Leominster's twinning anniversary
PUBLISHED: 01:20 27 July 2012 | UPDATED: 21:40 20 February 2013
2012 marks the 20th anniversary of the twinning of Leominster with Saverne in eastern France. In April, Leominster played host to 48 of their French 'twins'. Wendy Hereford tells the story of the friendship
Town twinning was conceived in 1963 by presidents Charles de Gaulle of France and Konrad Adenauer of Germany to create friendships through sport, culture and family across national boundaries, healing the wounds of two world wars.
Two of the first towns to be twinned, 45 years ago, were Saverne in the Alsace region of France and a town in Germany, Donaueschingen. Because of the international status the English language and the fact that more and more people were learning it, contact between Saverne and an English-speaking community was the next step.
The link with Leominster came through a local girl, Mary Milward. Born and brought up in the Leominster area and an ex-pupil of Leominster Grammar School, Mary was living in Saverne and knew that the towns were of similar size, the wooded hills of the Borders and the Welsh mountains contrasting with the forests and mountains of the Vosges. Contacts were established between the then town clerk John Wesley, still an active member of the twinning association today, and his counterpart in Saverne. The seeds were sown. Meetings, consultations and visits took place during 1991 when the first groups went from Leominster to be hosted by members of the Saverne Association who made a return visit to Leominster, culminating in the signing of the official twinning charter in Saverne in October 1992 and in Leominster in April 1993. The exchange had begun.
The view from Saverne was that the exchanges were a resounding success. The French and British were not so different after all in fact, they liked each other! There was (and still is) an interest in understanding the whys and wherefores of differences in the way of living and eating. It was discovered that British food was not so bad, that there wasnt fog all the time (as taught in school books)and that there are English who could actually speak French. While visitors to Saverne from Leominster commented they had learned the secret of successful twinning between two towns family life.
Being part of a twinning visit, you cease to be a tourist merely scratching the surface of the country. Instead you are immersed in the real life of your hosts. Discussions on taxes, politics, education, transport etc soon make you realise there is no difference in problems across national boundaries.
Membership of the Saverne Association has more than tripled since 1992 and so it was that our French visitors and representatives of their town council joined in a celebration in April, at the Priory Church in Leominster, of the 20th anniversary of the signing of the charter. Stphane Leyenberger, premier adjoint au maire, spoke with feeling saying that the original pioneers started something that has led to 20 years of friendship. Special, really deep solid friendships have been built between the people of Saverne and Leominster. There is still a lot to discover from each other but after 20 years many warm and welcoming friendships have been formed. Modestly but solidly we are building good relationships in Europe. Marianne Valentin, president of the Saverne Twinning Association, presented 20 rose bushes to Leominster, 10 lAmour de Saverne and 10 Rose dAlsace, to be planted in Leominster as a reminder of the close connection between the two towns over the past 20 years.
Throughout their visits to Leominster the French are accommodated and welcomed into members houses as part of their families. During their stay, there are formal group visits to local attractions whilst the rest of the time is organised by the host family taking into account the interests of their visitors. A highlight of the programme is always a dinner hosted and funded by the Leominster Twinning Association which this year was held at the Earl Mortimer College. A raffle, largely based around flavours of Herefordshire including prizes of Herefordshire cider, wine, cheeses and biscuits (all donated by local businesses) helped to raise funds towards the twinning visit. The Leominster Twinning Association is entirely self-funded by members subscriptions and social fundraising events are run throughout the year. Of course, these events further enhance the community spirit within the association itself. Of particular interest this year was that, as the French guests arrived for dinner at the Earl Mortimer College, the bells of the Priory Church could be heard ringing out across Leominster. The Hereford Guild of Bell Ringers was ringing a Cambridge Surprise Major peal of more than 3,000 changes, using eight bells and taking more than three hours which, on successful completion, was dedicated to the 20th anniversary of the twinning between Leominster and Saverne.
Chris Hinsley, chairman of the twinning committee for the past 10 years, believes that the very essence of the twinning is family living; it is by staying with a family that we learn from within. This year younger family members came from Saverne and it is hoped that these younger members will carry on the traditions of the twinning.
A dozen of the original members of the Leominster twinning group still play an active part in the association but the group is always looking for new members, particularly younger ones who will help to keep the values and enjoyment of twinning alive. Over the years, many school and sports groups from Leominster have visited Saverne and the Earl Mortimer College is an active participant in recent visits by some of their students to Saverne.
The language differences are not the barrier that some might anticipate. It is not necessary to be a fluent French speaker. A dictionary, a willingness to try and a sense of humour are far more important. Even those who may be self-conscious about their ability at the beginning of the visit are much less so by the end of five days of fun and friendship, and the sight of everyone saying their farewells at the end of the visit is proof of the fact that there is no such thing as a language barrier within the Leominster Saverne twinning.
At the gala dinner during the exchange visit Marianne Valentin, president of the Saverne Twinning Association, proposed a toast to the next 20 years saying Long Life to our twinning. Vive Leominster vive Saverne. A philosophy to which we all adhere.
Next year the Leominster Twinners will visit Saverne to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the signing over there.
If you would like to join the Leominster Twinning Association or to find out more contact the secretary Monica Todd on 01568 613861.