Fears over Mansfield twinning future

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More than 60 years of Anglo-German relations could be under threat in the future unless new members step forward, it is feared.

Mansfield has had ties with Heiligenhaus, in western Germany, since the early 1950s and have been officially twinned for decades, enjoying regular trips abroad and hosting their German guests in return.

But in recent years membership has dwindled, and following a decision by Mansfield District Council to drop funding for the Twinning Association three years ago, there are concerns that it may eventually fold unless fresh interest is found.

There are currently 22 members, but that is just a fraction of its former membership.

Chairman of the association, Phil Shields, said: “I’ve been involved for the past three years and it’s fantastic, anyone who does go across loves it.

“But we need younger people to start getting involved, it’s important to keep it going.

“We’ve been trying to keep it going without funding, and we manage to get there three of four times a year, and they come here a few times each year.

“We’re trying to build it up again, but the numbers have dwindled, and if it was not for three or four people it would have folded.

“The Germans are really into it, twinning is a big issue for them.

“With it being 100 years since World War I began, it’s important as ever to keep it going.”

Relations with Heiligenhaus began by chance in 1953, when a group of teenagers from Mansfield spent a two-week holiday on the Isle of Wight, where they met and became friends with a group of young Germans.

The following year the first youth exchange programme took place, which helped forge further links and eventually led to the twinning association.

As well as youth exchanges, there have been all-female group visits, sporting exchanges, trips for the disabled and music group visits.

The Germans have even grown an oak tree from an acorn taken from the Major Oak in Sherwood Forest.

But since council funding was halted, the group admit it has meant finding new ways to keep the group together.

One successful method has been an annual visit to the town’s ‘Stadtfest’, where a group take barrels of English ale, brewed at the Belvoir Brewery in Notts, as well as Melton Mowbray pies and Stilton cheese.

Warsop band, Ferocious Dog, have also joined the group and performed at the street festival.

Vice chair of the twinning association, Mick Colley, admits it has taken huge amounts of effort to keep relations strong, but is determined for it to survive.

“It was on its last legs in 2011 and we were desperately trying to get it going again.

“The Germans are determined for us to stay in the twinning, and so are we.

“I’m 70 now and won’t be able to keep doing it for much longer.

“They have started getting the younger generations involved over there and we need to do the same. It’s this that helps put Mansfield on the map.”

With an annual membership of £10, the next trip is planned for July, which has already attracted more than 30 people.

Anyone interested should phone Phil Shields on 07946 380778.