to the Royal British Legion's campaign, the former Secretary of State for Health Alan Johnson announced in November 2007 that armed forces veterans would get priority treatment on the National Health Service, and those injured would be treated immediately in hospital rather than go through waiting lists. Prescription charges would also be waived.[14]

Online assistance[edit]

The Legion sponsors a website, CivvyStreet.org, which assists Service leavers and members of the ex-Service community and their dependents with information, advice and guidance (IAG) on resettlement, learning and work. Specialist services are provided by partner organisations. Opportunities for funding may also be available to those who qualify for assistance. The website has been designed to give a single gateway to the services and support that partners provide for resettlement, learning and work.[15]



In September 2009, the Legion accepted a donation from Rachel Firth, a member of the British National Party (BNP). She raised money by spending 24 hours in a cardboard box, giving half to the BNP and half to the Legion. Initially, the donation was rejected, but, after Firth gave an assurance that its giving would not be "exploited politically", it was accepted.[16]

In August 2010, Tony Blair pledged the proceeds of his memoirs, A Journey, to the Legion, "as a way of marking the enormous sacrifice [the armed forces] make for the security of our people and the world". This included a £4.6 million advance, making it the largest single donation in the charity's history. Chris Simpkins, the Legion's Director General, said he was delighted with what he called "this very generous" offer and the Legion announced that it would be used to help fund its planned "Battle Back" challenge, a project to provide state-of-the-art rehabilitation services for troops returning from the frontline with serious injuries. Amongst the generally favourable reaction to the news, some anti war campaigners and families of soldiers killed during the wars in Iraq and in Afghanistan claimed the donation was "blood money" and a public relations stunt.[17][18][19]


In 2015, the administration office announced that the practice of subscriptions being paid informally within clubs by cash would cease, and that in future all subscriptions would need to be paid either via online payment, direct debit, cheque or in cash at PayPoint.[20][failed verification][failed verification] In North Wales this prompted a number of associated clubs to leave the Legion, including Colwyn Bay and Conwy, with others voting on also doing so.[21]

Royal British Legion Women's Section[edit]

The Royal British Legion Women's Section (RBLWS) was founded in 1921 and operated independently for some 96 years, with its own branches, standards and standard bearers, county branches, income and expenditure, national central committee, and annual conference. In mid-December 2015, with minimal consultation with the RBLWS, the Royal British Legion wrote to all RBLWS branches announcing its decision to integrate the Women's Section into itself by October 2016, when the RBLWS would become a "district" of the RBL, no longer operating as a separate organisation. Its national standard would no longer appear at the Cenotaph on Remembrance Sunday and would be “laid up”, never to be used again. The RBLWS national officers had been told about this in advance, but they were also told to treat the information as confidential, so that they could not fore-warn their members.[22] This speedily led to mass protests and branch closures.[23][24] By September 2016, public perception of the RBL had fallen to its lowest level in four years.[25] In December, long-serving members accused the RBL of acting in a dictatorial fashion, and one member commented "It is definitely like the pre-Suffragette era. Men are ordering the women around."[24] By the beginning of 2017, membership of the RBLWS had fallen from about 32,000 to fewer than 16,000.[26] The integration of the RBLWS into the RBL was completed in November 2017.

The RBLWS was still in existence in 2019, with a central committee of seven members and with its chairman having a seat on the RBL Board of Trustees. By then its substantial funds had been integrated into the accounts of the RBL.[27]


The Kings Norton Royal British Legion Youth Marching Band in 2006.

There are over 50 Legion bands around the world, each run and funded independently. They include full concert show bands, brass ensembles, pipe and drum bands, marching bands and youth bands.

