South East Wales

Bridgend twinning 'important' after Brexit, German mayor says

The motion calls for the town council to be "absolved from any direct responsibility" for the twinning schemes Image copyright Lewis Clarke/Geograph
Image caption The motion calls for the town council to be "absolved from any direct responsibility" for the twinning schemes

A German town mayor has stressed historic links between Bridgend and Europe must be maintained in the wake of the EU referendum.

Bridgend has been twinned with Langenau since 1971, and in 1994 was paired with Villenave d'Ornon, in France.

The town council will consider ending all ties at an extraordinary meeting on Wednesday.

Langenau Mayor Daniel Salemi said it was "important to connect nations not to separate them".

In a letter sent to BBC Wales ahead of the meeting Mr Salemi writes the German town would regret to lose the partnership "especially in serious times we have right now in Europe and in the world".

"In a global world it is especially for young people very important to be open-minded and tolerant," he said.

"The great problems in our world can not be solved through separatism."

'Lack of support'

In recent years, exchange trips have been been run by the Bridgend twinning committee, with the support of the town council.

But two motions, signed by four councillors, have been put to the council.

The first calls for the town council to be "absolved from any direct responsibility" for the arrangement with Langenau; the second to withdraw from all twinning and friendship arrangements.

If approved, the second motion would also put to an end Bridgend's friendship with Hechtel-Eksel in Belgium, started in 2014.

A briefing paper prepared by councillor Bob Burns ahead of the meeting highlights "major concerns" over child welfare and details financial pressures.

It lists recent terror attacks in France and concerns over risk assessments for the placement of pupils in homes.

The document highlights two incidents during an exchange visit to Villenave d'Ornon and points to a lack of activity from the German town in the twinning partnership.

It refers to changes including the outcome of the EU referendum as "seem[ing] to identify a lack of support for things European."

'Long lasting friendships'

Debra Walsh, subject leader for modern foreign languages at Brynteg School, said the exchange trips with Villenave d'Ornon, in south west France had been "invaluable" for pupils and teachers.

"Many of the students who have taken part in the exchange continue with French to A-level and beyond, including at top universities such as Oxford," she writes in a letter to the town council.

"However, without the financial and organisational support provided via Bridgend Town Twinning, we would find the exchange visits very difficult to sustain and very many of Bridgend's children would be deprived of a hugely rewarding and memorable experience."

Treasurer of Bridgend Town Twinning Committee Lindy Hutchinson said far from dying out, the exchanges were "active and thriving".

"All these events we organise or participate in are characterised by good friendship, a warm welcome, an increasing closeness of our communities and a chance to understand each other's culture," she wrote.

Councillors David Unwin, Clare Lewis, Diane Burns and Bob Burns who put forward the motion were asked to comment.

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