According to some in the media, twinning is doomed. Sadly there is some evidence to support that view, internationally, but the twinned villages of Woodhall Spa and Roëzé are bucking the alleged trend. Earlier this year a doughty band of Woodhall Spa and district families once again crossed the Channel to spend a long weekend with their French hosts en famille, and plans are now being drawn up for the next return visit in 2017.
As yet, dates have not been set, but a recent survey of current WSTA members indicates continued willingness to offer slices of English life once again next year. It does seem likely that demand will exceed supply, so the association is once again on the lookout for new families.
Roëzé sur Sarthe is about 15 kilometres south-west of Le Mans. Yes, where the 24 hour races are held. (This year we could hear them in Roëzé revving up on the nearby Le Mans circuit, just as we left.) “Hugging the banks of the river Sarthe, Roëzé is a charming village with a baker’s shop, a butcher’s shop, a general store, a large church, one pub, a restaurant and La Mairie (the Council offices) – and lots of very friendly people.” [Woodhall Spa Community Website]
The two twinning associations date back to the eighties. After a couple of preliminary visits a Twinning Charter was signed by leaders of both parish councils – Roëzé in 1988 and Woodhall Spa the following Spring. Since then, reciprocal visits have been organised by the associations every year, even though English local government support quietly left the stage some time ago.(I have heard also that the new mayor of Roëzé is none too keen on le jumelage either.)
Notwithstanding, it’s still the job of the two twinning committees to do their best to match new French and English families, who, along with existing members, will travel every other year to spend time with their partner families, and then offer hospitality in their own homes the following year. It’s obviously a tricky business, but in our case the matching exercise was inspired; we hit it off from the word go and the Dewrance / Hyvard friendship continues to grow.
Personally I would argue that, post-Brexit, twinning matters more than ever. It’s the antithesis of mere tourism; a great way to find out how much we really do have in common with people who happen to live in other countries and establish genuine lifetime friendships into the bargain, without the complications of overseas property ownership or rental. As well as being fun, twinning succeeds in breaking down fear of the stranger, so often at the heart of conflict. Something no referendum has yet achieved, as far as I know.
Next year the English and French Associations celebrate the 30th anniversary of their friendship, and it’s our turn to open our doors. Typically, there will be a welcome-dinner, and usually we arrange visits to various places within travelling distance. Twinned families also arrange their own trips, either in addition to, or instead of, the group trips. Sometimes we are quite happy just to relax at home; nothing is compulsory!
By the way, nobody here worries if they don’t speak French, and it’s the same in Roëzé regarding a command of English. Honestly it doesn’t matter.