WHEN you drive into Ashford you notice the town proudly says it is twinned with Bad Munstereifel in Germany and Fougères in France.
But what does that actually mean and what are the links exactly? Senior communications officer at Ashford Borough Council Mark James went to Fougères to find out...
On Thursday May 30, a delegation of 24 people from Ashford, including six students from the North School, went to Fougères as part of the town’s official twinning visit. Every third year, Ashford, Fougères or Bad Munstereifel hosts the annual event, with families accommodating representatives from the two visiting twin towns as part of this triangular partnership.
Fougères is a beautiful town with just over 20,000 residents that, like Ashford, embraces its modernisation and its heritage. Its impressive castle, which unusually sits at the foot of the hill, is most spectacularly viewed from the recently created public gardens at the top.
Similarly, new buildings such as the Mediathèque are as interesting to study as those in the mediaeval quarter. And although its shoe-making history is consigned to history, the first thing you see when you enter Les Ateliers, the former workshop turned meeting and sporting facilities, is an exhibition on this aspect of its past.
Fougères will firmly be on the map this summer as the 12th stage of the 100th Tour de France begins in the town.
Delegates from the Ashford Twinning Association, which runs twinning activities on behalf of Ashford Borough Council, and the Mayor of Ashford or his representative proudly represent the town. However, most importantly young people travel in the party, not only to improve their linguistic and social skills but to form new friendships overseas, linking not just the towns but the communities together.
This youth exchange element continues the historical reason behind the twinning initiative, which was to give young people from the different countries a chance to get to know each other.
Ashford has been twinned with Bad Munstereifel since 1964 and with Fougères since 1984. The links go back to the First World War when Bad Munstereifel was occupied by British troops. One of the commanding officers was Major J Goode, who formed personal friendships with a number of people in the town that were strong enough to survive even the Second World War.
Major Goode’s brother-in-law, John Wiles, was instrumental in forging a long-lasting link between the people of Ashford and Bad Munstereifel and after many exchange visits between young people a formal twinning agreement was signed on August 26, 1964. At the time this was quite something, so soon after the conclusion of the Second World War.
Around this time, Fougeres was one of many towns in Brittany that was trying to contact towns in the Rhineland. Bad Munstereifel and Fougères soon formed a link, with youth again at the heart of the arrangements and an official twinning link formalised in 1966. In 1984, the triangle was complete, when Fougères and Ashford formally twinned.
This year, Cllr David Robey represented the Mayor of Ashford. Mayor of Bad Münstereifel Herr Alexander Büttner and Mayor of Fougères Monsieur Louis Feuvrier, were in attendance. Unlike Ashford’s Mayor, who has a civic and ceremonial role, the Mayors from France and Germany are both elected.
Each year the official twinning event has a theme. This year was an exceptional year with delegations from Somoto in Nicaragua and Ouargaye in Burkina Faso, which both have informal wellbeing links with Fougères, also there. Citizenship was the theme and during the visit the mayors of all five towns gave presentations not only on the way governance works in their country but on what citizenship means to them and their people.
The young people also gave presentations on education in their own towns, based on the presentations on citizenship, with two of the children from the North School actually doing their part of the presentation in French.
The adult delegation spent time in Fougères looking at new projects and visiting impressive cultural buildings such as Les Urbanistes, a former convent which now houses a music school and hosts a variety of events, similar to the way St Mary’s Church does.
Meanwhile the young delegation stayed in a hostel for young people and had a mixture of visits to cultural facilities, local restaurants to try local food and to nearby seaside town St Malo.
The events culminated in a formal dinner on Sunday, June 2 for guests from all five countries in attendance, with their host families, where there was local cuisine and some traditional Brittany songs and dancing.
Ashford Borough Council’s twinning champion, Cllr Mike Bennett, said: “Our relationship with Bad Munstereifel and Fougères is all about twinning communities. This year’s official annual visit was a lovely weekend of activities and it afforded an opportunity like no other for the children from the North School, who were a real credit to the borough, to meet people from Africa, South America, France and Germany and begin to form friendships.
“It’s not just twinning associations and schools that benefit from the exchanges. Ashford Sings toured Fougères in April 2013 and a brass band in Fougères is looking to come to Ashford with a view to an exchange. Members of the twinning association now have life-long friends whom they visit every year outside of the official trip. Twinning is good for sport and culture and links between communities in the different countries, and young people are at the heart of twinning’s history and are the key to its future.
“We have a great relationship with our European twin towns, which has developed over almost half a century, and we look forward to the annual gathering in September 2014, when Ashford celebrates 50 years of being twinned with Bad Munstereifel and 30 years of being twinned with Fougères.”