Town twinning... does it have a future?

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Twinning has been a part of towns and cities across the UK for decades.

Twinning has been a part of towns and cities across the UK for decades.

Regular exchanges have given people of all ages the chance to see what life is like in other countries and helped establish long-lasting connections with the wider world.

And events organised either by councils or dedicated twinning associations have brought foreign cultures right to our doorsteps.

But as some organisations complain of a decline in interest, either from the public or local authorities, questions have been asked about whether such links are sustainable – or even necessary.

In 2010, Portsmouth celebrated the 60th anniversary of its twinning with Duisburg in north-west Germany.

But now members of the group who help to maintain the link, the Portsmouth Duisburg Anglo-German Friends, have said they may not be able to continue because interest is so low.

Group secretary Brian Daugherty said: ‘The whole scheme seems to be falling apart, with the council seemingly losing interest.

‘This has a knock-on effect on our group, which has been promoting the link outside of the civic sphere but with direct and indirect aid from the council. As things stand at the moment, it looks like the group will be disbanding in the near future.

‘At the Duisburg end, the situation seems a lot healthier – 41 people came across in August. We used to get about 30 visitors for our annual visit, but this did not run last year.’

The link between the two cities has existed since 1950, when the Lord Mayor and Lady Mayoress of Portsmouth, Sir Denis and Lady Peggy Daley, signed the Golden Book of Duisburg at their town hall.

Since then, the Lord Mayor has made annual visits to the city and it is estimated that over 70,000 people have taken part in exchanges.

The current Lord Mayor of Portsmouth, Cllr Cheryl Buggy, said: ‘Our link with Duisburg is the second oldest Anglo-German twinning and is very important to us.

‘I will be making a civic visit in March this year and a number of events are taking place this year centred around the 500th anniversary of Gerhard Mercator, Duisburg’s famous cartographer and globe maker, including joint youth theatre project Crossroutes 51°.

‘We are also hoping to take part in Euro Rock, the Xenos project to give disabled people from Germany work experience in Portsmouth and many other visits and events will be arranged throughout the year between the two cities.’

Following a period in which it seemed to be going downhill, Portsmouth’s relationship with the French town of Caen was given new life recently when the Portsmouth-Caen Friendship Committee was established.

Cllr Terry Hall is the group’s honorary secretary – although it is independent of Portsmouth City Council – and said it is working with the New Theatre Royal and Portsmouth Grammar School to organise exchanges, but also wants other interested groups to get in touch.

‘We are hard at work trying to resurrect the committee and get exchanges going again,’ she said. ‘We want it to be run professionally.

‘Over in Caen they have a five-person team who just work on twinning – here we don’t have anyone.

‘The exchanges really benefit both cities – we are hoping to have a young person go over for the summer to work with their council.’

Along with formal twins Duisberg and Caen, Portsmouth also has four sister links – with Haifa in Israel, Maizuru in Japan, Portsmouth in Virginia, USA, and Sydney in Australia.

It also maintains two other friendship links with Lakewood in Colarado, USA, another Portsmouth in New Hampshire, USA, and Zha Lai Te Qi in China. In total twinning costs city taxpayers £8,000 every year.

Robert Oxley, from the Taxpayers’ Alliance, said he thought councils paying for twinning was out of date.

He said: ‘Twinning is all good and well, but it doesn’t benefit most of the people in the community and taxpayers shouldn’t be paying for it.’

But Conservative culture chief Jim Fleming disagreed, and said: ‘For such a small amount of money I’m sure the number of tourists who are encouraged to come here as a result of twinning helps it pay for itself many times over.’

FAREHAM

Fareham is twinned with two towns, Vannes in France, and Pulheim in Germany.

In 1964, the first exchange visit between Fareham and Vannes took place at the Fareham Round Table. A couple of years later a general view that the two towns should be twinned led to the official charters being signed in 1967.

Part of the reason for this was that the two towns were considered similar, as they both have popular sailing centres and historical areas.

The past 40 years have allowed for close bonds to be formed between the communities.

The Fareham-Vannes Twinning Association encourages exchanges of sporting and musical group and school pupils, 2,500 of whom are thought to have taken part. The view that Fareham and Pulheim should be twinned came from a former local resident, who suggested to the then mayor of Fareham, that Pulheim was looking for a twin and Fareham would be the perfect choice.