The Central Band of the Royal British Legion is the Legion's flagship band. In existence since 1944, the band was recognised as the Legion's premier band in 1983 and gained its title of "The Central Band of the Royal British Legion" three years later.[28]


Beacon Hill, Surrey, Club

The Royal British Legion has an extensive network of Social Clubs called Legion Clubs throughout the United Kingdom. The Royal British Legion also has branches in the Republic of Ireland.[29] Other branches are spread around the world, mostly in mainland Europe, but also in the United States, Thailand, Belize, the Falkland Islands and Hong Kong.[30]

The Royal British Legion Riders Branch (RBLR) is a specialist worldwide branch of The Royal British Legion for motorcyclists. Its members hold events such as Weston Bike Night in Weston-super-Mare and rallies such as the RBLR 1000,[31] a 1,000 mile in 24 hours sponsored ride, all to raise money for the Poppy Appeal. Many RBLR members attended the repatriation ceremonies in Royal Wootton Bassett.[32][33][34] Ex-services members of the RBLR often wear medals and head-dress with their leathers and motorcycle kit.


RBLS badge

Within Scotland, a sister organisation to the RBL, the Royal British Legion Scotland, operates on the same basis as the RBL functions elsewhere within the UK, and is a Registered Charity within Scotland, (SC003323).

In June 1921, Field Marshal Earl Haig formed the Royal British Legion Scotland (Legion Scotland) as it is now known, by bringing together several charities that had been established to assist those returning from the horrors of the First World War and residing in Scotland.

Around the same time the Royal British Legion, as it is now known, was also formed to assist those returning and living south of the border.

Earl Haig also established two poppy appeal funds. One was organised and delivered by the Royal British Legion in all areas other than Scotland. The second was delivered by the Earl Haig Fund Scotland, now commonly known as Poppyscotland. Whilst the Scottish Poppy Appeal is heavily supported by Legion Scotland with about one third of the annual can collection raised by its members, the appeal is owned by Poppyscotland not Legion Scotland.

— Royal British Legion Scotland: History[35]


The Royal British Legion has received the freedom of several UK local government areas.

Local government areas awarding freedom to the Royal British Legion or its branches
Date Area Notes Refs
1996 Castlereagh Northern Ireland [36][37][38]
11 May 1996 Newtownabbey Northern Ireland [39]
18 July 1996 Harrow, London England. To Harrow branch [40]
22 February 1997 Ballymoney Northern Ireland. To Ballymoney branch [41][42]
8 May 2004 Perth Scotland. To RBL Scotland [43]
24 June 2006 Antrim Northern Ireland [39]
15 October 2009 North Tyneside England. To Whitley Bay and Forest Hall branches [44][45]
2 October 2010 Birmingham England. To Birmingham County branch [46]
2 November 2012 Great Yarmouth England. To Great Yarmouth branch [47][48]
2013 Richmond, North Yorkshire England [49][50]
18 June 2013 Burghfield, West Berkshire England [51]
2014 Tamworth, Staffordshire England [52]
11 June 2016 Woodbridge, Suffolk England. To Woodbridge branch [53]
4 April 2017 Hounslow, London England. To 7 local branches [54][55][56]
7 November 2018 High Peak, Derbyshire England. To 6 local branches [57][58][59]
28 June 2021 Torfaen Wales [60]
28 July 2021 Peterborough England. To Peterborough branch [61]
28 October 2021 Newport Wales [62][63]
4 November 2021 Blaenau Gwent Wales [64][65][66]
17 November 2021 Lowestoft England. To Lowestoft and District Branch [67]
25 November 2021 Stafford England. To Stafford branch [68][69]
24 March 2022 Gloucester England. To Gloucester Branch [70]
25 March 2022 Caerphilly Wales [71][72][73][74]
1 April 2022 Dumfries and Galloway Scotland. To RBL Scotland [75]
14 August 2022 Liskeard, Cornwall England. To Liskeard branch [76]
9 September 2023 Market Drayton, Shropshire England. To Market Drayton branch [77][78]

See also[edit]

