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Visit from Skarszewy to Sandy 2003

The town of Sandy was host to a party of 40+ people from Skarszewy from the 26th June to !st July 2003. After arriving about 3 hours early, they parked up in the town centre car park and took the opportunity to have a wander around the town and take in the shops. At 6.00pm the town council held a welcoming reception in the council offices where they were welcomed by the deputy mayor, David Gale, and after light refreshment they all went to Sandye Place School where they were introduced to their hosts.

Friday morning saw them all off again in their coach to Wicksteed Park for the children and Warwick Castle for the adults, followed by informal drinks and swimming for the children at two houses in Beeston.

On Saturday they all went to London for the day, a small party made their own way to Madam Tussauds and an open top bus trip, whilst the majority took a walk around starting with the Changing of the Guards at Buckingham Palace, then to Leicester Square for a little souvenir shopping, then to Trafalgar Square, Whitehall, Parliament Square, Westminster Abbey, and then down to the embankment for a boat trip to the Tower of London, where they were lucky to see Tower Bridge open and in fact sailed through it in the open position.

Sunday was a free morning with the hosts during which there was a variety of visits and activities followed by a Barbeque and Disco at the Dom Polski club in Bedford, an event which is becoming a firm favourite during the Polish visits and is well supported by the hosts, visitors and club members who are delighted to meet folks from "back home".

The more serious part of the visit was on Monday when the children all visited an English School, and the adults visited various businesses and local tourist spots. That evening we held a farewell disco at Mike and Linda Scotts garden center where we all started to realise that we would soon be parted again for another year.

The farewell on Tuesday morning was a somewhat tearful affair for many as we all said our farewells, with many a promise to write or e-mail. The next thing to look forward to will be our visit to them in 2004, and I for one cannot wait.

In 1995 the International Bureau in London, which since the ending of the cold war, had become increasingly inundated with requests from former Eastern bloc countries for partnerships with communities in the UK contacted Max Hill and many others who in the past had succesfully organised town twinnings. The aim was to try and extend links with Eastern Europe. In Sandy consultations took place with the Town Council and the Twinning Association and from a short list of three it was agreed to make approaches to the Polish community of Skarszewy, which has a similar sized population to Sandy. The approach was welcomed and since 1995 there has been a series of exchanges betwen the two communities. However, for practical reasons it has not been thought appropriate thus far to move towards a formal twinning despite the fact that the range of activities between Sandy and Skarszewy is now greater than between Sandy and it`s French Twin Malaunay. Although visits are less frequent.

Over the past 6 years there have been visits in both directions by 1. Small business delegations representing local councils, 2. parties of local school children for sporting and musical activities. 3. Businessmen seeking possible opportunities in partner countries. One Polish businessman was sponsered to spend an extended three week stay in Mid Beds to study English business methods.

In 1999 principles for futher cooperation and development were drawn up and agreed by the Town Council in Skarszewy, and the Sandy Twinning Association. On the Polish side opportunities to learn English alongside social and cultural enrichment were seen as the priorities whilst the English committee had much the same ideas without the language element. We have now settled into a programme of activites based upon, 1. An annual English language summer school in Skarszewy for two weeks every July run by school leavers from the Sandy area, this is now in it`s sixth year. 2. Biannual visits to respective communities by coach parties of young people and interested community groups. 45 Skarszewy citizens visited Sandy in July 2001 and a similar number visited Poland from Sandy this year. Smaller delegations continue to make visits for special events such as the St. Georges Day Ball and the 800th anniversary of the founding of Skarszewy by the Knights Templar.

The link is not without it`s difficulties, language problems are unavoidable but lessening and Poland is still a Second World country with limited social infrastructure, however the link has already involved over 100 people from both communities and the cultural climate in Poland has changed as English has been introduced in schools and attracted enthousiasm from many adults. As Poland becomes more westernised with likely entry to the EU it is anticipated that interest in the link will expand.

WHY SKARSZEWY?

The Skarszewy district has like Sandy a population of around 12,000 but is more than twice the size geographically and is essentially an agricultural and tourist area. Staple crops such as wheat, maize and potatoes are produced in large numbers and the area is also known for fruit growing. Skarszewy is a tourist venue for people from the Gdansk region in particular and has a large holiday park with inland lake, beach, chalets, bars and restaurant. it is situated 30 miles south of Gdansk in the province of Pomerania and 7 miles from the district main town of Starogard, which is approximately the same size as Bedford. Its history dates back to the thirteenth century and it`s founding by the Knights Templar and more recently has endured occupation by both German and Russian forces during WW2 when it was known as Schonek.