Need a helping hand getting used to Antwerp life? Meet Wwelcome!

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1) Please tell us about Wwelcome: when, how and why it came to be established.

Wwelcome was established one year ago on April 1st 2018. While working for an insurance company, the two founders discovered a great need for personal assistance with the various sorts of documentation required of newcomers to Belgium.

Even though some organisations (including governmental) already provide administrative assistance, newcomers sometimes had challenging or negative experiences when trying to get their paperwork in order .

Our organisation supports immigrants to Belgium with whichever issues they bring to the table. It’s our mission to make them feel at home here: hence, Wwelcome.

2) What services do you offer and how are these funded?

Over the past year, we have noticed a great variety in the types of support that people need. Therefore we mostly operate in a Q&A style. Our members bring us letters, bills and contracts to translate and explain, or various application forms to enter. Sometimes, they ask for advice about immigration, naturalisation, buying a house or getting a divorce.

Next to explaining and offering advice, we mediate on behalf of our members with the government, insurance and energy companies, realtors, banks, employers, schools and landlords. Though we are not lawyers or accountants, we are the link between our members and these specialists.

All of this we provide for a monthly subscription of €10 (our “All-You-Can-Eat” formula!). If people prefer, we can also service for €10 per hour.

In addition we can accompany people to the hospital, police, OCMW, or any place else in order to interpret. We offer discounts at our partner organisations and various stores such as IKEA, Carrefour and Kinepolis. The more members we have, the bigger the discounts we can offer.

For business owners, we offer the above and a number of additional services. We support them with taking the first steps in establishing their business, creating financial plans, understanding social and health requirements, applying for loans and by advertising them through our media platforms. Business owners pay a different membership fee, depending on the type and size of their business.

3) What are the most common challenges or difficulties experienced by newcomers to Antwerp?

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8 different languages are spoken by Wwelcome staff

The most common challenges that are brought to our attention are firstly,  communication and arranging matters with the government and aligned associations. Bureaucracies are not always open-minded or willing to communicate in English, and people often don’t know what they are expected to do next. Even for Dutch-speakers, it is often difficult to grasp what is meant by some of the letters newcomers receive. Secondly, problems with justifying bills: many people just pay the invoice as is, even though they could reduce a payment by giving the correct information and not have to pay the (entire) bill. This means they avoid paying for a service that they don’t receive or don’t want.

4) Many are concerned by the rise in populism across Europe at the moment, and the racism, anti-immigrant or xenophobic feelings which accompany this rise. Is this something that is a you notice here in your work, or in your personal experiences?

We don’t come across direct racism. However, many people experience discrimination at an institutional level (government or companies) due to the fact that they cannot advocate for themselves in Dutch.

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Helping clients and partners alike

We notice that sometimes organisations (also landlords, employers and even business partners) try to outsmart our members. However, when we make the call or write the mail, they are quick to respond with “sorry, yes, I understand…”.

There also happens to be a rule that for administrative *Artikel 60 work, Muslim women are required to take off their scarf. If they don’t, they are fired and lose their allowance.

5) In your line of work, what does success look like?

Everyday success for us is bringing peace of mind to our members, resolving their worries and offering an optimistic view of their future.

Long-term success would be a flourishing organisation throughout Europe where we can touch the lives of millions of immigrants; welcoming them with open arms and providing an antidote to the negative populist voices. When people feel welcome, they are keen to contribute positively to the communities that they have made their home.

Wwelcome is located at Bredabaan 371 in Merksem. If you’re coming by tram, then trams 2 & 3 stop almost outside our office at the stop called Burgemeester Nolf.

*Artikel 60 is an employment opportunity arranged by the OCMW for people on a government allowance or those who have no income at all. 
For more info see: https://www.mi-is.be/nl/artikel-60-ss-7

Useful Wwelcome links

Wwelcome website                      Facebook

 

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This weekend in Antwerp: 1st, 2nd & 3rd February

Friday

ghostwalkThank you, Antwerp Ghostwalk, for getting in touch this week with the following information about two special walks for English speakers, one of which is happening this Friday:

We have a new storyteller:  Lieven is a true fan of Anglosaxon ghostwalk traditions and has toured the U.K. to experience many different urban ghost tours.  We combined his passion with our longstanding expertise in providing entertaining English language ghostwalks, balancing ghostly atmosphere with some typical Antwerp flair and peculiar local folk stories. This brings the original “Antwerp Ghostwalk” to a new level.
we have sessions planned at 
– Friday February 1st at 8PM (this Friday)

– Friday March 1st at 8PM  

Visit the website for more information and tickets, or check out the Ghostwalk Facebook page.