The two towns were officially twinned in March 1984. Since then many social, cultural and business exchanges have taken place. The Fareham-Pulheim Twinning Association often arranges social events, such as barbecues, talks, boat trips, race nights and dances. They even offer German conversation evenings to those wishing to visit Pulheim.

GOSPORT

The twinning of Gosport and Royan in France started 63 years ago when the mayor of Royan expressed an interest in twinning with the town.

The bonds were established in 1959. Since then, many exchanges have taken place, including sporting exchanges and friendly football competitions.

One particular tradition, that occurs every year, is an exchanging of gifts between the mayors.

In the past, Gosport has presented Royan with gifts such as rum measures, original paintings and a mace.

Royan has given an array of original works of art, which now decorate the walls of the Mayoral Suite at Gosport Town Hall.

Gosport created a garden to celebrate the twinning in 1973.

HAVANT

The long-established link between the borough of Havant and the Wesermarsch district of Germany came about in the aftermath of the Second World War.

It came at a time when the two countries were trying to establish a new relationship.

Youth links between the two areas were cemented in 1958 between Scouts and Guides followed in the early 1960s by exchange visits for schools.

The districts were officially twinned on May 25, 1966, at a ceremony at Waterlooville between members of the old Havant and Waterloo Urban Council and 11 delegates from Wesermarsch.

The district in Lower Saxony, which has a population of 90,000, is on the western banks of the River Weser between Bremen and the river’s mouth.

EMSWORTH

In 2011, Emsworth celebrated the 25th anniversary of its twinning arrangement with Saint Aubin-sur-Mer in the Calvados area of Normandy, France.

Saint-Aubin-sur-Mer is at the eastern end of Juno Beach, one of the D-Day landing sites in June 1944.

There are several monuments to the Canadian regiments who fought there. A Canadian flag flies near the sea wall and alongside is a preserved German bunker with its anti-tank gun inside.

It has a population of 2,000 and is also twinned with Bathurst, New Brunswick, Canada. Many soldiers from there are buried at St Aubin.

Saint-Aubin-sur-Mer is the setting of Robert Browning’s poem Red Cotton Night-Cap Country, where it is renamed Saint-Rambert.

WATERLOOVILLE

Waterlooville was formally twinned with Maurepas, in France, pictured right, in 1995.

The town is five miles from Versailles, just south-west of Paris.

The Waterlooville Area Twinning Association was established with the objective of a greater understanding of France, its customs, culture and language through direct contact with a similar community in France. The association encourages its members to form links with a family in Maurepas, visiting each other on alternate years.

PETERSFIELD

Petersfield is twinned with Barentin in France and Warendorf in Germany.

It signed a charter to formally mark its link with the French town in 1992, but has had a ‘civic’ twinning relationship with Warendorf since 1965.

The Petersfield Twinning Association is run by an elected committee which organises social and fundraising events and encourages families and groups within the town to make and maintain connections with the continent.

It works with its European counterparts, linking clubs, individuals and companies wishing to make visits and offering the opportunity for work placements.

SWANMORE

Foundations of the twinning relationship between Swanmore and Maneglise in France were established in 1979, after exchanges between residents.

A few years later, the two towns made the decision to make the exchanges a regular affair and were eventually twinned in 1993.

The exchanges take place bi-annually when residents of both towns welcome visitors from the other to stay in their home with them.

The local Swanmore twinning association arranges the formal visits and often organises social events and fundraisers.

In the past there have been various events such as wine tasting, treasure hunts and quiz nights.

HAYLING ISLAND

In July 1998, a Calvados apple tree was planted outside Hayling Library to mark the twinning of Hayling Island and Gorron in France.

Since then, official visits have taken place every other year with backing of the Hayling Island-Gorron Twinning Association to promote a range of activities and exchanges.

These usually involve the visitors staying with the residents over the weekend, and there are usually tours and trips available for them all to attend.

Many groups from Hayling Island often visit Gorron, including the Junior Operatic Society, the Hayling Island Wine Society, Island Dance Fusion and young and veterans’ football teams.

An annual quiz and beer festival are held to raise funds.