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ "Join the Royal British Legion". Royal British Legion. Retrieved 17 April 2015.
  2. ^ "Legion magazine". Royal British Legion. Archived from the original on 29 April 2015. Retrieved 17 April 2015.
  3. ^ Mark Garnett and Richard Weight, The A-Z guide to Modern British history (2003) p 76.
  4. ^ Garnett and Weight, The A-Z guide to Modern British history (2003) pp 76-77.
  5. ^ "Wiltshire woman's poppy teardrop 'violates trademark'". BBC News, 9 November 2011. Retrieved 10 November 2012.
  6. ^ "EU000681452". IPO. Intellectual Property Office. Retrieved 13 October 2014.
  7. ^ "EU004066271". IPO. Intellectual Property Office. Retrieved 13 October 2014.
  8. ^ "EU000681452". IPO. Intellectual Property Office. Retrieved 13 October 2014.
  9. ^ "Poppy Shop". The Poppy Shop. Royal British Legion. Retrieved 17 April 2015.
  10. ^ "Queen leads tributes". The Guardian. Retrieved 26 February 2015.
  11. ^ "BBC Remembrance Page 2007". Archived from the original on 13 November 2007. Retrieved 29 September 2015.
  12. ^ Mark Townsend, "Army inquest backlog grows: Widows must wait longer for results because coroner has yet to receive promised funds", The Observer, 9 September 2007, p. 2.
  13. ^ "Cameron speech in full", BBC News Online, 3 October 2007.
  14. ^ Matthew Taylor, Richard Norton-Taylor, "Priority NHS treatment promised to war veterans", The Guardian, 23 November 2007, p. 1.
  15. ^ "Civvystreet.org". Retrieved 28 September 2009.
  16. ^ Furlong, Ray (11 September 2009). "British Legion accepts BNP gift". BBC News. Retrieved 5 March 2010.
  17. ^ Taylor, Matthew (16 August 2010). "Tony Blair pledges book proceeds to Royal British Legion". The Guardian. Retrieved 9 September 2010.
  18. ^ Prince, Rosa; Gammell, Caroline; Evans, Martin (16 August 2010). "Questions over size of Tony Blair's book royalty donation to Royal British Legion". The Daily Telegraph. London. Archived from the original on 19 August 2010. Retrieved 9 September 2010.
  19. ^ "Blair's Book Donation Branded 'Blood Money'". Sky News. 16 August 2010. Retrieved 9 September 2010.
  20. ^ "Legion membership renewals move online". 11 February 2019.
  21. ^ "Veterans quit Royal British Legion over subscription changes". BBC News. 14 October 2015.
  22. ^ Lesley Willcocks, "The Royal British Legion’s closure of its women’s section is dictatorial and devastating", The Guardian, 16 August 2016, accessed 26 May 2021
  23. ^ Susannah Birkwood, "Royal British Legion women's section closes branches in protest at integration plans", thirdsector.co.uk, 16 August 2016, accessed 26 May 2021
  24. ^ a b Andrew Levy, "Half of the Royal British Legion's Women's Section quit in sexism storm: Members leave the charity in droves in dispute over being 'governed' by men" ‘’Thurrock Mail, 29 December 2016
  25. ^ Andy Ricketts, "Public perception of British Legion falls to lowest level in four years: The continuing controversy over the planned integration of local women's sections into the main charity has helped push the charity's scores down in the YouGov CharityIndex", thirdsector.co.uk, 3 September 2016, accessed 26 May 2021
  26. ^ Susannah Birkwood, Membership of women's section of British Legion 'down by half': 16,000 women have left the organisation in protest at the absorption of the women's sections into the main charity, thirdsector.co.uk, 3 January 2017, accessed 26 May 2021
  27. ^ RBL Annual Report & Accounts 2018, britishlegion.org.uk, September 2018; RBL Annual Report & Accounts 2019, rblcdn.co.uk, September 2019, pages 41, accessed 26 May 2021
  28. ^ "the central band". the RBL. Retrieved 16 August 2009.
