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Opinion: What’s the Point of Town Twinning?

By Barbara Ford

chair of the Guildford-Freiburg Association (GFA)

What’s the benefit of town twinning for the ordinary Guildford citizen and taxpayer? In short: what’s in it for me, or the average person in Guildford? This was a question raised by Cllr Angela Gunning in the recent council debate on the partnership with Dongying.

The answer is: promoting international friendship and cooperation or, again in short: world peace.

Yes, that’s a big idea and yes, Guildford is only a small part of the world – but then the world is made up of small parts. The more the small parts know, help, like and value each other, the harder it is for “alternative facts”, “fake news”, the “big lie”, demagoguery, propaganda and so on to get them to hate and fight each other.

To get to know, help, like and value a whole foreign country is a big undertaking – but narrow it down to a foreign town and its foreign inhabitants and it’s more manageable.

How does it work in practice?

Take the twinning with Freiburg, twinned with Guildford since 1979 – and here I must declare an interest: I have such a strong belief in the benefits of twinning that I am a member and now the chair of the Guildford-Freiburg Association (the GFA), the voluntary Guildford organisation which supports the twinning.

So, Freiburg is a city of 220,000 people in the south-west corner of Germany, an hour’s drive from France and Switzerland, which has implemented some highly successful and much-praised town planning and environmental policies, from which Guildford could learn a lot.

Over the last nearly 40 years the GFA has arranged or facilitated innumerable contacts, school exchanges, sporting exchanges, cultural, especially musical, exchanges between the ordinary citizens of the two towns and their children, and has fostered good relations between the two local councils, each of which sends a small delegation of officials to the other every two years or so.

The Mayor of Guildford (at the time), Gordon Jackson and the Oberburgermeister of Freiburg, Dieter Salomon, side by side at the Silent Pool distillery in Albury in 2016.

Last September (2016) there was a particularly grand visit. The Oberburgermeister (mayor) of Freiburg and his team visited Guildford, were shown round the sights including our world-class university, and treated to a small formal dinner which I was lucky enough to attend.

Naturally, there were speeches – and it was very moving to hear both the Guildford and the Freiburg mayors assure each other that the recent Brexit vote would not alter the relationship between the towns, that our friendship was unaffected and would endure. All those present got quite emotional, helped no doubt by the wine accompanying the meal.

And talking of booze, what could be nicer than this picture of the two mayors enjoying a brief stop during the visit to notable local business Silent Pool Distillery?

This was followed up in June by Silent Pool’s appearance at the Guildford stall at Freiburg’s biennial Partner Cities Fair – to their commercial benefit: they made a great hit with the estimated 20,000 visitors to the fair and are understood to have made connections with various Freiburg distilleries. And the presence of the GFA members manning that stall at that Freiburg fair gave us the opportunity to give similar personal reassurances to all those visitors who asked plaintively: “Why do you British hate us?”

The Guildford-Freiburg Association stall at the biennial Partner Cities Fair in Freiburg, ready to answer questions such as: “Why do you British hate us?”

Who pays for all this activity? I hear you ask.

At the Guildford end, the GFA receives a modest annual grant from the council (£420) and is otherwise self-funded – we pay for our own trips and we make grants to help those school etcetera exchanges out of members’ subscriptions and other funds we raise; the, so far, fairly minimal (I have hopes they will increase this) council involvement funds the travel costs of visits for generally two or three officials every other year, hosting return visits in alternate years.

Freiburg, on the other hand, has within its council a whole team of salaried people managing its 12 twinnings, with activities including hosting a fair for all 12 every two years and paying for the accommodation of some of the delegates. They have been taking international relations seriously and investing in their partnerships for nearly 60 years now.

I don’t know how it will work out for us with Dongying, given the distance and logistics, and here too we can perhaps learn from Freiburg, which has partnered with several far-flung towns. But Versailles, if that twinning comes off, will be a piece of cake.

What else might you get out of twinning?

Education, for a start: come to our free public autumn lecture on Thursday, November 16 at 7.15 pm in the council chamber at Millmead and hear comparative politics expert Dr Emanuele Massetti from the University of Surrey speak on, “German democracy: how is it different?”

It seems that most British people – like me – don’t understand much about how the German constitutional and electoral system works: Dr Massetti will explain and put it in context for us.

And there is the chance to buy charming and original Christmas gifts from Freiburg: come to our mini German market on Sunday, December 3, 11am – 4pm in the Guildhall. (See our website at: www.guilfordtwinning.uk) Free admission to both events, though be warned: I will seek donations and try to recruit you as a GFA member.

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2 Responses to Opinion: What’s the Point of Town Twinning?

  1. Jules Cranwell Reply

    October 23, 2017 at 7:15 pm

    I don’t believe anyone has questioned the logic of twinning with a similarly sized, near neighbour such as Freiberg.

    But Dongying is in a country which has serious human rights issues and considers the eating of dog meat worthy of a major festival. Is that what most people in Guildford really want?

  2. Gina Redpath Reply

    October 24, 2017 at 5:59 pm

    I agree with Jules Cranwell and I am looking forward to the Versailles twinning.

    A lot of the problem with Dongying is complete lack of research, no public consultation (not even amongst the councillors), the fait accompli with which the signed trading partnership was presented and the fact that there has still been no public airing of the signed agreement.

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