As many twinning associations hit milestone anniversaries, KIMBERLEY BARBER takes a look at local links and their relevance to modern-day life.
France, Belgium, Germany – not the most exciting overseas countries that you can think of.
But after the Second World War, building links with these countries was high on the agenda and improving relations was an important part of moving forward, symbolising an idealistic post-war spirit of reconciliation.
Many local authorities invested and set up twin towns – some, like Portsmouth, have several.
In modern times of austerity, with councils cutting back, it’s easy to forget about our foreign neighbours and to write off these important links.
However, twinning associations across British towns and cities are still working to forge relationships with their European counterparts in a bid to promote cultural and commercial ties.
These associations operate independently from their local authority, meaning they do not receive cash from the public purse, but are instead funded by membership fees and social groups.
One such group is the Fareham-Vannes Twinning Association, which is preparing to mark its 50th anniversary next year.
It has a membership of around 70 and regularly hosts social events and trips over to France.
Members don’t have to speak French, or have any connection to the country, they just need a willingness to embrace another culture.
The association held its annual dinner at Lysses House Hotel, Fareham last weekend and 55 members and guests attended, including guests-of-honour Councillor Marian Ellerton and her husband Peter, who allow the association to use their garden for fundraising events.
Association chairman Katrina Trott hailed its success and spoke of its importance.
She says: ‘It is good now for the same reasons as it was when it was set up 50 years ago. It fosters better understanding and good relations between the two towns.’
Katrina became involved with the association through her role as a councillor, but she enjoyed it so much that she has continued to attend, even though the association no longer receives any cash from the council.
We keep bringing people together as it’s always very good to welcome our German friends. We welcome them with open arms, like old friends, and they do the same for us.Jean Luckett, secretary of Fareham-Pulheim Twinning Association
She says her own personal experiences of going on an exchange in 1965 have inspired her to recommend it. She says: ‘It was a wonderful opportunity.
‘Now it’s a good opportunity to go and stay in people’s homes and get to know them better. There’s lots going on and it’s a great socially.’
And with the recent terrorist attacks in France, she says the association sent condolences to their French counterparts.
Katrina explains: ‘We told our friends in Vannes that we were thinking of them during the Paris massacre and they appreciated that support.’
Not only is there support between the two groups and trips to each country, there are lots of social events that take place throughout the year, such as quiz nights and social events.
Ann Mellor, who has been a member of the association for around 15 years, says the events are also a way to raise funds.
‘We’ll be inviting twinning friends from Vannes to come over in September to stay, as usual, in Fareham members’ homes.
‘The arrangements for these contacts and trips are all organised by hard-working volunteers and we receive no council funding, so members also organise a number of regular social events so we can host and entertain our French visitors in the same way that they cater for visiting Fareham groups.
‘They are well organised and great fun.’
Fareham does not just have links with France – it’s also twinned with Pulheim in Germany.
The Fareham-Pulheim Twinning Association also has around 70 members and it was set up in 1983.
Jean Luckett, the association secretary, says that the group would love to attract some new members.
‘We have around 70 members. It’s certainly lower than it was 10 years ago as it’s quite difficult to attract younger people.’
However she says the group is still very active, meeting up regularly and holding events.
She explains: ‘When we do meet up with our German friends, we always have a good time.
‘People have made some great friendships over the years and they carry them on outside of the association.
‘We’ve seen different parts of Germany and it is a very good social occasion.
‘We keep the association ticking over and we keep bringing people together as it’s always very good to welcome our German friends.
‘We welcome them with open arms, like old friends, and they do the same for us.’
However, one group that has not had such a good time is the Portsmouth Duisburg Anglo-German Friends.
Portsmouth was twinned with Duisburg in Germany in 1950 but, as interest tailed off, the once-popular group now only operates informally.
Despite the lack of interest from Portsmouth, the Duisburg side of the group is still going strong and last August 40 members came over and visited the city.
Brian Daugherty, from Southsea, was involved in the group for eight years, but says it had to fold four years ago when it couldn’t find someone to stand as its chairman.
He says: ‘I still have details of formal members and I e-mail them and we occasionally meet up. We still have the friendship links and the Duisburg end is really healthy. That’s why we keep it going.’
Brian says that as travel to Germany became easier, interest in the group died off.
‘Twinnings came into their own after the Second World War and at that time it was hard to travel around Europe.
‘Twinning was something exotic. Most towns have a link to France as French was seen to be the most important language, so associations with Germany began to dwindle. Now it’s just the remnants of the group left.’
The link between Portsmouth and Duisburg is still pursued civically by Portsmouth City Council and Councillor Lee Mason, who is in charge of resources which cover twinning, says he hopes that the association will eventually recover.
