I recently returned from a very successful visit to Rinteln, Kendal’s twin town in Germany, where we celebrated the twentieth anniversary of the twinning of our two towns.
Nearly 100 people from Kendal attended the celebrations, which coincided with their annual Altstadt Festival – including the Mayor of Kendal and three former Mayors. We have also just welcomed a group from Rinteln to Kendal.
Town twinning is proving popular through the UK and Europe. Several towns in South Lakeland have active twin towns – Windermere with Diessen am Ammersee in Germany, Sedbergh with Zrece in Slovenia, Coniston with Illers-Cobray in France and Solto Collina in Italy and Ulverston with Albert, also in France.
Unfortunately, many people in this country associate town twinning with civic junketing, dignitaries going off for weekends at taxpayers’ expense and having a good time – and a little too much beer and bratwurst!
I’m not saying this doesn’t happen in some towns and cities, but mostly town twinning is run by an enthusiastic, hard-working band of volunteers with very little funding coming through the public purse.
The Kendal Rinteln Association has over the past 20 years seen upwards of 1,000 people visit Rinteln and we have hosted a similar number from Rinteln visiting Kendal. All with just £1,200 per annum from Kendal Town Council! Any additional money is raised through fundraising events.
We like to have a good time on our twinning visits – I enjoy a beer and bratwurst as much as the next person! However, the true value of town twinning is in getting to know people from another town, in another country speaking another language.
Given our linguistic abilities it helps that many Germans speak good English, but the warmth of the welcome is heartfelt and friendships made can last a lifetime. Many Kendalians have now visited Rinteln several times staying with the same families, and similarly hosting them when they visit Kendal.
There are also the educational benefits – Rinteln holds a one-week Summer University in the town every year and funds three Kendal sixth form students, who are studying German at A level to attend every year.
The links between Heron Hill and Vicarage Park Primary Schools and their German counterparts has meant teacher exchanges and pupils benefiting from having German pen pals.
Another notable feature of the twinning has been the engagement between groups of disabled people. A group from each town visits in alternative years, this year the Rinteln Libenshilfe are visiting the Kendal WOSPs.
These visits help to change attitudes to disabled people. In Germany for example, the system tends to be more rigid and when they first visited Kendal, they were genuinely surprised by how much freedom disabled people had to live their own lives in their own homes.
Twinning also helps to promote tourism to our region. At the Altstadt Festival we had a ‘Kendal tent’, where we served cups of tea, flapjack and, of course, Kendal Mint cake to give locals a taste of England and the Lake District. This was much appreciated and many people took away information which will hopefully encourage them to visit our beautiful area.
I think in Kendal and South Lakeland we are becoming more European in outlook. Town twinning helps to break down nationalistic barriers, dismissing the myths and stereotypes that the national media in Britain like to portray.
In reality we are all the same – we all have the same hopes, fears and aspirations. I would certainly encourage those towns that don’t have a twin town to think seriously about twinning.
It’s a lot of hard work but also a lot of fun.
Richard Pealing, chairman of the Kendal-Rinteln Twinning Association