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Community life: Brussels Women’s Club - a social, cultural and sporting haven for English-speaking women

Brussels Women's Club golf club fundraiser
20:02 16/06/2021
In our continuing series on expat groups in Belgium, The Bulletin talks to Lilian Eilers and Ester Muñoz Guil about how the club offers a large programme of activities and charity initiatives for its multinational members

What are your roles at the Brussels Women’s Club?

Lilian Eilers (pictured below): I joined the club four years ago, and became club president last year. I also have a full-time job heading my own consultancy company with global coaches around the world. It’s sometimes difficult to balance the two, but I’m having fun.

Lilian Eilers Brussels Women's Club president

Ester Muñoz Guil (pcitured below): I’m the captain of the golf club and my role is to represent it in all activities and to make sure that it operates in a friendly and open manner, following the principles and rules of the sport. I’ve been a member since I arrived in Brussels in 2015.

Ester Munoz Guil captain golf club Brussels Women's Club

Why the name change from the British and Commonwealth Women’s Club?

Lilian: We were founded in 1963, focusing on women with a connection to Britain or the Commonwealth. At that time, members were either British women working in Brussels or married to Belgian service men, or Belgian women married to British service men who wanted to improve their conversational English. When the UK joined the EU in 1973 there was this massive influx of British citizens and the club membership rose to 800. Finally in the 1980s, the club opened its membership to English-speaking women of any nationality, but the name remained until September last year. We decided to change it as it appeared to be something of a threshold for some of the English-speaking women in Brussels looking for a social club to meet other people, take up activities and hobbies and spend time with expat women. I'm orginally from the Netherlands and I started speaking English at the age of eight when I attended international schools in the Middle East.

Ester: I wasn't initially put off by the name although I’m Spanish, from Barcelona, but I speak English and gave it a try. They were very welcoming and friendly.

Brussels Women's Club

Tell me about your clubhouse?

Lilian: It’s a three-story building in Woluwe-Saint-Pierre in a resident neighbourhood only two minutes from the Tervuren exit on the Ring.  It was bought in 1991 and the ground floor used to be a café, so we have a large space, a fully equipped kitchen, a bar and a garden. It’s a fabulous place where we can come together for large events and lunches, and hold smaller get-togethers in three meeting rooms (two can be rented). On the upper floor, there’s a library with 1,700 books, CDs and music videos. It requires money to maintain and we’re lucky to have a large membership to fund the place. Lots of other clubs in Brussels are without facilities, so this year we opened up the club for non-members to rent space for events, meetings or workshops.

Describe your membership?

Lilian: We currently have 220 members and counting, with as many new members joining us in the first half of this year as we had for the whole of last year. We have women who are working, retirees, young mothers; expat or English-speaking women from all walks of life. About 60% of our members are from Britain or the Commonwealth and we currently have 20 nationalities.

Brussels Women's Club golf club

What is the history of the golf club?

Ester: It was founded in 1990 by a bunch of dynamic golf fans who managed to get very good concessions in different courses around Brussels under affiliation to the British handicap authority, LGU. Since then, our club has been growing and we have kept the same foundation and spirit. We have 50 ladies at the golf club at the moment, but we expect our numbers to increase. Our advantage is that as a member of our golf club, you can play in nine different golf courses around Brussels, instead of just being a member of one golf club. We usually have a very busy calendar with more than 70 fixtures. We play different formats, qualifying and non-qualifying, championships, friendly matches and we organise charity competitions. Although we play throughout the year, over the winter we play only nine holes. We also give a lot of importance to the social part, so the 19th hole is very important for us to relax and enjoy a drink. It’s a good place to make new friends, enjoy nature and the company of the players. We also have a strong beginners group so we can help you get started and give you tips. Since 2021, after the change into the world handicap system, we have been affiliated with the Belgian Golf Federation – there has been a change in the whole handicap system – and if needed, we can explain the different options for obtaining a federation card.

Brussels Women's Club tennis

What other activities do you offer?

