BBC News

Town twinning links remain strong in Wales

By Wena Alun Owen
BBC Wales News website

image captionHolyhead (pictured) is unveiling a new twinning arrangement with the Irish town of Greystones

Town twinning is a tradition which goes back almost a century in the UK, but which some see as out of step in this day and age.

Twinning arrangements in many parts of England appear to be breaking down, amid calls to save cash.

In Wales however, the situation is rather different and, although a few relationships may be under strain, links are as strong as ever in most cases.

In fact, new partnerships are being set up such as that between Greystones in the Republic of Ireland and Holyhead, which was being signed in the Anglesey town on Friday.

Both towns hope to benefit from the arrangement by holding conferences on both sides of the Irish Sea to create links between local organisations.

Save cash

Coincidentally, Greystones is in the county of Wicklow whose mountains can be seen from Holyhead mountain on a clear day.

"We want to try to get businesses to link up with each other as well as organisations such as the drama group, sea scouts, girl guides," said Cliff Everett, the clerk of Holyhead Town Council.

"There are also plans to bid for a European citizens programme grant to hold a week-long event in both places next year.

"Travelling on the fast ferry from Holyhead to Dun Laoghaire, then by Dart [train] to Greystones takes just two-and-a-half hours, so people can get there easily. We'll see how it goes," he added.

Last September, councillors in Bishop's Stortford, Hertfordshire, voted to end local authority support for the town's 46-year twinning arrangements with Friedberg in Germany and Villiers-sur-Marne in France.

Local councillor John Wyllie insisted the practice "didn't have as much relevance in today's society".

In 2009, civic leaders in Wallingford, Oxfordshire, contacted the European Municipalities and Regions, which co-ordinates twin town arrangements, asking to break their ties with Luxeuil-les-Bains in eastern France amid complaints that the latter had not put any effort into the relationship.

Doncaster mayor Peter Davies announced in the same year he was scrapping twinning links with five cities to save cash.

In Wales meanwhile, there are many types of twinning arrangements set up, with some run by councils but most at a community level.

Direct impact

Cardiff council has official links with Stuttgart in Germany; Lugansk in Ukraine; Nantes in France; Xiamen in China; and Hordaland County, Norway.

A Cardiff council spokesperson said although it was difficult to measure the direct impact of many twinning activities, it was clear that maintaining links with twin cities did have clear benefits.

This includes providing the first opportunity for young people to travel abroad and experience life in a different country.

Professional exchanges have also been set up.

"There are also direct financial benefits, such as the grants given by Hordaland to develop the Norwegian Church, and indirect ones such as the ability to form consortia to access European funds - something which will be increasingly important in the new round of European structural funds," said a spokesperson.

Caerphilly council adopted the former district council's twinning partners in 1996, Ludwigsburg in Germany, which has been active for the last 50 years, and Pisek in the Czech Republic, which has been going for 16 years.

"The council believes the twinning partnership allows European areas to exchange ideas and concepts on how to address common problems and find common solutions," said a Caerphilly council spokesperson.

image captionThe Wicklow mountains can be seen from Holyhead mountain on a good day

Reasons behind the links are as varied as the places being twinned.

In 1983 the mayor of a small town in France decided he would like his home twinned with somewhere where the Welsh language was strong.

It led to a highly successful twinning arrangement between Landerneau in Brittany and Caernarfon in north Wales - which is still going strong nearly 20 years later.

"We've exchanged every year since then, expect for when there was the foot and mouth outbreak, and when a major festival meant there was no place to stay," said Emrys Jones, chairman of the twinning group.

"It's given us more than the cultural elements, the singing and dancing, the element of friendship is very strong. Some of them have become real mates over the years," he added.

Another trip is planned from Caernarfon to Landerneau in July.

'Bad weather'

But it is not always plain sailing.

Llanddarog in Carmarthenshire had a twinning arrangement with Milltown in County Galway in Ireland which came to an end despite a successful nine or 10 years, according to the last chairman of the twinning committee, Terence Gibbard Jones.

"It was brilliant at the start, and we had three visits each but then things ran out of steam," he said.

"On their last visit the weather was very bad and the ferry from Fishguard couldn't run and they had to stay for two extra days, which led to a bit of a bitter taste.

"People don't have the time these days either, and it was only pensioners and farmers taking part.

"I brought it to an end about four years ago, and we gave the money we had left to the school and the Urdd," he added.

Jane Potter, chair of Ammanford Twinning Association, which has been twinned with Breuillet in France for 14 years, said: "Ours is still going, but not quite as well as it did, from this side.

"Great friends have been made but people in Ammanford don't really like having to live in French homes because they are not confident speaking the language, although the same doesn't seem to happen when they come here."

More on this story

  • Why are towns un-twinning?