BECCLES TWINNED WITH PETIT-COURONNE IN NORMANDY, FRANCE
It all began with a mention in the Beccles and Bungay Journal. Why didn't Beccles have a twin town? The paper was received by Angela Therain, a former pupil of the Sir John Leman High School. She was married to Frenchman Alain and living in Petit-Couronne, near Rouen. Petit-Couronne was already twinned with Ahlem (Hannover) in Germany, but Mme Therain, knowing that the town was looking for a British twin, passed the Beccles idea to her neighbour, the Mayor, M. Gerard Letailleur.
In 1977, the first 8 visitors from Petit-Couronne were received by Beccles. Later that year, a 16-strong delegation from our town went to France and was overwhelmed by the hospitality they received and the interest in sharing cultures. A steering committee was set up which subsequently led to the formation of the Beccles Twinning Association, which ran the Beccles end of the twinning on behalf of the Town Council.
In the autumn of 1978, official twinning charter documents were signed in each town and an annual family exchange began immediately. The aim was to promote greater understanding between people of different cultures.
Since then, 34 eventful, unpredictable, emotional and joyful years of friendship have been shared by hundreds of families, footballers, rugby players, cyclists, singers, musicians, school pupils, work experience candidates and drama students on both sides of the Channel. Because of the Twinning, hundreds of exam candidates have had the real-time experience of speaking French (or English) to their counterparts in Petit-Couronne and Beccles.
People from Beccles and Petit-Couronne have competed against each other at table tennis and basketball and other sports. Petit-Couronne has a Rue de Beccles, a red telephone kiosk, a traditional red letter box and a copy of the town sign. An aerial photograph of Petit-Couronne and an ornate Calvados container adorn Beccles Town Hall while a French lamp standard illuminates a corner of the pedestrian precinct. The official opening of the precinct coincided with the 10th anniversary of the twinning when a record 160 French people were hosted in Beccles, including a carnival band and a majorette and an orchestra.
Beccles employers took part in the Beccles in Europe trades exhibition and seminars staged by the association in 1992. Also in the 1990s, Beccles was entered in the Royal Mail International Twin Town awards on three occasions. Beccles gained two Highly Commended awards and one win against towns like Dover.
Family exchanges continued on alternate years. In 2012, the Twinning Committee decided that after 34 years numbers showing interest had dwindled and that maybe the Town Council could take back the responsibility for running the twinning. Thanks to some determined individuals, the Twinning Association seems to be entering a new phase.
Early in 2013 a working party was convened in the Town Hall to discuss the viability of re-establishing the association and Caroline Topping was appointed Chair. Suzanne Gibbons and Michelle Golding were appointed account signatories for the association bank account alongside Caroline and together with members of the working party have embarked on several fundraising activities and lots of networking with sporting and cultural organisations both here and in Petit-Couronne.
The enthusiasm for sports exchanges between the two towns has received strong backing from Beccles ‘Old Goats' and the current Rugby club members. It is hoped that some under-18 exchange visits can be arranged. Andy Woodcock and St Benets ‘Wasps' have indicated their keenness to keep the football tradition going. The local schools including the Sir John Leman High School have endorsed the opportunity for cultural exchange and language learning and are supporting the Working Party. The Crowfoot School, with the backing of David Baker, the school's Head, are working towards establishing electronic links with their counterpart in Petit-Couronne. Musical and theatre connections have been made between groups in Beccles and the Conservatoire in Petit-Couronne. A jazz group is coming from Petit-Couronne to take part in the Beccles Festival in September. The French Chat group meets bi-monthly at the Library and has more than 80 people on its list, all have been circuated with Twinning association newsletters. The association's activities are regularly discussed and several attendees have volunteered as hosts for this years visitors. The Library continues to support our activities by providing accommodation and offering a free workshop during this year's visit in June
All of this indicates that the original principles of the Twinning Association are still valid and that there is strong support from the community for its activities to continue