The current coronavirus crisis has reminded us how much we rely on each other, how much society and community matter, and how much kindness and selflessness can contribute to our common good. The British Charitable Fund (BCF) in Belgium has been an exemplar of that approach for over 200 years, helping countless people through tough times.
The BCF 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. Today, the organisation continues this work to help British nationals and their dependants in Belgium in times of need.
People come to the BCF in times of personal crisis. They may be young or old, long-term residents in Belgium or new arrivals, and they come from all walks of life (see the case studies below). The BCF is non-denominational and non-judgemental, and simply does what it takes to get lives back on track.
The problems people encounter are many and varied and can turn lives upside down. For instance, coping with administrative issues when grieving the loss of a spouse can often be daunting, and loneliness and isolation (often coupled with poverty) can be longer-term problems for many people, not necessarily the elderly. Language barriers only add to difficulties and Brexit has added yet another layer of uncertainty and anxiety for many people, often the most vulnerable amongst us.
Case study #1. Diana was travelling in Belgium but had an accident which meant she could not walk. She missed her flight home and found herself stranded at the airport. After contacting the consulate and spending a night in A&E at a Brussels hospital, the BCF stepped in to buy her a ticket so that she could return home to the UK to recover.
“As a result of Brussels’ situation at the heart of the EU, many British people have, over the past forty years, made Belgium their permanent home and whilst many live comfortable, long lives, this is not the case for all, and old-age, failing health and financial issues can quickly turn secure situations into a real struggle to get by,” says BCF Chairperson Julie Huckle. “Also, many people suffer from the pressures of modern-day life, and addiction and family issues can take a serious toll too. Each of our beneficiaries has a unique story, no two cases are the same and it is always good to know that, no matter what the situation, the charity can offer advice, material assistance, or simply a conversation.”
Advice & support
The BCF can help with advice, financial support, or regular visits to combat loneliness. There is no limit to the type of help the fund can give, ranging from a weekly meeting over a cup of tea, to arranging legal or financial advice, to providing significant long-term financial support. And all the BCF’s work is, of course, completely confidential.
Case study #2. Andrew and Sheila had lived in Belgium for many years when Andrew died unexpectedly. Sheila was left alone and deeply confused in her grief. The BCF was contacted by a family member and helped Sheila to take the first tentative steps towards resuming her life.
However, the BCF is concerned that there may be many needy people who are simply not aware of the help that the fund can offer. “In the midst of the uncertainty surrounding the United Kingdom’s decision to leave the EU, the BCF is devoted to increasing awareness of its activities amongst the British community in Belgium,” explains Julie. “And we continue to explore possibilities for extending contact within the community.”
The BCF works with a committee and group of unpaid volunteers and sees itself as the ‘agency of last resort’; only stepping in when applicants have exhausted the normal means of support from family or government agencies. However, its structure means it can react very quickly (often within a day) and flexibly with support which can last for as little as a few days or continue for many years.
Case study #3. Edward lived in a rented house, which was no longer a safe place for him. For his own well-being, he needed to move to a new home, but did not have the funds to pay the guarantee deposit. The BCF loaned him the money so that he could move and start to recover his health.
The BCF works closely with other organisations also active in helping British nationals in Belgium including other BBCA associated charities such as the Royal British Legion (RBL), the Community Help Service (CHS) and the Wednesday Club.
The fund liaises regularly with the Consulate and the British Embassy in Brussels who, when their powers to intervene are limited, refer cases to the BCF.
You can help?
In a world where vulnerable people can easily find themselves in difficult situations, the calls on the BCF’s resources are increasing. New volunteers are always welcome, but if you do not have the time to spare, join the BBCA in donating towards the fund’s activities. As a registered Belgian charity all donations over EUR 40 are tax deductible. You can make a bank transfer now to the British Charitable Fund account – IBAN BE37 3101 8900 8428 – including the message ‘Donation’. Thank you!
Find out more about the BCF via its website.
Case study #4. Several British citizens were victims in the Brussels terrorist attacks of 22 March 2016. The BCF mobilised help very quickly in conjunction with the British Embassy and Consulate. Four years on and the BCF continues to give much needed logistical and moral support to British people who were injured or lost a spouse in the attacks.