For the past ten days seventeen young Italian students have been on work experience in Bridgwater. They’ve been working in cafes, in local government and in community centres and , as is often the case in these situations, they’ve charmed their way into the hearts of the (already welcoming) locals. Why are they here? Well, they’re from Bridgwater’s Italian twin town Priverno, which we’ve been twinned with since 2015 and for their final few days they were visited by their own Mayor Anna Maria Bilancia on her own first ever visit to Bridgwater. While she was here she took the opportunity to sign the ratification of the twinning treaty with Bridgwater’s young Portuguese born Mayor Diogo Rodrigues, at a celebration of the link at Bridgwater Town Hall.
Diogo spoke (as he always does) passionately about Internationalism and the value of these links “This was an important event for me, at a crucial time in our history. Current political events have created a toxic climate in the UK with so much hate and polarisation. Be it rich vs poor, white vs black, young vs old, British vs European, homeowners vs renters. It is up to us to change the narrative, create friendships and build bridges. Bridgwater is leading the way forward. Let us continue to set that good example for those around us to follow.”
Bridgwater has an active Bridgwater-Priverno Twinning group which meets at the attractively located canalside Purplespoon café at the YMCA and regularly hosts Italian themed lunches and other events including Italian lessons. Organiser Hilary Bruce, a fluent Italian speaker and translator, has been the key figure in building up the Priverno Bridgwater link to one of the most active in the
county. She outlined the recent project “ We have been bringing Italian students from the Teodosio Rossi school in Priverno to Bridgwater for the past 3 years linking up initially with Bridgwater College Academy, and more recently with Robert Blake and Kings of Wessex. This time we have taken this further into our community with work experience placements. Students have been working at the Engine Room, Bridgwater Town Council, The Purplespoon at the YMCA, Victoria Park Community Centre, Sedgemoor Plant Room, The Snug Café and Bookshop, The Green Olive, Café Avierence , La Kage and the White Feather.”
Hilary also runs Italian classes at the Sydenham Community centre. A recent visit by Italian students saw Hilary set up links with the Robert Blake School in Bridgwater and also the Kings of Wessex School in Cheddar which complement longer term links with Bridgwater College. Hilary added “The work experience project has been put together with the help of many people, especially Cllr Mick Lerry.”
The students film can be viewed here.
History of Bridgwater’s Italian Connection
But why do we have this link in the first place? Cllr Brian Smedley, Leader of Bridgwater Town Council, spoke at the meeting along with a power point and a film made by the Italian students with the help of the Engine room.
“In 2010, while we were visiting our Czech twin town, Uherske Hradiste, we discovered that they had an Italian twin town -which was Priverno. We decided to triangulate with them in order to attract 3 way European funding and as a result took part in a major Euro project and conference on town development. From there we started further exploratory links with a football tour 3 choir trips and 2 college film and media student trips. 3 Italian bands of musicians have travelled over to Bridgwater including the very popular rockabilly band After Dark, ad we have taken numerous trips of general tourists between the 2 areas. Priverno is a particularly interesting place for us due to it’s accessibility -it’s an easy flight from Bristol to Rome (and a 5 euro train journey from there) and equidistant between Rome and Naples-which is also flyable from Bristol. Historically it’s a very important place for the British as well as it’s in the same area as the Anzio landings of world war 2 and also of the battle of Monte Casino. These are place we always take our groups when we are over there.”
“Also the Priverno area is very similar to Sedgemoor in the sense that it is set in very flat drained marshland and within easy reach of the sea. Although Priverno itself is a hilltop town overlooking all this. Priverno is also a left leaning little town with a Red -Green coalition running the place and interestingly the wider Lazio-Latin area is of historical interest as it was the area where Mussolini built 6 ‘Fascist New Towns’ in the 1930s. The whole area is a living museum and lessons from history leap out at you from around every corner.”
Priverno’s Mayor spoke with passion about her new ‘favourite place’ -Bridgwater. How it was love at first sight and this was echoed by the students, one of whom said on departure “Mrs Mayor, how do you say in English, here is a town which I have left a part of my heart in?” .
Well, you just have.