Hosted by the Lord Mayor, our final, major event of the year was held on 23rd November. Sixty-eight twinning friends and guests attended the 70th Anniversary Gala Dinner at the Mansion House for an evening of entertainment, good food and wine, excellent company and speeches to celebrate a full year of activities and events throughout 2017. It was great to welcome representatives from the German and French embassies from London – Charlotte Schwarzer who is the Head of Culture and Education at the German Embassy and Benoît le Dévédec who is the French Language Attaché at the French Embassy. Sadly, Peaches Golding, Bristol’s Lord Lieutenant could not make the dinner due to a heavy cold. However, we were delighted to welcome Marina Dolman, President of Bristol City Football Club, instead. Marina is a long-term supporter of our links with Hannover, so it was really pleasing that she could attend. Also, it was great to welcome Valerie Bonnet, the President of the Bordeaux-Bristol Association who travelled from Bordeaux to be with us.
What a year! Our twinnings events touched many hundreds of people from all walks of life in the city of Bristol. We spread the positive message about twinnings to lots of people who had no knowledge or contact with our twinned cities before. The 70th anniversary of the twinnings with Hannover and Bordeaux gave us a great opportunity to raise our profile with Bristol citizens, business leaders, councillors and some of our disadvantaged communities who rarely get involved in twinning activities or exchanges.
We are very fortunate to be twinned with Hannover and Bordeaux. Both these vibrant, international cities share very similar forward thinking economic strategies to Bristol – new technologies, aerospace, digital creative industries, financial services and developments in smart cities infrastructure. They also share similar problems, with the challenges of increased migration, inequality and anti-social behaviour. Issues that all successful cities in the world are struggling with. In 2017 we have strengthened our dialogue with both cities and shared areas that we are working on. We hope that we can now start some new collaborations as we move forward in the next few years.
We held a huge number of events and projects in every month of the year after we launched on 20th January at the M Shed with great participation of young people from primary and secondary schools. Indeed, the participation of young people during the year has been really heartening. For instance: 20 primary school footballers from some of our more disadvantaged communities having the opportunity to visit Bordeaux to play friendly games with their counterparts there; or the amazing project by Fairfield School with Hannover youngsters called, ‘In Somebody Else’s Shoes’. This received National Lottery funding and is still ongoing. There were many others, but these just illustrate the power of the twinnings to educate, inform and develop understand between cultures.
The exchange visits to both twinned cities during the year were both outstanding successes. We were looked after fantastically, and hosted by the Mayors of the cities whilst we were there. Our own Mayor, Marvin Rees, joined us on the trip to Hannover and spoke at several events there. I believe he was quite amazed by the warmth of the reception he received.
The visit by Alain Juppe and Stefan Schostock to our big summer party at Bristol Zoo was the highlight of the year. They both brought an entourage, and stayed for a couple of days whilst they were shown Bristol and held talks with our Mayor and senior councillors. They shared experiences of developing their cities and pledged to stay in touch and learn from each other’s successes. I think Marvin was a bit envious of the transport systems in both of the other cities – he is now planning an underground metro for Bristol (good luck to him).
We also organised a conference and workshops – called the ‘Three Cities Summit’ – for delegates from all three cities in October. We now have some tangible business links across the three cities, and some programmes to develop over the coming years. A first for the twinning relationships.
There were many, many more events during the year that I do not have the time to describe – choirs, graffiti artists, gymnasts, junior chambers of commerce exchanges, cathedral visits, women’s roller derby teams, rowers from both cities, Rotarians, bike rides to both cities, school exchanges, wine tastings, jazz musicians, archives exhibitions, twinning conferences, Trades Unions visits, student visits, badminton teams, internships, ….and more!
The cumulative amount of time and effort that has been put in to this year is phenomenal! I am not going to thank everyone individually, but I would like to say how grateful the 70th Anniversary Committee has been for the efforts of these volunteers who give their time and commitment. It has been a privilege to meet so many of them over the year.
So… it has been a fantastic year. I have thoroughly enjoyed myself, although I have to admit that am looking forward to a rather quieter year in 2018! I am hoping to be able to do something next year that does not only relate to Hannover or Bordeaux, unless it is drinking their wine or eating their food.
Blog by Alastair Watson, Chair of the BHB70 Organising Committee.