  29. ^ Contact The Royal British Legion in the Republic of Ireland
  30. ^ Overseas Branches, Royal British Legion
  31. ^ "History". RBLR 1000. Archived from the original on 9 April 2010. Retrieved 10 July 2010.
  32. ^ "British Legion Riders Bike into Bassett". Wootton Bassett Chamber of Commerce. Archived from the original on 29 July 2010. Retrieved 10 July 2010.
  33. ^ Gillan, Audrey (25 February 2010). "How Wootton Bassett became the town that cried". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 10 July 2010.
  34. ^ Deal, Paul (10 November 2009). "Wootton Bassett sheds tears for soldiers". BBC News. Retrieved 10 July 2010.
  35. ^ "RBLS History". RBLS. Retrieved 14 September 2019.
  36. ^ Create, Three Sixty. "PSNI AWARDED FREEDOM OF THE BOROUGH". edamedia.co.uk.
  37. ^ Create, Three Sixty. "PSNI AWARDED FREEDOM OF THE BOROUGH". thesouthsideadvertiser.co.uk.
  38. ^ "Borough salutes Territorial Army with freedom of Castlereagh". www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk. 27 May 2013. Archived from the original on 17 November 2015. Retrieved 6 December 2020.
  39. ^ a b "Freemen of the Borough". Antrim & Newtownabbey Borough Council. 15 January 2019. Retrieved 6 December 2020.
  40. ^ "Freedoms granted by Harrow". Harrow Borough Council. Retrieved 16 September 2021.
  41. ^ "Cloonavin reception marks Freedom of the Borough anniversary for Ballymoney Royal British Legion". Causeway Coast Community. 25 February 2022. Retrieved 23 March 2022.
  42. ^ "Cloonavin reception marks Freedom of the Borough anniversary for Ballymoney Royal British Legion". Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council. Retrieved 23 March 2022.
  43. ^ Buchan, Jamie (18 June 2019). "Queen's ambassador in Perth poised to get Freedom of City honour". The Courier. Retrieved 16 September 2021.
  44. ^ [1][permanent dead link]
  45. ^ "Rugby star honoured with Freedom of the Borough". North Tyneside Borough Council. Retrieved 16 September 2021.
  46. ^ Greatrex, Jonny (4 October 2010). "Birmingham British Legion members given the Freedom of the City". The Birmingham Mail. Retrieved 7 October 2021.
  47. ^ "Honorary Freedom of the Borough Ceremony. Pictures by James Bass". Great Yarmouth Mercury.
  48. ^ Weeds, James (20 May 2021). "Ceremony marks centenary of Royal British Legion". Great Yarmouth Mercury. Retrieved 16 September 2021.
  49. ^ "Richmond Online Guide to Richmond, Yorkshire - Honorary Freedoms of the Town". Archived from the original on 21 April 2011. Retrieved 11 January 2017.
  50. ^ "Guide to Richmond Honorary Freedoms of the Town". Richmond Online. Retrieved 16 September 2021.
  51. ^ Fort, Linda (18 June 2013). "Royal British Legion awarded freedom of Burghfield". Berkshire Live. Retrieved 16 September 2021.
  52. ^ "Service organisations awarded Freedom of the Borough". Tamworth Borough Council. Retrieved 7 December 2020.
  53. ^ Potter, Tom (26 April 2016). "Freedom honour for RBL branch solidifies town's military links". The East Anglian Daily Times. Retrieved 16 September 2021.
  54. ^ "Royal British Legion to be honoured with Freedom of the Borough". London Borough of Hounslow. Retrieved 16 September 2021.
  55. ^ "Freedom of the Borough honour for 'dedicated' Royal British Legion branches". London Borough of Hounslow. Retrieved 16 September 2021.
  56. ^ "Freedom of the Borough of Hounslow". Royal British Legion. Retrieved 16 September 2021.
  57. ^ "Freedom of Borough honour for High Peak British Legion". High Peak Borough Council. Retrieved 16 September 2021.
  58. ^ "Freedom of the Borough honour for High Peak's Royal British Legion branches". Buxton Advertiser. 14 November 2018. Retrieved 16 September 2021.
