As part of the new Fore Street enhancement project information signs went up today and the centre piece was a new ‘Twinning Sign’ which pointed to Bridgwater’s 7 twin towns showing that whether you love or hate Brexit, Bridgwater is still a place open to the world, outward looking and internationalist. Along with the twinning feature a series of signs replaced the out of date street furniture pointing visitors in the direction of key amenities ranging from the Blake Museum to West Quay, the Eastover shops, Bridgwater Station, the Engine Room, the Arts Centre and the Town Hall. The signposts are part of a wider £310,000 enhancement scheme known as the ‘Bridgwater Town Centre Support Project’ and the £130,000 Fore Street element includes hanging baskets and flower tubs, replacement trees, new seating, cycle racks, lamp-posts, repaving and other landscaping bid for through EDF’s Community Mitigation Fund (£116,070) and assisted with some Bridgwater Town Council (£35,000) & Sedgemoor District Council (£148,000) money plus £10,000 from Bridgwater Town Team. The bid was submitted by Bridgwater Town Council and taken to two public meetings, both of which supported the proposals.
Town Council Leader Brian Smedley said “Bridgwater has a proud internationalist tradition and that has now been recognised in what will be a new feature in our town centre. It shows that Bridgwater people are not at all inward looking ,but quite the opposite. Bridgwater has made its mark around the world throughout its history. It also pays tribute to the work of the dedicated band of twinning enthusiasts who have not only kept these links going but continue to develop new ones. Whether we have Brexit or whether we don’t there’s still a world out there to engage with.”
The Twinnings Explained
On the twinning post are 7 names – but can the Town Council Leader explain them all?
“Bridgwater’s first twinning was with La Ciotat on the south coast of France in 1957 and since that time 1,000s of Bridgwater students went on exchange projects there which were very important to their education. Many French students came here and still do .62 years later that’s still continuing.
As Britain developed closer ties to the European Union and its strongest economy, we gained a German twin town. In the 1980’s Sedgemoor twinned with the German district of Schwalm Eder and our 3 principal towns also picked German partner towns within that district, Burham with Fritzlar, Cheddar with Felsberg and Bridgwater with Homberg. Most recently the two towns have exchanged original art exhibitions including the ‘Changing Places’ project which featured in the Quayside Festival.
After 1989 the collapse of communism saw the opening up of East Europe and a reuniting of peoples across what had been a continent divided by cold war – Bridgwater had been crucial in 1938 with the Vernon Bartlett election in the fight against fascism and then in 1992 became the first town in England to twin with a town in Czechoslovakia – Uherske Hradiste. 1,000s of Czechs and Slovaks have visited Bridgwater over the years and Bridgwater people have returned in similar numbers with choirs, football teams, rock tours and on school and college trips.
In 2006 Bridgwater twinned with the town of Marsa on the George Cross island of Malta, and became the only British town directly twinned with a Maltese one. Last year a Maltese youth rugby team visited us and provided guard of honour for Bridgwater and Albion to come onto the pitch at a home game during their stay.
In 2015 we twinned with the Italian town of Priverno, just south of Rome and close to the historical world war 2 battle sites of Monte Casino and Anzio. Not only have we taken student groups, musicians and footballers backward and forward between the 2 countries we also have a thriving Italian language group that has arisen from the link.
There’s also a sign up there pointing to Camacha on the Portuguese island of Madeira which we agreed to form a link with only this year and will be formalised in October this year with a visit by the ‘Voice of the People’ Choir and our Mayor Tony Heywood, once more taking Bridgwater culture across the globe. And, as with all of these, encouraging people to take an interest in our town and come over here as tourists , make friendships, do business, share their and our culture and work towards a lasting peace in the world that can only come about through greater understanding of each other.
And finally people might wonder what the 7th sign is – well, that’s Seattle in the USA. Now people might think that finger post is there just so that not all the signs are pointing south…and there’s maybe an element of truth in that. But, in fact we signed a twinning with the Mayor of Seattle in 2016 to commemorate our joint connection to Joe Strummer and the Clash. Strummer lived in Bridgwater and played his last concert here before he died in 2002 and had proudly described Bridgwater as ‘a Clash Town’. Each February KEXP Radio in Seattle holds a ‘Clash Day’ and links up with us here in Bridgwater to commemorate the importance of Strummer, the Clash and the ideals they stood for -creativity, internationalism and revolution. What’s in a sign? All the above I’d say.”
But what has been the response of the towns people to the new signs? Well, the twinners are naturally delighted and messages of thanks have been pouring in from across Europe . Josef Azzopardi, the Assistant Head of the St Ignatius College in Malta simply writing “Wow, that’s so nice”.
But there’s bound to be some criticism??? Has there been?
Cllr Smedley replied ” Well, I was just in the process of directing the workers which way to point the signs – incidentally they were Welsh, and said we didn’t have any pointing North..ie their direction….when one old Bridgwater guy came up and said to me ‘I don’t want to know where they are, I want to know where the Library is!’. He had a point, so it was ideal that the next sign the Welsh workers pulled out of the lorry was indeed the one pointing to the library. They aren’t just twinning signs, there’s also another 3 posts down Fore Street which replace the older, out of date ones and direct people to places around the town. Including the library. Another guy said it was a waste of money – but all the signs combined come to just £6,000 and the money generated for the whole project comes to some £310,000 much of which we’ve got from EDF as payback for the disruption they’ve brought to the town. Hopefully the end result will see a more welcoming and pleasant town centre. But, of course, it will only be as pleasant as we make it, so people will need to look after it a bit better in future.”