The idea of ‘twinning cities’ and forming links with other communities worldwide came about following the Second World War. It was seen as a way of spreading understanding of different cultures with the aim of lessening the risk of future international conflict. At present, twinned places are regularly used as opportunities for trade and business in the UK – but perhaps not justifying for many people the money spent on maintaining these friendships. However, with fear of outsiders and those different to us seemingly rife in the media and amongst public opinion, the bringing together and understanding of other worldwide communities seems an excellent justification for a twinning programme.
Norwich is currently twinned with four other cities across the globe; Rouen in France, Koblenz in Germany, Novi Sad in Serbia and El Vejo in Nicaragua.
The first three places mentioned may be obvious to those who have spent time in Norwich. If you plan on heading to the Riverside end of the city, it’s quite likely that you’d have come down Rouen Road, or Koblenz Avenue, and maybe even walked across the Novi Sad Friendship Bridge. As far as I know, Norwich has no clear links to El Vejo in terms of place names, expect for on the ‘Welcome to Norwich’ signs on the city boundaries. This is a bit of a shame, and I believe that our twinning links should be made even more obvious.
it’s quite likely that you’d have come down Rouen Road, or Koblenz Avenue, and maybe even walked across the Novi Sad Friendship Bridge
The twin activities between Norwich and Rouen, similarly with Koblenz, are fairly standard in their diplomatic nature. Both hold regular meetings and exchanges between the cities, where citizens of Norwich have the opportunity to stay with host families in the German and French cities. The promotion of education and skills are a key objective of these friendships and groups of lawyers, school-children, councillors and artists have visited Rouen over the past years, inevitably helping further their worldview and create new business opportunities as has been done in many other places.
The impacts upon the other two twinned areas are far more tangible for those living there. Both Novi Sad and El Vejo are places with a turbulent past, with the former experiencing rapid reconstruction and political changes over the last two decades and the latter being one of the poorest places in the western hemisphere, having struggled with natural disasters including hurricanes. Those responsible for the twinning projects have been active in supporting charities in Novi Sad – particularly for the relief of those affected by the dramatic changes that have taken place in the region, and they continue to help fund a school for children with special needs. The group linked with El Vejo has carried out various projects including co-funding a new settlement, called Norwich, for 42 families who were victims of Hurricane Mitch in 1998. The current project provides 200 scholarships for children of poor families who otherwise would be unable to go to school.
While the impact upon these places is clear, it is a shame that the majority of us do not get to see the positive aspects of these relationships. These links exist to enrich our understanding of different cultures and even create business links, but it is hard to do this when so many people know so little about the cities we are twinned with, let alone what we do for and with them.
so many people know so little about the cities we are twinned with, let alone what we do for and with them
Perhaps the solution is to create an increased awareness of the twinning programme, and it would be nice to see more publicity surrounding the schemes. This may cost some more public money, but I believe it would pay dividends for Norwich. Not only would more exposure of the programmes bring more funds for charity work from the city, but it would also fulfil the vital objective of learning more about other cultures. Local schools could create projects on our twins, and could have days learning about the culture of these different places in the hope of teaching future generations to embrace international relationships and not to shy away from helping those in other countries.
It is not shameful either, to use these relationships to have regular trade meetings and increased business opportunities. They may primarily be for increasing friendship and understanding, but there is nothing wrong with helping trade in the city where possible. If we are so closely linked with these places, it seems strange not to make it more widely known and use all the opportunities we get to connect with other areas across the globe.
We shouldn’t be ashamed of spending money on understanding other communities and helping them out, we should be proud of it. I consider myself lucky to have grown up in Norwich and it is great that in helping others, we get to share our city’s values of tolerance and cooperation. I’m sure the people of Norwich would be happy to know more of our relationships with cities worldwide and the positive impact they can have. At a time of Euroscepticism and inward looking politics, perhaps it’s time to make a lot more of Norwich’s international relationships.
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Featured image via EDP, © Archant