‘Although the committee is not strong, there are still links, people still visit and write to each other.’
Even the local authority has begun to widen its horizons and has formed partnerships with Japan, Australia and Israel.
Cllr Mason says these links have been vital in attracting tourism to the area and promoting the city’s history.
‘They have all come about through our history,’ he says.
The Caen link was set up the year after the ferry service started from Portsmouth, the Australian link was set up to honour Henry Ayers, who was born in Portsea and after whom Ayers Rock is named, and the Japanese link was established to honour one of Japan’s greatest naval heroes Togoō Heihachirō, who trained in Portsmouth.
Cllr Mason says it’s important to learn from history and that these links were an important part of understanding what has caused conflict in the past.
He says: ‘It prevents conflicts and trouble. It is very easy to say “they are the enemy”, but when you have broken bread with people from another place, it’s a lot harder to demonise them.
‘It creates security and friendships and people have a good time.’
WHO’S TWINNED WITH WHOM?
* Bishop’s Waltham – Saint-Bonnet-le-Château, France
* Bognor Regis – Saint-Maur-des-Fossés, France, Weil am Rhein, Germany and Trebbin, Germany
* Chichester – Chartres, France and Ravenna, Italy
* Clanfield – Val d’Oison, France
* Emsworth - St Aubin, France
* Fareham - Pulheim, Germany and Vannes, France
* Gosport - Royan, France
* Havant - Landkreis, Wesermarsch in Germany,
* Hayling Island - Gorron, Mayenne, France
* Hedge End - Comines-Warneton, Belgium
* Horndean – Aubergenville, France
* Petersfield - Barentin, France and Warendorf, Germany
* Portsmouth - Duisburg, Germany and Caen in France
* Southampton - Le Havre, France
* Swanmore - Maneglise, France
* Waterlooville - Mayenne, France
* Winchester - Gießen, Germany and Laon, France
* Portsmouth is sister cities with Haifa, in Israel, Portsmouth, in Virginia US, Portsmouth in New Hampshire US, Sydney, in Australia, and Maizuru, in Japan, It also has a friendship link with Zhuhai China.
* For a list of Portsmouth groups and links go to portsmouth.gov.uk and search ‘twinning’.
WHAT IS A TWIN TOWN?
* A twin town is a town which has established official or social links with another, typically in a different country.
* The term ‘twin town’ usually refers to a link with a European town or city and the term ‘sister city’ refers to links with towns or cities elsewhere in the world. There is also a term ‘friendship city’, which is an informal and can be broken once a project has been finished.
* In 1905, Keighley in West Yorkshire, England, had a twinning arrangement with French communities Suresnes and Puteaux, but the first recorded modern twinning agreement was between Keighley and Poix-du-Nord in Nord, France, in 1920 following the end of the First World War.
* The earliest known town link in Europe was between Paderborn, Germany, and Le Mans, France, in 836.
* According to the Local Government Association, of the UK’s approximate 2,000 twinning arrangements, 50 per cent are with France and 23 per cent are with Germany.
* Portsmouth’s link with Duisburg is the second-oldest Anglo-German twinning.
Fareham Borough Council is also proposing to mark the 50th anniversary of the Fareham-Vannes link.
It is celebrating its civic ties by commissioning a sculpture for the Westbury Manor Museum garden and by holding a commemoration service in the town centre next year, at a cost of around £26,000.
Council leader Sean Woodward says it is important to mark the link, and its anniversary, as many people in town hold the link in high esteem.
Ann Mellor, from the twinning association, says: ‘We will also be planning events to celebrate the anniversary.
‘We welcome anybody to join us in any of our activities. If you belong to a musical, sporting, social or any other group, or are from a school or youth group, and would like to meet up with counterparts in Vannes, we may be able to help you to find a suitable group to twin with.’
To find out more, go to farvantwin.hampshire.org.uk or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
Fareham-Vannes Twinning Association
The next Fareham-Vannes Twinning Association event will be the AGM on January 16 at Holy Trinity Church, Fareham, where, after the business part of the meeting, there will be a quiz and a meal of coq au vin.
In the spring there will be a wine and cheese evening in Locks Heath, where members will talk about the twinning events in which they have taken part.
French conversation evenings are held on the first and third Tuesday of every month at Titchfield Community Centre.
For more go to farvantwin.hampshire.org.uk/ or call Nigel Sharpe, secretary, on 01329 230683.
Fareham-Pulheim Twinning Association
An advent event is being organised for next month and members will be visiting Pulheim in June.
To get involved call 01329 235242 or go to fareham-pulheimtwinning.hampshire.org.uk/