Britain may have voted to leave Europe but the ties between Hastings and its European twin towns is a strong as ever.
Hastings is twinned with Bethune, in France; Dordrecht in Holland, Schwerte in Germany and Oudenaarde in Belgium and regular exchanges take place throughout the year with firm friendships being established.
Twinning developed shortly after World War II as a way of bringing ordinary people together and as a serious contribution to international understanding and world peace.
Civic authorities sign official charters, but 99% of twinning involves citizens from all walks of life, of all ages getting to know each other, learning about each other’s culture and staying in each other’s homes.
Chairman of the Hastings Twinning Association Ken Sharples reflected on the town’s longest standing twinning association with Bethune, in France. He said: “This is the longest on going exchange since 1972 officially, but other links were formed before this through sport and commerce and many friendships have been formed over the years.
“Many of us who have formed friendships look on our hosts as extensions of our own family and we attend weddings and christenings etc. Many have also taken to learning the language: most twinners can converse with each other in a mixture of both.
For new twinners it brings a closer understanding of another culture and way of life. The rest of us realise that we are all basically alike, with the same hopes dreams and aspirations especially where our children are concerned. Hastings also has long-standing links with Dordrecht in Holland. Ken said: “Immediately after World War II, Hastings and Dordrecht residents played water-sports together - water polo and competitive swimming - and this broadened out into a vibrant sports exchange.
“Eventually, the two town councils recognised the strength of this inter-community relationship, and a formal twinning charter was signed in 1982.”
The roots of the twin town link between Hastings and Oudenaarde lie with the arrival in Oudenaarde of British troops during WW2.
Amongst these troops was a soldier named Smith. He met a Belgian girl and subsequently married her and settled in Oudenaarde.
groups of athletes came from Belgium to take part in the Hastings half marathon where they were hosted by local runners. Links and exchanges also took place between the police and fire services. Eventually in 1991 a formal twinning between Hastings and Oudenaarde was signed. The occasion was marked by a relay run from Hastings town hall to Oudenaarde town hall carrying a message of goodwill from the people of Hastings to the people of Oudenaarde.
Twinning with Schwerte, in Germany, began in 1982 and many strong friendships have formed over the years. Twinners regularly stay at one another’s homes and contact goes way beyond the annual exchange trips. Hastings visits Schwerte over the May Bank Holiday weekend and the return visit to Hastings normally takes place towards the end of September.
The most recent twinning is the link between Hastings and the Sierra Leonean village of Hastings, which was devastated by war in the 1990s. The villagers appealed for help. The LOAF Project funded the rebuilding of 13 bridges, and in 2003 the Link took over and continues to raise money to help rebuild the village.
Ken Sharples said: “The association is run purely on a voluntary basis and is supported by local businesses by advertising on our web site www.hatt.org.uk . If your company would like to support twinning by placing an advertisement then please contact email@example.com. The adverts are seen by our European neighbours and of course the people of Hastings.”
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