  59. ^ "High Peak British Legion branches awarded Freedom of the Borough - in pictures". Buxton Advertiser. 13 November 2018. Retrieved 16 September 2021.
  60. ^ "Freedom of the Borough given to the Royal British Legion". Cwmbran Life. 28 June 2021. Retrieved 29 June 2021.
  61. ^ Lamy, Joel (27 July 2021). "Royal British Legion receiving Freedom of Peterborough is 'high honour'". The Peterborough Telegraph. Retrieved 7 October 2021.
  62. ^ Gill, Emily (30 June 2021). "Royal British Legion granted Freedom of Newport". The South Wales Argus. Retrieved 6 October 2021.
  63. ^ Powell, Leah (11 October 2021). "Freedom of the City of Newport for Royal British Legion". The South Wales Argus. Retrieved 17 October 2021.
  64. ^ Hearn, Elgan (30 July 2021). "Row over plan to give ex-councillors Blaenau Gwent freedom". The South Wales Argus. Retrieved 1 August 2021.
  65. ^ Hearn, Elgan (4 November 2021). "Royal British Legion awarded freedom of Blaenau Gwent". The South Wales Argus. Retrieved 7 November 2021.
  66. ^ "Freedom of the County Borough awarded to the Royal British Legion". Blaenau Gwent County Borough Council. 4 November 2021. Retrieved 16 October 2022.
  67. ^ "The Royal British Legion Lowestoft and District Branch awarded Freedom of the Town". Lowestoft Town Council. 17 November 2021. Retrieved 4 July 2024.
  68. ^ Cassady, Leah (1 August 2021). "Freedom honour for Stafford Royal British Legion in centenary year". In Your Area. Retrieved 29 August 2021.
  69. ^ "Freedom of Stafford Borough for Royal British Legion charity". BBC News. 25 November 2021. Retrieved 3 December 2021.
  70. ^ Garcia, Carmelo (2 April 2022). "Royal British Legion granted freedom of Gloucester for their 'sterling' service to others". Gloucestershire Live. Retrieved 4 July 2024.
  71. ^ "NOTICE OF THE DECISIONS FROM THE COUNCIL MEETING HELD ON TUESDAY 17th NOVEMBER 2020 AT 5.00P.M." (PDF). Caerphilly County Borough Council. Retrieved 16 September 2021.
  72. ^ James, Rhiannon (28 March 2022). "Royal British Legion granted the freedom of Caerphilly". Wales Online. Retrieved 28 March 2022.
  73. ^ "Freedom of the County Borough awarded to the Royal British Legion". Caerphilly County Borough Council. Retrieved 28 March 2022.
  74. ^ James, Rhiannon (25 March 2022). "Royal British Legion awarded freedom of Caerphilly county borough". The South Wales Argus. Retrieved 28 March 2022.
  75. ^ Liptrott, Sharon (1 April 2022). "Dumfries and Galloway Council grants Legion Scotland freeman status to mark 100th anniversary status". The Daily Record. Retrieved 26 April 2022.
  76. ^ "Freedom of the Town parade to be hosted by Liskeard RBL". The Cornish Times. 4 August 2022. Retrieved 8 August 2022.
  77. ^ Williams, Richard (30 August 2023). "Parade planned after Market Drayton's Royal British Legion gets freedom of the town". The Shropshire Star. Retrieved 31 August 2023.
  78. ^ Austin, Sue (10 September 2023). "Royal British Legion given freedom of Market Drayton marks honour with poignant parade and flyover". The Shropshire Star. Retrieved 16 September 2023.

Further reading[edit]

  • King, Alex. Memorials of the Great War in Britain: the symbolism and politics of remembrance (Bloomsbury Publishing, 2014).
  • Newall, Venetia. "Armistice Day: Folk tradition in an English festival of remembrance." Folklore 87#2 (1976): 226–229.
  • Wootton, Graham. The official history of the British Legion (London, Published for The British Legion by Macdonald & Evans, 1956).
  • Harding, Brian."Keeping Faith: The History of the Royal British Legion" (Pen & Sword Books Ltd, 2001, ISBN 0850528267, 9780850528268)

External links[edit]

Media related to The Royal British Legion at Wikimedia Commons