By Mark Ross, Second Year, Politics and French
The international “twinning” of cities has gifted Bristol a number of ‘sisters’ across the globe. Seven cities – Guangzhou, Porto, Bordeaux, Hannover, Porto Morazon, Beira and Tbilisi – are part of the Bristolian family. But how did these relationships flourish, and what do they mean today?
The idea of “twinning” gained traction in the wake of World War Two, when international solidarity was at a premium. In 1947, the Universities of Bristol and Bordeaux formed a committee – now known as the ‘Bristol Bordeaux Association’ – to “amplify” existing cultural and economic links.
In the same year, five ‘men of goodwill’ (including Dr August Closs, then a professor at the UoB) journeyed to Hannover, Germany, to forge the first British-German city relationship after the war. The envoy were responding to news that the people of Hannover were destitute, and facilitated the donation of children’s shoes ,amongst other items, to the German city.
Henceforth the family grew, with Porto pairing in 1984. This relationship focused more on cultural exchange, offering funding to any Portuguese-themed art, sport or education project in Bristol. Tbilisi joined in 1988 with a similar cultural and social emphasis.
The link with Puerto Morazán, Nicaragua, in 1985, was founded on a charitable basis, with the relationship being run by the Bristol Link with Nicaragua (BLINC). Similarly, Beira, Mozambique, was connected with Bristol to “empower local communities”.
Recently, numerous “twinnings” of other UK cities have come under fire for their irrelevant and farcical nature.
When Guagnzhou, China, paired with Bristol, the West of England China Bureau stressed the importance of “business initiatives” and trade links. The Bristol China Partnership (BCP) recognised China’s global influence and capitalised on Guagnzhou’s willingness to establish a tie between the two cities.
Recently, numerous “twinnings” of other UK cities have come under fire for their irrelevant and farcical nature. Wicanton, in Somerset, for example, publicly paired with the entirely fictional town of Ankh-Morpork (featured in Terry Pratchett’s discworld novels), arguably undermining the concept of ‘twinning’ as a whole. This forces Bristol to justify its contemporary ‘family’. So, are Bristol’s links still functioning, and if so, what do they contribute?
Charity is the key benefit of several of Bristol’s relationships.
In Mozambique, for example, the ‘Bristol link with Beira’ (BLB) project helps local organisations to develop in the aftermath of enduring historical conflict and instability. These non-governmental groups target health, environmental and social problems that persist in Mozambique.
David Ogden conducting Bristol Youth Choir celebrating 70 years twinning pf Bristol, Hannover & Bordeaux at Bristol zoo pic.twitter.com/szPwmGa8bJ— Lord-Lt of Bristol (@PeachesTweets) June 23, 2017
Research and development is a key element of the BLB’s approach. “BioFactory”, a BLB-linked company, is developing mobile sanitation plants which convert human waste into fuel and soil fertiliser. Pioneering projects of this kind embody the charitable benefits of Bristol’s international relationships.
Fundraising is also at the core of Bristol’s partnerships. For example, the BLB project has raised over £20,000 through its charity wine auction (paired with the Bristol/Bordeaux project) in the last few years. Similarly, the city of Bristol sent £25,000 to Beira in response to the 2019 Cyclone Idai, which destroyed “90%” of the city. These sums highlight the active, efficient and altruistic nature of Bristol’s ‘twinning’ relationships.
Education is another goal of Bristol’s ‘twinning’ scheme.
Opportunities for student exchanges have expanded as Bristol’s network has grown. Roughly 30,000 secondary school pupils from Bordeaux have participated in exchanges since 1947. The Bristol Oporto Association (BOA) awards grants to Bristol University students attending Porto universities.
Athletes and artists from Hannover regularly swap with their Bristolian counterparts. The depth and accessibility of these opportunities for social, sporting and academic education are invaluable.
At the heart of these partnerships lies the goal of sharing cultures. Literature, language, poetry, art and many other mediums pertaining to local heritage and tradition are passed between Bristol and its twin cities.
The Bristol-Tsblisi Association hosts annual “supras”, or feasts, in Bristol, to teach locals about the culinary heritage of Georgia. Likewise, the BHC arranges traditional German Christmas lunches with its Bristolian counterparts, and those in Porto encourage tastings of national wines. These events foster a mutual interest in twin cities’ cultures and encourage Bristolians to adopt a broader, more diverse worldview.
Art initiatives and programmes are central to these cultural exchanges as well. The Bristol-Oporto Foundation supports Porto’s street artists and fledgling film creatives, in both cities. The BHC also supports “studio and street art exchanges”, with several other partners pushing their local talent to engage in Bristolian competitions and projects.
The focus on charity, culture and education reveals the active nature and beneficial impact of Bristol’s international partnerships. They breed creativity, stimulate competition and encourage diversity. In an often lonely post-Brexit, quarantined Britain, perhaps a global family is no bad thing.
Featured Image: Unsplash / Nick Fewings
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