History of Twinning
between Porthcawl and St Sebastien sur Loire
by Alana Davies, Porthcawl Town Mayor 1998/99, 2007/2008 and 2012/13
The Twinning of Porthcawl with St Sebastien Sur Loire in 1999 is one of my achievements as Mayor of which I am most proud.
As I took up the role of Deputy Mayor I was approached, by a friend and local resident, with the idea of twinning our town with a town in Italy. As my ‘day-job’ at that time was involved with European Links, I was very interested in this idea, and I made some informal enquiries as to its feasibility. I spoke to people who had links with other European countries, and to other Town & Community Councils, and I received some invaluable advice from the Clerk of Pencoed Town Council in particular. His advice included the very practical point that distance was an important factor, as the ability to make reciprocal visits was very important.
When I was invested as the Mayor of Porthcawl in May 1998, I put the idea of Twinning to the Town Council. It was not met with universal enthusiasm! I was told that the idea had been considered in the past and had been discounted; various problems were identified, including the paperwork, the ability to engage local people, and the cost. I persuaded my fellow Councillors to allow me to carry out some research at no cost to the Council, and they agreed.
I was aware that some local towns were twinned with towns in northern France – Pontardawe was twinned with Locmine, Cardiff was twinned with Nantes, Cowbridge was twinned with Clisson, near Nantes. Through my contacts, two towns in northern France had been mentioned to me – Carnac and St Sebastien sur Loire. During the summer of 1998, my family and I travelled to France, at our own expense, to see these towns for ourselves. It was the first time we had visited France, and was a very enjoyable way to carry out research! We passed through Locmine as we visited Carnac, which proved to be a large seaside town with beautiful beaches. Unfortunately we were not able to meet any senior officials of the town, and there did not appear to be a great deal of interest in the idea of Twinning, but we took their contact details.
We travelled on to St Sebastien sur Loire, which is a suburb of Nantes. We called at the Town Hall, and although the Mayor was out of town, we were given a warm welcome. I explained that our town was interested in forming a Twinning link with a town in France. I was told that St Sebastien already had twinning links with towns in Germany, Hungary and Romania. The officers we spoke to had never heard of Porthcawl – but when they realised it was in Wales, they were very excited, and very keen to explore the idea. We also discovered that the town of Clisson, twinned with Cowbridge, was a neighbouring suburb of Nantes.
We were taken on a tour of the town and its famous Islands on the Loire, overlooking the city of Nantes. We were taken to lunch by the Deputy Mayor, and introduced to a number of influential local residents. We were assured that my idea would be put to the Mayor on his return, and that he would get in touch with me.
They were as good as their word. A few weeks later, I received a message from the Mayor of St Sebastien, Joel Guerriau, suggesting that he and his International Relations officer, Anne Plaud, visit Porthcawl to discuss the possibility of twinning the two towns. By now some members of the Town Council had become supportive of the idea, but I was not sure that the project would continue once I had handed over my chain of office in May 1999. A visit was arranged during the weekend of the Christmas Lights Switch-on, and I was happy to host the Mayor and Anne. Our discussions were very positive, and I was most impressed by the Mayor’s enthusiasm and determination that the formalities should be put in place as soon as possible, and during my Mayoral year. During his visit, the Mayor of St Sebastien was delighted to take part in the Christmas event, and said he would be doing something similar in St Sebastien.
It was in March 1999 that the formal signing of the Twinning Charter between Porthcawl and St Sebastien sur Loire took place in Porthcawl. The charter confirmed the commitment of both Towns to broaden the mutual understanding of the cultural, recreational, educational, environmental and commercial activities of our Twinned communities. Following business meetings between the Mayors of both Towns and officers, there was a celebratory social event at the Hi Tide, which was a great success. One month later, a coach-load of Porthcawl residents visited our newly-twinned town, to replicate the signing in front of the people of St Sebastien. Speeches were made, gifts were exchanged, and firm friendships were formed. My family and I were hosted by the family Sourisseau – Valerie, Pierrick, Marine and Tanguy. We have remained friends ever since, and they did us the honour of naming their house ‘Porthcawl House’, to which we responded by naming ours ‘St Sebastien House’.
The PSSTTA (Porthcawl Town Twinning Association) was set up to continue these links and the administration of visits.
Since that time, there have been many visits, both official and informal. I have been honoured to host the Mayor and his wife Christine on several occasions, and have enjoyed their company and stimulating conversation and ideas. I have hosted other Councillors and officers, and other families– sometimes hosting two families at a time. Many of our residents have given of their time and energy to do the same. And all with no financial recompense. In turn, many Porthcawl families have been hosted by our French friends, with wonderful hospitality. It has been agreed by all that this project has been a huge success – we have all benefitted, and we all have a much better understanding of each other’s cultures.
In December 2007, I was invited to St Sebastien, along with the Mayors of their other twinned Towns, to witness The Mayor, Joel Guerriau, receiving the Prix D’Europ (the Prize of Europe) – a very prestigious award given by the European Union in recognition of St Sebastien’s commitment to friendship, peace, understanding and co-operation across Europe. Coincidentally, I was once again the Mayor of Porthcawl at that time.
In 2009 we celebrated our 10 year anniversary, where we re-affirmed our commitments set out in the original Twinning Charter. Its aims include: to promote and foster friendship and understanding between people of Porthcawl and those of Saint Sebastien sur Loire in France ……..and to encourage visits by individuals and groups to and from linked communities, and the development of personal contacts.
In 2012, as Town Mayor once again, I received an invitation to a meeting in St Sebastien to celebrate the anniversaries of all of the town’s twinnings – with Porthcawl, Kaposvar, Cernavoda, Glinde and Kati. This was to coincide with visits by cultural groups from those towns, and with the bi-annual visit of our PSSTTA group. There, along with the 5 other Mayors, I had the privilege of signing a Treaty of Solidarity in the name of Porthcawl Town Council, supporting developments in Kati.
The PSSTTA continues to run very successfully, and works hard to put on events to raise funds – and awareness – of our Twinning. It also takes on the formidable task of organising visits between our two towns , all on a voluntary basis. However, the Twinning agreement remains between Porthcawl Town Council and the Council of St Sebastien sur Loire, and some of the exchange gifts from St Sebastien are on show in the Town Council chamber. The Twinning of our two towns is something of which Porthcawl should be very proud.