Lilian: I think that we are the most active women’s club in Belgium because we have about 30 different activities per month. This of course was pre-Covid, but as restrictions are easing up, we’re starting to offer art classes in the clubhouse, jewellery workshops, Spanish classes, etc. Due to Covid, lots of activities moved online, such as pilates and yoga. We doubled registrations for our fitness classes, so we’re going to continue to offer online and physical classes. We also organise bridge, cookery classes, tennis, bowling and lots of walking – our walks have tripled since March 2020. We go on museum visits and organise four guided excursions per year, to France and Germany as well as Belgium. Non-members can join any of our walks and that’s how a lot of people are able to meet us, have a chat, have a bite to eat and find out whether they would like to join.

What charity work do you undertake?

Lilian: The club has a long history of doing charity work. Our members choose two charities to support every year, one based in Belgium, the other based internationally. This year we have chosen Rolling Douche in Brussels, which provides free personal hygiene services to the homeless. The other charity, FACE, is in Cairo and basically helps street children get off the streets. As both concern the homeless and we are all so happy to have a roof over our heads, we launched in March a series of walks called From Châteaux to Shelter. And thanks to some very creative charity coordinators in the Club, in April we launched our Cairo to Brussels Challenge. As the walking distance between the two cities is 10,000 kms, we have two teams of 10 women who are walking, jumping, hopping, golfing, swimming, and logging their kilometres. The amazing thing is that they will virtually reach Cairo next week and then start the journey home. One team is from the main club, the other from the golf club.

Brussels Women's Club

Ester: The golf club has always been very involved in charity work. Our 10 ladies doing the challenge are doing well and going faster than expected. Our own fundraising competition in July is open to players outside the club, including men, and is always a great success. The golf club also supports the Belgian breast cancer charity Think Pink. Every September, we hold an event with proceeds going to the charity in memory of one of our members who died of breast cancer.

How has the club operated during confinement?

Lilian: One of the things we did was to shift our traditional Wednesday clubhouse lunches to takeaway options, which was a huge success, with members also buying lunches for their friends. We were able to find ways to stay connected as a community, stay safe and right now we are starting to open up the clubhouse, still honouring  distancing and masks. We hope by September or October to have our traditional Open Info Day so that people can visit the club and meet with activity leaders.

Ester: Luckily golf was one of the few sports that remained open so we could continue to play all through the pandemic, following the rules and regulations. It was great for the golfers to keep motivated, fit and connected. Now club terraces are open, competitions are back on again and we’re slowly getting back to the golf we all know.

Is the BWC involved with other expat groups in Belgium?

Lilian: What has been interesting with Covid is that people have been reaching out more than before. Since this year, we’ve been connected to six partner clubs, five in Belgium, one in Luxemburg. They range from expat clubs to women’s clubs and art societies. We promote each other’s events and we get a discounted partner rate; we have also offered discounted membership fees for these clubs so that other people can join BWC member-only activities as well.

Ester: The golf club shares events with other clubs and associations in Belgium and we have annual friendly competitions. We have been invited to the Brussels Rotary Club tournament in September and every year we join other charity competitions.

Brussels Women's Club

Do you have a message for anyone interested in joining the club?

Lilian: Since I joined the club, I’ve been really impressed how we are able to provide a social and cultural haven for English-speaking women so that they can find their footing, enjoy their new home country, make friends, take up a new hobby and speak to people who have already been living the expat life. On top of that, we have a physical space with our clubhouse where they can relax and speak their own language if they’re anglophone. I’m proud that since May of this year, we have a series of online classes called Wednesday Wellbeing Workshops to try and address some of the needs that women have, especially now, coming out of Covid. They include stress relieving methods or finding answers that may be hidden inside ourselves. In October, we’re looking to launch a new series of workshops for expat spouses called UnPack . As well as online and physical events, we’ll be doing practical things like a 60-minute walk around Brussels, to go into a bakery, post office, etc. If you’re looking for practical answers to living in Belgium as an expat or looking for a fun place to hang out with other English-speaking women, check our website or Facebook page.

Ester: I’ve been an expat travelling to different countries for the past 26 years. I want women to try out the club; you may be surprised by how many options there are as well as the friendliness and the warmth of the people. I also want to mention the quality of the activities; sometime you go to classes and there’s not exactly the quality you want. Because I’ve been here for five years, I’m convinced that the quality of activities at the BWC is really good. Check our golf website for more information.

 

Written by Sarah Crew