BBCA long-time partner charity, the British Charitable Fund (BCF), has recently published its 2020 Annual Review and held its Annual General Meeting. The 2020 review outlines the BCF’s activities during a uniquely difficult period with the Covid crisis and associated social and economic issues caused by the pandemic. How did the BCF respond? And what can you do to help?
Writing in the review, BCF President Ambassador Martin Shearman noted that: “over the last twelve months, the toll extorted by Coronavirus had been heavy, but come what may, living through the last year has shown us how much kindness, selflessness and concern for others matter. The British Charitable Fund embodies those virtues.”
The British Charitable Fund was founded in 1815, at the request of the Duke of Wellington, to help injured soldiers and their dependants who remained in Belgium after the Battle of Waterloo. Over 200 years later, the charity continues to help British nationals and their dependants in Belgium in times of need.
2020 and the BCF
“During 2020, the Covid pandemic threw a very harsh spotlight onto the societies we live in today,” says Julie Huckle, BCF Chairman, in the Review. “The inability of people to go about their normal daily business meant that livelihoods were threatened, income was cut, social contact was virtually eliminated and, unless you were adept at virtual interaction, the risks associated with isolation were very, very real.”
“The coronavirus has affected all of our lives to one degree or another, but I am proud to say that BCF volunteers have continued to act and make a difference to people’s lives,” she continues. “The tenacity and consistency of my BCF colleagues in 2020 has been exemplary and I am so glad to report that, when the test of man’s humanity to man comes, BCF volunteers stand ready.”
“Despite the pandemic, we were able to continue benefiting from our supporters’ financial assistance and we are and will remain very grateful for this,” Julie concludes.
The work of the BCF basically relies on two major resources. Time, which BCF volunteers bring in quantity, and money, which the BCF’s supporters continue to provide and for which the Beneficiaries of BCF resources, and their families, are extremely grateful.
At the AGM, the BCF remembered one of its longest-serving and greatly cherished volunteer members, Barbara Blackwell MBE, who passed away peacefully at her Brussels home in October 2020. Barbara was a very long-term resident of Brussels having first moved here with her family before World War II. She returned to Brussels after the war in 1948 and, with her husband Blackie Blackwell, was at the heart of British community activities, including the BBCA, for decades.
Barbara was on the Board of the BCF for over 40 years, making weekly visits to beneficiaries who needed support. For this work she was awarded an MBE 30 years ago for services to the British Community in Brussels. Her contribution to BCF, and to the wider community, was immense.
What does the BCF do?
People come to the BCF in times of personal crisis. They may be young or old, long-term residents in Belgium, new arrivals, or just passing through. They come from all walks of life. The BCF is non-denominational and non-judgemental, and simply does what is required to get lives back on track.
See below a range of BCF case studies that illustrate the kind of work the charity undertakes and the wide variety of people that they help. Names in the examples have been changed to protect identities.
Case study: Margaret
The BCF was asked to help Margaret who was widowed in February 2019. She needed immediate help with administrative procedures but also required support as she began to suffer from the onset of dementia. Margaret was always cheerful, bright and grateful for the help she received but was quite alone in Belgium. The BCF managed her administrative affairs, helped with medical and hospital visits and facilitated her return to the UK in September 2020 to live in secure accommodation. Her family solicitor remarked that BCF had quite probably saved Margaret’s life.
The problems people encounter are many and varied and can turn lives upside down. For instance, coping with administrative requirements upon the loss of a spouse can often be daunting, and loneliness and isolation (often coupled with money issues) can be longer-term problems for many people, not necessarily just the elderly. Language barriers only add to the difficulties for many and continued uncertainty following Brexit adds yet another layer of anxiety for many people, often the most vulnerable amongst us.
Case study: George
George lived happily in Brussels for 10 years and seemed to be in good health. He regularly visited his family in the UK but they grew concerned because of changes in his behaviour. At their request, the BCF met George following a call from the owner of his favourite Brussels café after George lost both his wallet and his passport. Working closely with the British Consulate, George’s situation was stabilised and he was found a place in a care home where he now lives happily and safely. George’s sister is certain that the BCF’s help saved George’s life.
As the case stories demonstrate, the BCF can help with advice, financial support, and regular visits to help combat loneliness. There is no limit to the type of help BCF gives which can range from having a weekly meeting over a cup of tea, to arranging legal or financial advice, to providing significant long-term financial support. The BCF works as a committee and is a group of unpaid volunteers. The BCF works in conditions of the strictest confidentiality and, whilst costs are kept to an absolute minimum, it is an ‘agency of last resort’ and only steps in when applicants have exhausted the normal means of support from family or government sources. However, the BCF’s structure enables them to react fast (often within a day), and support can last for as little as a few days, or continue for many years.
Case study: The West Family
The West family - a young couple with a new-born baby - came to Belgium for work but their situation was seriously impacted by the Covid pandemic and they found themselves with no income. The British Consulate was able to contact local social care providers who could help the couple and the BCF was able to relieve some of their financial pressures, not least the threat of eviction from their rented apartment.
The BCF works closely with other organisations that also help British nationals in Belgium. Many of the BCF’s beneficiaries come to them via organisations such as the Royal British Legion (RBL), the Community Help Service (CHS) and the Wednesday Club, as well as the Anglican churches.
Case study: Long-term Support
Terrorist attacks do not distinguish between nationalities and British victims were amongst the casualties in the terrorist attacks of 22 March 2016 in Belgium. Foreign victims in particular required support from their own countries. The BCF mobilised help quickly in conjunction with the Embassy, Consulate and UK Police. More than five years later, the BCF continues to give much needed logistical and moral support to those who were injured or lost a spouse that day.
The BCF liaises regularly with the Consulate and the British Embassy who, when their powers to intervene are limited, have referred cases to the BCF.
How can you help?
In a world where vulnerable people can easily find themselves in difficult situations, the calls on the BCF’s resources are continually increasing. New volunteers are always welcome and, should you have some time to spare, please consider join the organisation in helping people less fortunate than ourselves. You can contact BCF via their website: www.bcfund.be.
Alternatively, you could consider donating to help BCF continue its work. As a registered Belgian charity all donations over EUR 40 are tax deductible. You can make a bank transfer to the British Charitable Fund account – IBAN BE37 3101 8900 8428 - with the message ‘Donation’ and please include your address or email details so that the BCF can stay in touch. Donate today!