The Brussels British Community Association (BBCA) has a long history and has existed in one form or another since before World War II. Before then a British Charitable Fund had been set up to care for British casualties after the Battle of Waterloo (it continues today to help Britons in distress) and in the early part of the twentieth century a number of individual sporting and cultural groups for British residents had grown up. After the First World War a branch of the British Legion had been created.
The British Colony Association was formally registered under Belgian law in 1944 after the liberation of Belgium. Its first Annual Meeting took place on 22 January 1948, when over 200 people were present, electing a committee made up of representatives of the British Legion, the English Comedy Club, the Brussels British Sports Club, the Brussels Lawn Tennis Club, Toc H, the Union club, the British chaplains and the scouts. The first Chairman was Mr T L Ferguson (chairman 1948 – 1962). By 1951 it had 717 members, rising to 1300 in 1954, 1400 in 1957 (when the total British population in Brussels was estimated at 6000), declining over the next few years before returning to a high of 2500 members (out of a population of 12000 UK citizens) in 1970. Seven years later numbers had fallen to 500; by 1993 they were 250. At present individual membership stands at +/-120. The numbers of member constituent groups was not recorded but in 1990 there were 25, rising to the present figure of around 36 by 1999.
From the outset, working closely with the British Embassy, the aim of the Association was to act as a coordinating body for the various constituent groups which had begun to meet again after the War (the British Legion, the English Comedy Club (founded 1909), the British Lawn Tennis Club, the British Sports Club, football and cricket groups, the churches, etc.as well as the newly founded Royal Air Forces Association and the Royal Naval Association. It also served an important role as a meeting place for individual members of the British community partly as a result of a Belgian law which prohibited the public consumption of alcohol but allowed it in private clubs. It organized regular annual social events such as a New Year Ball at the Cercle Gaulois, summer sports, a childrens’ Christmas party, teenage discos and pantomime visits. For a while a music group existed and an address book of British members was published. In 1953 it organized a major Coronation Ball at the Palais d’Egmont. There were regular contacts with visiting Royal Naval ships at Antwerp and Brussels.
In the 1960’s under the chairmanship of John Greaves (chairman 1963-1975) the idea of a British School in Brussels was launched in 1966, leading to the creation of a working committee of the BCAB in 1968 to prepare the way and the admittance of the first pupils to the Tervuren site in the autumn of 1970. The Duke of Edinburgh officially opened the school on 9 December 1970 when he unveiled a commemorative foundation stone provided by the Association.
In 1967 there had been a visit to Brussels by the Queen and Prince Philip in which the Association was heavily involved and later a major British Week was organized in which the Association had an important role. An appeal was organised in 1968 to mark the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo, following a successful Winston Churchill memorial appeal in 1964.
In 1974, following the substantial increase in the number of British residents arriving in Brussels to work in the European Institutions, NATO, international and British companies, international organizations etc., the Association renamed itself the Brussels British Community Association and constituted itself as an asbl under the chairmanship of E. A. (Blackie) Blackwell (who continued as chairman until his death in 1990). The idea of creating an asbl had been discussed off and on since 1962. There was a growth in the number of constituent associations particularly in the theatre, music and sports fields and the Association continued to thrive in much the same way as before. This influx of new residents and the development of new activities meant however that the need for a focal point for social events for the British community diminished.
The Association’s regular newspaper, The Beacon, that had been produced from 1952 to 1982 by John Edmonds (24 issues per year in 1968 falling to 11 in 1981 when it had a budget of 100,000 FB (2,500 euro) and operated an important shopping discount scheme), was no longer necessary after the earlier development of a weekly English language news magazine, The Bulletin, but the Association continued to produce its own quarterly newsletter for members. Increasingly constituent associations widened their membership base to encompass a wider international participation and this reduced the requirement for a purely British focal point. There was a considerable reduction in the support for the activities of the Association as indicated by the earlier figures on membership developments.
In this period the Association organized special celebrations to mark the Queen’s Silver Jubilee in 1977 raising 1.5M FB (37,100 euro) for the Jubilee Fund. It was active in relation to the British Nationality Act preparations in 1981 and in organising campaigns for expatriate voting rights, for the introduction of BBC TV on the Belgian cable systems, for the creation of hospices and for the continuance of BBC Radio 4 reception in Belgium. It organized major celebrations in 1984 and 1994 to mark the 40th and 50th anniversaries of the Liberation of Belgium It also organized charitable fund raising activities such as a South Atlantic Fund after the Falklands War, a Heysel Disaster Fund after the football crowd deaths in 1985, and an appeal following the Zeebrugge Ferry Disaster in 1987 which raised 1.7M FB (42,100 euro). It also continued to make charitable and welfare donations to a range of organizations. From 1976 and during the 1980’s and 1990’s it organized the annual Queen’s Birthday Reception at the British ambassador’s residence.
In 1999 and 2003 there were moves to close down the Association on the grounds that it had outlived its usefulness. After the second move in this direction a group of interested individuals put together a rescue plan and set new targets for the Association at the beginning of the 21st century. Following an Extraordinary General Meeting in September 2003 a new committee was elected chaired by Robert Hull and developed a website to fulfill one of the original purposes of the Association to act as an umbrella organization for the constituent groups but using modern technology. In the same way it is publishing a new kind of on line newsletter for the British community as well as continuing to publish a regular newsletter for those without on line access. Supported by a range of companies and working closely with the British Embassy it has a continuing role as an umbrella organisation for all British related associations in Brussels and a focal point for the estimated 30,000 British residents in Brussels in addition to looking at new ways to help them. It is also seeking to bring the British community closer to its Belgian neighbours.
In 2005 it organized a reception to mark the 175th anniversary of the founding of Belgium and to mark British links with the country since 1830. In 2006, together with the British Chamber of Commerce in Belgium, the BBCA organised a Queen’s Birthday reception for the British community in Brussels and the south of Belgium to celebrate the Queen’s Official Birthday in her 80th year. A similar event was held in 2007. In addition cocktail receptions are organized during the Christmas period.
“The Association’s” 1974 newspaper,
The Beacon [PDF, 2.25 Mb]
“The Association’s” 1964 journal,
British European News [PDF, 1.40 Mb]