Brexit and ageing members spell trouble for town's twin links

Members of the Committee of the Dereham (Ruthen) Twinning Association present their newly commission

Members of the Committee of the Dereham (Rüthen) Twinning Association presenting a banner in 2017. - Credit: Archant

A Norfolk town’s twinning associations are on their last legs, as the problems of an aging membership and Brexit bureaucracy begin to catch up with them. 

Dereham has been twinned with the German town of Rüthen since 1985, and with Caudebec-Les-Elbeuf, in France, since 2004.

The German link is on the point of collapse, said councillor Linda Monument at a May town council meeting. 

“It’s only still in existence, because we haven't been able to hold our annual general meeting, and nor has our twin town in Germany,” said Ms Monument.

Dereham mayor Linda Monument. Picture: Matthew Usher.

Councillor Monument pointed out that town twinning as a practice has been going out of fashion for decades. - Credit: Matthew Usher

“When that is done, I think we shall be winding up the twinning association, which has declined considerably over the years and the German twinners have said they will be closing their twinning association down.

“It’s old age - we can’t get younger people to join in and the existing members are getting absolutely past travelling.”

She added: “As far as Rüthen is concerned, they felt that our leaving the EU was a deciding factor in terms of extra paperwork for them to be able to come over, and possibly extra cost - I think that put the tin hat on it, for them.”

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“[Twinning associations have] been going out of fashion for decades rather than merely years, so it’s not a surprise,” she pointed out. 

Dereham Twinning Association visited Caudebec les Elbeuf for the town fair and set up a stall sellin

Dereham Twinning Association visited Caudebec les Elbeuf for the town fair and set up a stall selling local produce in 2016. - Credit: supplied

While the French link is not as precarious, it could end within a few years. 

Association chair Brigitte Morton said: “We haven’t made a decision to fold just yet, but it’s so complicated now.

“I don’t think younger people are as interested as older people, because it’s a different time; twinning was set up after the war to make links between countries and a lot of friendships have grown out of that.”

Brigitte Morton wants to get the 'East' taken off the Dereham signs. Picture: Ian Burt

Brigitte Morton, Dereham chair of the Caudebec twinning association. - Credit: Ian Burt

Mrs Morton said about two thirds of the association members in Caudebec do not own passports, only ID cards which enable them to travel within the EU. 

With French passports costing roughly £200, she said they saw little incentive in purchasing one to travel to Dereham. 

“They used to come with a minibus… and again, there’s all kinds of insurance and driver’s license issues [now],” said Mrs Morton, who added that pre-Brexit bureaucracy had already made it difficult to send Dereham schoolchildren to France. 

The German association can be contacted at linda.monument@breckland.gov.uk and the French association at philbrigg333@googlemail.com 

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