|Wigan Borough’s entente cordiale: A French affair that’s lasted 25 years
Leader of Wigan Council Lord Peter Smith, Anne Lebeugle, councillor from Angers Council, Renée Solé, councillor from Angers Council, Michel Houdbine (sitting on the chair), Deputy Mayor from Angers Council, Annette Bodin, Councillor from Angers, the Mayor of Wigan Borough Councillor Billy Rotherham and his consort Janet Lumley, and students from Lowton St Catherine's Primary School.
It started as an exchange of students between two towns and grew into a twinning arrangement that has lasted a quarter of a century.
The “entente cordiale” between Wigan Borough and the French town of Angers is 25 years old this week. The official delegation from France arrived in Wigan for the annual visit last week and a series of events took place to mark the occasion and the enduring relationship between the two places and their people.
The French party were given a tour of the new Wigan Youth Zone, shown the restoration work at Mesnes Park and taken round one of Leigh’s oldest bakers. Other activities were arranged across the borough.
The twinning agreement between the two towns has seen hundreds of people travel across the English Channel in both directions – offering residents of Wigan Borough and Angers the chance to learn about different countries and cultures. Schools, community groups and businesses have all benefited from Wigan Borough’s links with its French friend.
Ian Santus is a volunteer with Shevington Football Club, which has taken more than 100 children to play football in Angers. Ian said: “We have an association with an amateur football club in Angers called Intrepide FC. We’ve been over to France to play them and they’ve been over to Wigan to play us. The children have made friends and got to learn about a different country and how they play football. We have a great relationship with them and have invited them to come to Wigan again in 2014.”
Twelve community groups and ten schools across Wigan Borough are currently actively involved with the twinning programme. In recent years, young people from Angers have carried out placements in businesses in Wigan and each year a young person from Wigan is employed by the Angers local authority to act as an “ambassador”.
Janet Evans, from the Leigh French Circle, has been involved in the twinning scheme seen it started 25 years ago and has been to Angers 12 times. She said: “It began as an exchange of students in Tyldesley and Atherton 27 years ago. Then, two years later, it got official recognition when the council agreed to twin with the authority in Angers.
“It’s a very celebratory relationship. It gives people the chance to experience life in another country and to learn about how others live. We have lots of friends in Angers now as do lots of other people in the area.”
In addition to the community involvement, the council organises an annual delegation to Angers and hosts an official party from France each year. The French delegation arrived in Wigan on Thursday 11 July and stayed until Sunday.
Leader of Wigan Council, Lord Peter Smith, said: “I was delighted to welcome the representatives from Angers to Wigan Borough - especially in this anniversary year. I doubt whether many people imagined 25 years ago that the friendship between our two towns would have flourished in such a way.
“Countless people from Wigan Borough have benefited from our relationship with Angers, mainly through exchanges. Today the twinning scheme is a community-led initiative. Sports clubs, schools, community groups and businesses in both towns have existing relationships, which they build on each year.
“From the council’s point of view, this is a low-cost, value-for-money project that brings cultural and social benefits to the borough and we want to see it continue.”