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Interview with Michel Vanhoonacker, Honorary Consul for Belgium in Hull

Date: 
07 November 2013

Honorary Consul for Belgium since 2012 
Main profession Company Director and Chairman of the Belgian-Luxembourg Chamber of Commerce 
Jurisdiction Yorkshire/Lincolnshire/Nottinghamshire 
Estimated number of Belgians in jurisdiction 500 
Interest in/link with Belgium business and family

Michel Vanhoonacker

What made you decide to move to the UK? 
I obtained a Dutch/French bilingual university degree after studying in Namur and Leuven and thought it would be even better if it was trilingual. So I applied for a Postgraduate degree at the Bristol Business School and fell in love with the place (and a local whom I eventually married). I must admit that I have been an Anglophile since the tender age of six when we used to travel to London very year to visit my parents’ Belgian friends who were posted here.

Why did you become Honorary Consul for Belgium? 
I would like to add ‘in Kingston-upon-Hull’ since that is where I live with my wife and 3 children. It is a highly underrated region and often comes second (after Middlesborough) in the list of worst places to live in England. Through my role, I hope to help Belgian individuals living in or moving to this area and make it a pleasant experience as it has many advantages, including a quick link to the motherland. I also promote the area among Belgian businesses as it is rapidly becoming the UK’s renewable hotspot with wind, bio-fuel, solar and tidal power opportunities.

How do you combine your regular job with that of consul? 
As we have a staffed office here, it is quite straightforward to welcome and help Belgians who need assistance. Furthermore, I read up on what is happening in the region for my regular job and meet local business people and dignitaries which makes it logical to combine the two.

Can you provide examples of why people get in touch with you as a consul? 
People often contact us to apply for a visa. Unfortunately, we do not issue visas but we can point them in the right direction. We also help Belgians who are moving to the area and have many practical questions. Thirdly, we certify the necessary paperwork for pensioners so that they get their Belgian state pension.

How often do you visit Belgium? Where do you tend to go? 
For my regular work, I go to Belgium 9 to 10 times a year. I tend to travel around the entire country but never fail to visit my hometown Brugge where my parents still live. In the summer we tend to spend time in De Haan to give my children a much needed Belgian cultural ‘dip’. Although they have never actually lived in Belgium, they consider themselves Belgians.

Which 5 words would you list to describe Belgium? 
Quality – good schooling – ‘gezellig’ (cosy) – tasty - parochial

Which 5 words would you list to describe the UK? 
Beautiful – green – creative – tolerant - insular

Can you foresee yourself moving back to Belgium at some stage? 
In fact, I did move back once before after having lived in the UK for 5 years and regretted it within 3 weeks. Due to business commitments, it took over 3 years before I was able to return to Great Britain. Since my wife learned Dutch whilst living in Brugge (well actually at Ghent university so she would not pick up the local lingua), we could quite easily go back if we wanted. However, family, professional and business commitments in the UK make such a move unlikely in the near future.