Nuala Morgan meets the founders of Full Circle, a club dedicated to the celebration of ideas
Nestled in the heart of Brussels on Chaussée de Vleurgat, Full Circle has been a beacon of intellectual exchange for a decade. I had the privilege of speaking with the founders, Bridie Nathanson (BN) and Louise Hilditch (LH), about their journey, the essence of Full Circle, and their plans for the future.
Tell me about the Full Circle concept – what do you do?
LH The Full Circle idea was born out of a desire to bring ideas to Brussels, connecting them with the individuals who hold the power and influence to bring them to life. I was quite struck when I came to Brussels in 1993 that it wasn’t the bustling hub of ideas I had envisioned. I have always been passionate about creating a space for discussions. In its initial phase, Full Circle operated as an itinerant club, hosting monthly dinner debates with guest speakers in different locations. The quality of these discussions was remarkable, but it proved resource-intensive and unsustainable in the long run.
“The Full Circle idea was born out of a desire to bring ideas to Brussels”
However, when the opportunity arose to acquire an impressive hôtel de maître, we recognised the potential to establish a versatile venue for both small and large events. This vision has come to fruition, evolving from hosting eight or nine speakers annually to a remarkable 30 this year. Talks vary in scale, drawing audiences ranging from 5 to over 100 attendees, proving that there is indeed a profound appetite for ideas in Brussels.
You call yourself a ‘members’ club,’ which might suggest exclusivity, but your programming and positioning are inclusive and open. How do you define yourselves?
BN While the term ‘members’ club’ might conjure images of exclusivity, it doesn’t truly encapsulate Full Circle’s essence. It’s a term I struggled with. In Brussels, the traditional concept of members’ clubs is largely dominated by old-school industry clubs, mainly consisting of French or Dutch-speaking businessmen. Full Circle, in contrast, stands apart in various ways, providing a distinct and open space. The audience is self-selecting, finding their place based on belonging and shared interests. Full Circle is welcoming to the international community, where individuals can participate in activities, engage in discussions, or simply enjoy a friendly environment. We have consciously chosen this members’ club approach to maintain financial independence, ensuring we remain free from funding constraints.
“We have consciously chosen this members’ club approach to maintain financial independence”
LH Importantly, we do not aggressively promote ourselves as a traditional members’ club. Full Circle’s audience generally discovers the space through specific events, whether they are focused on ideas or more social in nature. For instance, newcomers in Brussels searching for a book club might stumble upon one of Full Circle’s events. The approach remains flexible, drawing individuals based on their interest in the event’s content. This model provides space for varied, unique gatherings, fostering a sense of community.
Do you see Full Circle as a modern continuation of the ‘salon’ tradition of the French Enlightenment era, where progressive discussions were often led by women?
LH Full Circle’s initial model was essentially a modern interpretation of the salon, assembling people to discuss ideas. The term ‘salon’ resonates with the essence of Full Circle. Full Circle’s events don’t adhere to the traditional conference model where an expert delivers a monologue to an audience seated in awe. Instead, it fosters dynamic and engaging conversations, encouraging the audience to challenge and interact with the speakers.
BN This format offers a refreshing experience for speakers, who are often not used to being challenged. In today’s context, talks often tend to take on an entertainment format, particularly in the post-COVID era, with more talks presented in a ‘broadcast’ style or journalistic interview. We have established personal connections with all our speakers, either directly or through recommendations, ensuring the discussions are genuinely engaging and nuanced.
What’s on the programme for this season? Is there a specific theme or ideology you are exploring?
LH Full Circle’s programming is deliberately eclectic, showcasing both well-known and lesser-known speakers. While no fixed theme defines the season, the lineup covers a wide range of topics, balancing complex and more lighthearted subjects. For instance, Michelle Meagher, a competition lawyer with a background in finance, explores how competition impacts society and how people can reclaim power. Kirsty Sedgman challenges the status quo with a discussion on being unreasonable.
“Programming is deliberately eclectic”
BN As an organisation, Full Circle remains apolitical, non-partisan, and non-affiliated. However, every speaker invited to the platform is chosen based on their ability to share something ‘planet-positive,’ an idea that contributes to making the world a better place, even if in a modest way. While ‘better’ remains a subjective notion, Full Circle focuses on crucial topics such as climate, education, social justice, gender balance, and inclusion.
Additionally, Full Circle dedicates a programme to young people, allowing them to engage with the speakers. The younger generation’s involvement is vital, as their fresh perspectives and challenges are instrumental in shaping future discussions.
“Full Circle remains apolitical, non-partisan, and non-affiliated”
LH Another insight that emerged as Full Circle evolved is the realization that not everyone shares our same passion for ideas. To cater to a broader audience, Full Circle expanded its content to include a full musical programme. This diverse offering includes classical, jazz, pop, and world music. We specialize in featuring emerging artists and local bands who perform live at the venue. Moreover, social events such as book clubs, singles nights, and after-work drinks enhance Full Circle’s appeal.
Is Full Circle available for event rentals?
LH Yes, Full Circle makes its space available for rent during the daytime. We can accommodate various events, ranging from smaller meetings with around 20 attendees to more significant gatherings with up to 200 participants. Full Circle offers a distinctive, comfortable atmosphere, catering to individuals and companies searching for a distinct venue beyond the conventional hotel setting.
BN Full Circle has the pleasure of hosting the Bridge Theatre for their production of ‘Grounded’ in November. The venue provides a refreshing and unique backdrop for diverse events, enriching the cultural landscape.
What should readers be on the lookout for in the coming weeks?
BN Full Circle’s ‘Ideas Festival’ set to take place during the first weekend of December, promises to be a highlight. It serves as a counterbalance to the frenzied Christmas shopping season, offering a cozy and relaxing weekend retreat. The festival theme centres on ‘Hope’, featuring speakers from 11 am to 8 pm, accompanied by live music, food, and engaging conversations. Some of the talks will be livestreamed, providing broader access, and there is also a dedicated programme catering to teenagers.
“Full Circle’s ‘Ideas Festival’ set to take place during the first weekend of December”
LH And if they want to buy anything, they can buy a book!
Full Circle, Chaussée de Vleurgat, 89 1050 Brussels, Open Mon-Fri 9am-6pm for members
Full evening event programme for members and non-members www.fullcircle.be
Ideas Festival 1-3 December 2023