Town twinning is on the rise. Local Barbara Jeffers finds out more
At the approach to many towns in England you will see a panel at the side of the road saying something like ‘TOWN X is twinned with TOWN Y (France) and TOWN Z (Germany)’. Our lovely town of Haslemere is twinned with both Bernay (Normandy, France) and Horb-Am-Neckar (Germany). This fact is reinforced with a recently erected sign post at the heart of Haslemere High Street reminding us of our close relationship with our two twinned towns.
What does it mean to be twinned with another town in a foreign country?
Being twinned to another town is a way of meeting people and families from abroad in their own towns and homes, having a chance to talk to them, learn a bit about their everyday lives and get to know them as individuals. Such people have chosen to welcome you into their homes without payment and look forward to having time to make your acquaintance over a few days and get to know you as an individual. Children are welcome too.
How long do these visits last?
Three nights is a usual sort of length. For example, travel out on a Thursday, spend Friday and Saturday together then return on the Sunday.
Is your town twinned with another?
If it is, do you know the names of your twinned towns? Do you know which country they are in? Could you locate them on a map? If it is not, what is the nearest town to yours that is twinned with another?
But I don’t speak French or German (or any other language for that matter)!
That doesn’t mean you can’t take part! Language ability is something the organisers take into account as they try to match people with no knowledge of the host language with someone who can talk to them, at least a little, in their own language. Believe me, you can have a surprisingly entertaining time with good will, some willingness to act out your communication and a few odd words of the host language.
How much does it cost to take part?
People joining in twinning visits have to pay their own travel expenses. Once in the ‘twin’ town, expenses are low, as accommodation is as a guest in someone’s home where most meals are provided. It is customary, of course, to take a gift for one’s host family. There is usually a formal meal laid on by the host association and some form of local excursion. For example, this year when Bernay came to Haslemere, our excursion was to Windsor to visit the town and Castle whose foundation stones were laid by William the Conqueror, a man from Normandy no less.
On the Saturday evening we had organized a formal dinner at the Lythe Hill Hotel. Both events went down very well with our guests.
If the host family takes you out, you may wish to offer to reciprocate by treating them to a meal or an entrance fee. The Association organises group travel, usually by coach and ferry from Haslemere to Bernay, whereas flying is the more practicable way of getting to Horb. People are free to arrange their own travel if they prefer.
Is that all that’s entailed?
To take part in twinning visits you will need to be a member of your local Twinning Association and to have your own personal travel insurance. There is also an expectation that when people from the town you have visited make a return visit to Haslemere the following year, you will be willing to accommodate someone in your turn.
What does the Town Council have to do with it?
The town is simply a focus for the group arranging the visits. In Haslemere the organisation is all done by a voluntary association. The Town Council has made modest grants from time to time to help set up the organisation and mark major anniversaries. It also allows the Twinning Association to use the council chamber at the town hall free of charge. Apart from this, twinning links don’t fall as a charge to the council tax payer and if the Mayor or town councilors join twinning visits they pay their own way.
Apart from visits to individuals and families, are there any other visits?
Over the years various other local groups have made contact with a similar organisation in one or other twin town, e.g. the fire service, young people’s groups, church groups, sports groups, the town band, classic cars. Each group organises its own visit in the way that suits them best. Some have stayed in a hotel, some in homes and some have camped or stayed in hostel style accommodation. It’s up to them. The best way of getting one of these set up is to take part in a general twinning visit and meet with potential groups for your group to twin with while you are in their town. It’s not something the twinning committee can undertake to deliver to order, although they will do their best to help you get in touch with suitable contacts.
What happens between visits?
The Twinning Association usually arranges two or three social events for members and others during the course of the year. In Haslemere we tend to organise two social events (one in winter and the other in summer) to raise funds that enable us to subsidize some of the costs involved when hosting our guests from abroad. Any funds raised go towards reciprocating the group hospitality, such as dinners and group outings, which the Haslemere group receives when in Bernay or Horb.
Many people have found membership of the Twinning Association a great way to widen their circle of friends in Haslemere and the surrounding district.
Should you wish to know more about the Haslemere and District Twinning Association please visit the haslemere-twinning.eu