Kent and France: a special relationship
France: making a 'Channel Region'
So close are we to northern France that for years, Kent has enjoyed a 'special relationship' with the Nord Pas de Calais region. Today, there are more cross-Channel links than ever. Find out more...
Thanks to our sheer proximity, Kent's links with France are stronger than any other county's. And so they will remain, as long as they both shall live, for richer and for poorer. Facing each other across the busiest shipping lane in the world, these two regions still twitch with the memory of two thousand years of continental conflict.
It was outside Boulogne that Claudius gathered his army before the 43AD invasion of England, landing at Rutupiae, in modern Kent. Boulogne then became a major Roman port, linking the Empire's provinces of Gaul and Britain - matching lighthouses in Boulogne and Dover helped guide ships across the Channel.
Calais was under English rule for nearly 200 years until 1558, when the French finally wrestled back control. Fast forward a few hundred years and we see Napoleon's army preparing for the invasion of England outside Boulogne in 1803.
The World Wars were to unite the regions in bloody conflict: the combined Anglo-French 'Dover patrol' helped protect the Channel from the German threat during the First World War; during World War Two, Dover was shelled directly by the Germans from the coast near Calais - the area was then used as a launch pad for the fearsome V1, then V2 rockets. It was here too that Hitler assembled his forces for 'Operation Sealion', the planned invasion of England. The Dunkirk evacuations of 1940 were planned from Dover Castle and saw over 300,000 allied troops rescued from the Dunkirk pocket - many returning to Kent ports.
Post-war peace and prosperity has seen Kent and Nord Pas de Calais involved in friendlier exchanges. The Channel tunnel literally cemented links between them in 1994, when it was formally opened by Queen Elizabeth II and French President François Mitterrand.
Today, towns and individual projects on both sides of the Channel are benefiting from substantial European funding, mainly through Interreg, an EU body set up to benefit cross-border co-operation: in tourism, regeneration, education as well as social projects. Here are a few examples:
Links with Southlands Community Comprehensive, in New Romney, have enabled the small village in northern France [known in French as Azincourt] to secure funding for its new medieval history centre. Over a 15-month period, 6,000 children from Kent will visit the centre and the battlefield where a similar number of English archers decemated the French army on October 25th 1415.
»Flavours of the Region
A project to promote local food produce in Kent and Nord Pas-de-Calais. It also involves an exchange of expertise, with French fare coming over here and Kentish produce making its way to French markets. Organisers are putting together a bi-lingual recipe book and a restaurant guide, promoting dishes and eateries from both sides of the Channel.
That's the organisation coordinating EU projects for Shepway and Boulogne. Projects have included the regeneration of the port areas in both towns and initiatives to reduce crime and social exclusion. There have already been exchanges of young people across the Channel.
The University of Kent has joined forces with four other institutions across the Channel to offer bi-lingual masters degrees, from which students graduate with double degrees!
»Maritime Heritage Trail
Links together tourist sites, walks and cycle trails on both sides of the Channel, with an emphasis on our shared maritime past and present. There's also the HISTORIC FORTIFICATIONS NETWORK, linking historic towns on Kent, France and Flanders, which demonstrate the way in which wars and the fear of them, have shaped our Channel coasts.
»Transmanche Business Channel
The Thanet & East Kent Chamber of Commerce is trying to encourage cross-Channel trade by putting businesses on both sides of the water in touch with each other.
There are now several links in place between tourist offices on both sides of the Channel, so that restaurants, hotels and attractions are marketed across the water.
A new Channel Region?
The hope is that in the future, an umbrella organisation or even a defined new 'Channel Region' will unite all of the above, currently dispersed, projects.
Bruno Cooren is the coordinator for international relations with the town of Dunkirk:
"The idea would be to create a partnership between all the local authorities around the Channel to ensure the sustainable development of the regions on both sides."
Entente cordiale would appear to be alive and well between England and France, but perhaps warmer still is the entente between Kent and the northern regions of France.
last updated: 27/05/2008 at 15:40