Town Twinning

The town twinning movement really took off in the 1940’s just after the second world war, when there was a movement to assist war ravaged communities in Europe. This has continued to this day when there are an estimated 30,000 twinning links within Europe, some 2,000 of them are with UK towns.

Approximately 50% of the UK links are with France, 25% with Germany and the other 25% from other parts of the world.

Why communities decide to twin with each other is not very easy to quantify, as there are almost as many reasons for the formation of a twinning link as there are links.

Some are as stated earlier, to alleviate suffering in Europe after the conflict, some are as the result of personal friendships, or school links, some through traditional trading links between towns, some because of the similarity of name eg. Kettering Northamptonshire and Kettering Ohio, and some are through the simple desire to promote community links or to give asistance to another country.

I know of one link which was created through the friendship that was given to a German POW by the local English community where he was interred, the link was created with the English community and his German hometown, and he is now a member of the English committee.

Many of the new links have been created with the old Eastern Bloc who are avid for communication with the west. When Skarszewy was first approached by Sandy, the Poles thought we would be able to repair their town hall boilers for them, obviously they had a somewhat one sided view of twinning, however, the link has gone from strength to strength and although we could do nothing about their boilers, we have been able, for the last 10 years, to bring a useful grounding in the English language to their youth and English is now spoken by a growing number of their citizens. For details see the article on the English Summer Schools here

As I said before, the reasons for twinning are varied, but nearly always, the results are very rewarding for both communities.

What are the benefits of twinning?

Twinning can fulfil several of the most human needs, companionship, activity, adventure, curiosity. It is a means of understanding other peoples, their culture, lifestyle, food, language. You get the chance to travel to places that you may never otherwise get to visit, many of the best and most interesting places would never be found in a tourist guide book. You make new friends, sometimes for life, you are accepted into families, even perhaps being invited to join in family occasions such as weddings etc.

Language is seen as a barrier by many people, but it need not be, most places the locals have at least a smattering of English, but even so, take a dictionary, a pen and a piece of paper and make an effort to learn at least a few words of greeting, and please and thank you, which can take you a long way. Above all have fun and a good laugh and suddenly the language will not seem such a barrier.

So, how do you go about setting up a twinning link?

One way is to look for a suitable town and it is even possible to advertise for a twin. The place to do this is at the Twinning Market. This is a site promoted by the CEMR (Council of European Municipalities and Regions). The site lists many towns looking for a partner, giving basic information such country, town, regions, population, brief history, some details of industry and community facilities and information about the type of twinning link they are looking for.

You may already have a town, region or country in mind, but which ever way you go about finding your new twin town there is a recommended way of approaching the matter.

Once you have found a potential twin you should approach them and ask if they would be interested in what you have to offer, this should lead to exploratory visits in both directions. If this appears to be successful you should consider what your aims for the twinning are, and put those proposals to members of the wider community to gauge support for the project . If this is successful, it is normal for both sides to devise a formal Charter of Aims, which is normally signed publically at formal functions in both towns.

Once formed the twinning association should take action to produce a programme of events to fulfil the aims of the Charter. My personal opinion is that the association group should be composed of members of the community, consisting of a council representative, members of various youth and other groups and ordinary members of the public. The reasoning for this opinion is that too many people consider their towns twinning links to be a perk for the council members and that the ordinary citizen can have no say in its activities. This is often a false view but it is rife and has not been helped by the attitude of some councils.

With this in mind when I addressed the council in Skarszewy when we made our exploratory visit to them 10 years ago I recommended this course of action but it was not carried out until this year, which has resulted in great communication problems due to the frequent changes of council and political views.

As for activities, there are many things you can do, but a prime objective should always be to involve the youth of both communities, they after all are the future of both towns and of the link. It is good to get as many of the different organisations each town boasts to get involved with joint ventures, from sport, music, theatre, cultural, boating clubs, bridge clubs etc. Also, many towns have a strong family link in which the residents of the two communities can develop very strong, lifetime friendships.

This has only been a very brief introduction to twinning, which I hope will wet your appetite, but for more detailed information, especially about how to approach the creation of a twinning link I would recommend the following websites.

Local Government Association (International & European) And follow the links on that page and the following 10 pages The Twinning Market

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