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Twinning comes of age: Ferndown and Segré

In 1994 a delegation from Ferndown visited the French town of Segré. As the two towns enter their eighteenth year of twinning, Stephen Baker reports on the bond which benefits both the towns and their people.

Segré on the river Oudon

Ferndown’s Millennium gardens are to be the new home of a nine-foot-tall acer. This tree was, almost exceptionally for 2012, not planted as a royal celebration, but rather the gift of a group of republicans – or at least the latest gift from the representatives of a small town, Segré, in the French republic – who presented the acer to the town of Ferndown to commemorate the visit of a delegation from Segré in mid-August.
The gift of a tree is an expression of a belief that a relationship is to last, and not only is Segré and Ferndown’s twinning set fair for the future, but 2012 also marks eighteen years since the twinning arrangement between Segré and Ferndown was first established and, next month, 21 years since the Ferndown Twinning Association was formed. The origins of the twinning between the two towns dates back to exchanges between the Rotary Clubs of Segré and Ferndown, which eventually laid the foundations for the signing of two charters: one in Ferndown in May 1994 and the second  – on Bastille Day (14 July) 1995 – in Segré.
The charters, signed by the Mayors of Ferndown and Segré, promise to promote and support cultural, sporting and business exchanges between the
two towns.
Douglas Lock, Chairman of the Twinning Association from 2003 to 2011, helped to organise six trips to Segré and five trips from Segré to Ferndown. ‘The opportunity to make new friends and to maintain those friendships,’ he says, ‘was a valuable part of the experience. It was also possible to direct more effort to involve younger people in the exchanges. For both young and not-so-young, it is easier to be part of an organised trip. For those who want to experience life in a French family and to offer the French an English experience Twinning is the best option.’
As to what he derived personally from it, he added: ‘Twinning offered me the opportunities to maintain a lifelong interest in our neighbouring country, while enjoying the company of like-minded members of the Ferndown Twinning Association in our fund raising social activities throughout the year.’
‘It is difficult,’ Douglas says, ‘to quantify the benefit for Ferndown of the twinning exercise, but in terms of numbers the trip usually involves fifty or so residents from Segré or from Ferndown; on occasions there are more when, for example, we have taken or hosted sporting or cultural groups. Both towns publicise the visits to ensure that the visitors participate in public activities together: whether in a boules match, swimming gala, dance festival or a Ceilidh. I believe that the exchange trips do enhance the quality of life for the participants and especially for the first-time visitors from France and for first time visitors to Segré.’

This year's combined Ferndown and Segré party on their arrival in Dorset

Over the years, visits to Segré by the Wessex Youth Orchestra, Ferndown Brass Band, Ferndown Flower Arrangers, Dorset Buttons and the Ring of Eight Folk dance groups, Ferndown Girl Guides, Ferndown Jitsu Club and the Otters swimming club have all been a great success. Not only have visiting groups and members made some great friends from over the Channel, but have also enjoyed playing boules with them, going on visits to nearby Angers, to an exhibition on their cheese-making industry in Laval, to their local chateaux, to a vineyard, the local Slate Mine – Le Mine Bleu – which, along with iron ore mining, was the main industry of the area until the early 20th century. There have been local primary school visits, and Ferndown has participated in the French town’s Bastille Day celebrations.
Marion Lock became Secretary of the Ferndown Twinning Association in 2002, having been a French Teacher at Poole College for 12 years. ‘The Association, with its many social events and visits to France, has enabled me to continue this interest. I have made many friends, both English and French, as a result.  During our biennial visits to Segré, members of the association stay with French families and therefore have the opportunity to get to know them in an informal situation, and to learn about their culture and their every day family life.’
Since the signing of the Charter there have been exchanges between the residents of Ferndown and Segré every year.  They have all been successful, and have helped to create long-lasting friendships between the participants of the two towns. ‘Our belief,’ says Marion, ‘is that the generation of friendship between countries is cheaper and more fruitful than hostility and war.’
For their part the Segréens have reciprocated with visits by their Swimming Club, which took part in a competition with the Ferndown Otters, Segré Motor Cyclists’ Club, the ‘Avant Deux’ Folk Dancers – who put on a display of dancing both outside and inside the Barrington Centre – and a group of pupils from ‘Les Pierres Bleues’ Junior School, who not only continued their education at Ferndown Middle School for five days, but they also had great fun ‘trick or treating’ during Hallowe’en celebrations around Ferndown.
Bernard Tessier has been involved on the organisational side of the twinning association in Segré since the beginning. He got involved because he has a love of languages and is also interested in improving relations between people from different backgrounds. Over the years, he has come to appreciate the many similarities between the two towns’ cultures, but also the little differences: ‘When I first visited Ferndown,’  Bernard recalls, ‘I couldn’t understand why there were no shutters on windows.’ He has also come to appreciate (if not fully understand) the English sense of humour.
During the weekend of the 17-19 August 2012, Ferndown welcomed its French friends once again. They spent a social evening playing skittles together; the following day the party visited Swanage where the Segréens took the steam train to Corfe Castle for a picnic in the village hall. They then boarded their coach to go to Durlston Castle. The ‘goodbye’ meal at the British Legion Hall on Saturday evening was pronounced ‘fantastic’, and was rounded off with a concert given by the West Moors Singers; Auld Lang Syne was loudly and heartily sung by one and all at the end of the evening.
Pauline Reynolds is the current Twinning Association Chair. In 2001/2 she was Mayor of Ferndown and was invited to meet the French visitors who had arrived in Ferndown for their exchange. She recalls: ‘That evening was full of fun and great friendships were being made between host and guest. We had been given pink toilet rolls and black bin liners to make “Parisian Couture” outfits. It was hilarious – some of the creations were amazing; I joined the association that night. The following year my husband Graham and I went to Segré and have been twinned with the same family every year since; this will be our eleventh year. We have seen their children grow up and leave the nest, and they have seen ours. We have shown them Dorset over the past eleven years and they in turn have shown us Segré and the area around their town. We have taken one of our granddaughters with us to Segré; she had a great time, and loved every minute. Next year we hope to take our other granddaughter with us.’
Every year there is an exchange of gifts, town to town, and the year before last Segré Town Council made a gift of a named walkway along the river Oudon called Ferndown Walk, where roses, Ferndown’s gift to Segré on the last visit, were planted.

