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Twinning, The Leek Experience

At the end of the second world war it was felt by many that a better understanding between the countries in Europe was required if only to prevent a similar event happening again. Eventually in line with this belief a Council of European Municipalities was founded in Geneva by a group of Mayors. This became the Council of European Municipalities and Regions. Today it is the largest organization of local and regional government in Europe representing over 100,000 local and regional authorities. It was from this beginning that the concept of twinning came into being. John Bareth a founder member of CEMR defined it as "the coming together of two communities seeking, in this way to take action with a European perspective and with the aim effacing their problems and developing between themselves closer and closer ties of friendship." His perspective of friendship co-operation and mutual understanding between the people of Europe was well ahead of any idea of a "Unified Europe." In this way he identified the primary values which twinning represents: friendship, co-operation and mutual awareness between the peoples of Europe. In England nearly 2000 twinning arrangements exist, principally, but not exclusively, within Europe.
The process of establishing a twinning arrangement is relatively straightforward. However, the process should follow Brussels guidelines in order to be recognized and gain full benefit. Initially an application is made to the Local Government Association who assist in finding a suitable partner. They offer advice to the applicant this being based upon similarities in population, geography, local industry and culture. Twinning came about in Leek as a result of the ambition of the then Mayor, Councillor John Fisher, to establish a link with another township in Europe. As a result of this initiative and with the blessing of the town council a small group of like minded volunteers formed a Twinning Committee and set about finding a twin town. An initial foray was into Holland where a town with the same name was approached. At first this appeared to look promising, however it failed to make progress due to what was believed to be political on their part.
After a little time the committee was approached by Este in Italy who had become aware of Leek through the Brussels protocol. They already had considerable twinning experience administered by a large committee of people who already had established twin towns in France, Germany, Hungary and Croatia. They also had a sub committee at the head of which was a German whose responsibility was to find an English twin. So here we had an Italian town with a German citizen charged with finding an English twin! By way of introduction they sent us a delightful video of their town which had been produced for publicity purposes. Following this very shortly afterwards and with little notice, two of their committee turned up in Leek one late morning. They had arrived from Hanley by bus having travelled up from London by train earlier. They emphasized that their visit was not official it was simply a quick look at the town in order to see if Leek could be the English partner they were seeking. A very small group of surprised committee members put together a quick tour of the area followed by an informal meeting and a farewell.
Very shortly after this initial meeting the Leek committee was approached by Este seeking to make further progress this time on an official basis. A series of visits were made in both directions culminating in 2002 with each local authority agreeing to establish a twinning agreement.
Este is a delightful town of ancient origin in the Veneto region. It is situated approximately one hour's drive SW of Venice and adjacent to the Euganian national park. This beautiful park consists of a series of hills, volcanic in origin, rising abruptly out of the Po valley.
In the early days, it has to be said that Este was viewed by many as a foreign place with little in common with Leek and, in particular, Leek folk. Since then due to a considerable amount of effort on behalf of many Leek residents, not all on the committee, the relationship between the two communities has grown from strength to strength. Regular interchanges take place between the two towns with a particular emphasis on youth, which is a principle objective of the Leek committee. Throughout the year its members can be seen raising funds with the monies so raised going predominately to assist young groups of people to visit this Italian region. In many cases this being for the first time. One of the initial visits made was by a group of young footballers from Leek CSOB.
During these early years the interchange between the townships was dominated by music. Este provided their superb Gospel choir and their young people's Downs choir whilst Leek returned with the Phoenix Singers, Piva and Bella Musica. Music is still a feature today with Leek Choral making its own contribution in Este
In June 2007 Leek celebrated its market charter, a very large event for the town. Este contributed greatly to the event as all will remember. Their two medieval re enactment groups attended the celebrations and provided a wonderful sight in their authentic costumes as they paraded through the town and took part in the festivities.
Alongside these formal arrangements many individual families and smaller organisations have established strong ties with friends they have made during the many interchanges which have taken place. This is illustrated by the now regular movement of citizens between the two townships taking place throughout the year on a very informal basis.
In conclusion reference must be made to a regular feature in the Leek calendar. That is the annual service of remembrance in November. Last year for the second time we were joined by a large group of Italian politicians, servicemen, veterans and individuals. On this occasion they were joined by a small party of young people from their twin town in Germany all of which took part in the service, wreath laying and parade through the town. This coming November Leek will send a similar party over to Este in order to join in their remembrance events. Each year this will alternate between the two towns.
This particular event, one of remembrance, jointly celebrated with our European neighbours can be seen as manifestation of John Bareth' s ideals of half a century ago. Long may it continue.

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