Saturday

Another event of interest to English speakers is the Philosophy Café in Den Hopsack bar, between 2pm and 5pm –  it’s a discussion group: no previous experience necessary, just order a beer and join in, or listen.

In Koning Albertpark there’s a free Winter Lights Festival festival from 3pm until 11.30pm with performances, music, DJs and games. Children may bring lanterns, and the park will be illuminated with lights as it gets darker.

Sunday

It’s the first Sunday of the month so shops in and around the centre town will be open for “Winkel Zondag”. NB. many shops open a little later on Shopping Sunday; usually at midday.

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There’s music in the cathedral on the first Sunday of each month too, in the Sacraments’ Chapel at 4pm. This is free to residents of Antwerp (on provision of proof that you’re a local). I believe an ID card counts as evidence if the place of issue is Antwerp. Otherwise it is 6 euros to go in (indeed the Cathedral is always free to Antwerp residents).

Rugby Fans!  Come and enjoy the first Antwerp Derby of 2019, as Antwerp RC host local rivals, RC Schilde to Wilrijkse Plenin!

The 2nd XV will kick off the afternoon with a 1pm kick off before the 1st XV face each other at 3pm.

Sadly the weather outlook is not great and there is the chance of rain on all days this weekend. Temps are around 6 degrees.
Miscellaneous

Legends of Liondance continues at Permeke library as part of the approaching Chinese New Year festivities. This is a colourful display of the lions which lasts until 10th February, and is free.

cork-738603_640How do you make it as a new business in Antwerp? Check back into Nessascityblog again on Monday for a special post about a unique Antwerp start-up (also a must for any readers who like wine …)

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This weekend in Antwerp: 8th, 9th & 10th December

HERE IS YOUR FESTIVE GOOGLE MAP!

Friday

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OLV Cathedral and Christmas Market

If you can’t quite wait for the Winter fare available at the Christmas market (see Saturday) then winter bar Aspen Bocadero has just opened at Waagnatie.
Saturday

It’s a big day in the Antwerp calendar:  today marks the start of Winter In Antwerp. If you have lived in Antwerp for more than a year, then you will know that Winter in A means that the historic centre is lit up for the Christmas season. It’s a lot more than a Christmas market -you will find festive activities on Steenplein, Suikerrui, Grote Markt, Handschoenmarkt and Groenplaats. When I walked through last weekend preparations were well underway, with the market stands in place on Grote Markt and the ice rink ready to go on Groenplaats. There will also be a big wheel, and tubing on Steenplein for the kids.

The full program for the opening can be found on the Stad Antwerp website, but basically at 11am on Saturday all the attractions which locals associate with #winterinA  will open. Let the glühwein flow …

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Tubing on Steenplein

 

At Costa Sint Andries there is a “Geefplein” -giving market. Bring your second hand items (in good condition) to give away for free from 11- 18h. The Geefplein is about recycling, freecycling and sharing in the community.

Sunday

If you have kids who like making things, trundle them along to the Permeke library from 11am to take part this craft activity, where they can make a Christmas star decoration.

Shops in Antwerp will be open for Sunday shopping today, and on Sundays throughout December in Antwerp -including on Christmas Eve.

Alternatively, shop for something local and a little bit different at the last edition of Markt van Morgen of 2017 on the Kloosterstraat from midday until 6pm. Jewellery, accessories, cool tees, stationery and household items which you won’t find in the high street stores. Also featuring Comfort Food Truck, DJs and gluhwein.

It’s the annual Victorian Christmas Walk -pull on your bonnet and your finest muffler and set off from the zoo at 1pm.

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It’s going to be really quite cold, so wrap up warm (or buy hats, scarves and gloves from the Christmas market!) and there may even be snow on Friday and Saturday. On Sunday showers are possible.

 

Miscellaneous

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Spotted by Locals

I was delighted to learn this week that Nessascityblog was listed by Spotted by Locals in their list of Best Antwerp Blogs 2017. Spotted by Locals provides city tips from people who live in the cities featured. There is also a Spotted By Locals app.

There’s currently a small fun fair on Sint Jansplein.

China Light has opened at Antwerp Zoo. It’s a little bit more expensive than the events I usually include here, but it has become something of an annual feature of the Antwerp winter scene, and -if it’s dry – it’s worth seeing. The colours and lights are pretty and magical. It’s on until the 14th January.

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China Light at Antwerp Zoo

 And on Monday, look out for a special Nessascityblog post about English speaking theatre in Antwerp, and an upcoming BATS production which will please theatre-goers of all ages …

 

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