The acer presented to Ferndown this August

‘It is,’ says Pauline, ‘my greatest hope that even more Ferndown residents will consider joining us and enjoy the wonderful hospitality of a French family.’
Jean-Yves Ledoux is deputy mayor of Segré. He’s responsible for the open market, for tourism and the ‘patrimoine’ – literally that which the town has inherited from its ancestors, ie Segré’s heritage – as well as being the civic representative for Segré’s twinning activities. He explained that whilst, according to the statutes, ‘the Mayor is the head of twinning in Segré, it is delegated to the Deputy Mayor so changes in the political stripe of Mayor, don’t affect the twinning organisation.’ Jean-Yves has held this position for ten years and gave a speech during the Segréens’ August visit to Ferndown in which he demonstrated the effect exposure to the English sense of humour has had. He said he hoped that the UK appreciated the French allowing them so many gold medals at the 2012 Olympic Games, but that the rivalry would be back on when the Ferndown visitors next played pétanque (boules) against Segré. On a more serious note, he states that irrespective of how governments inter-relate nationally, ‘there is no channel between Segré and Ferndown.’

A collage of group events in both France and England

• The Ferndown Twinning Association welcomes new members – particularly young sports enthusiasts or school children, musicians, artists and business people. Being a French-speaker is not a requirement. In addition to the visits to Segré there is a varied social programme throughout the year. Call Pauline Reynolds on 01202 892033, or Marion Lock on 01202 896984, for further details. There is also a link on the Ferndown Town Council Website at www.ferndown.gov.uk.

Segré Facts and figures
The name “Segré” is believed to come from the Latin ‘Secretum’, meaning isolated. In the 10th century, the Count of Anjou, Foulques le Roux built the first castle – a wooden tower erected on a mound of earth. During the 11th century, a new stone castle, surrounded by a wall, was constructed under Foulques le Noir. In 1066 it was captured by the troops of Conan II, Count of Brittany. In 1191, Richard the Lionheart, Count of Anjou and King of England, confiscated the lands of Segré from Geoffroy de la Guerche in order to extend the domain of his wife, Bérangere de Navarre.
In 1589, the Count of Rochepot, Governor of Anjou, took Segré and had the castle, the wall and all the fortified country houses dismantled. 1635 saw the lands of Segré set up as a baronetcy for one of Richelieu’s favourites, Guillaume II de Bautru, Lord of Louvaines. During the 19th century and the early part of the 20th century Segré grew considerably – from 700 inhabitants in 1841 to 4874 in 1939. This increase was due, amongst other things, to the development of the railway network, and industrial expansion in the form of the iron mines and slate quarries. Today, Segré has 7155 inhabitants and the various companies in the town employ around 5000 people – some of whom obviously come from outlying villages and other towns.

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