Twinning group returns home with tales to tell

The Chesterfield County Twinning Association (CCTA), after a week-long stay in Gravesham, England, returned home to tell about a wonderful stay with some really nice Brits.

The new civilian group is part of an effort to add a civilian twinning group to one that the the Chesterfield county administration has had for a number of years. But first a little background. Key “God Save the Queen” please.

You’ve heard of sister cities or even twin cities, but did you know there are also twin counties? In the case of Chesterfield and Gravesham, England, it’s more of a fraternal twin relationship. Chesterfield is a county and Gravesham is a borough – the same thing different nomenclature. The two governments decided that they had enough in common to create a special relationship called twinning.

After forming the twinning relationship in 2003 and the English visiting here three times, members of our county administration and one elected official, visited Gravesham and its council at Gravesend. This was the first phase of the twinning arrangement – our administration visiting their government council.

But why Gravesham and Gravesend? Our connection travels in time right back to the founding of Virginia and John Rolfe’s lady love. If you remember, John Rolfe married Pocahontas and took her home (to meet the parents, so to speak) and upon leaving to come home to Virginia, she died and was buried – in Gravesend.

“The morning after we arrived [the six Chesterfieldians who took the trip] they took us on a walking tour of Gravesend,” Glen Larson said during the CCTA debriefing last week. “They showed us the church where Pocahontas is buried. Throughout all this the host families were with us.”

Our government delegation, in 2006, visited the grave of Pocahontas as well, which is quite an attraction in Gravesend, and then spent time touring government related sites and talking about stuffy government things. The administration has not returned to Gravesham to date.

The English twinning-group, made of up of both government folks and civilians returned here in 2011  and celebrated the arrival of the Godspeed for the 400th anniversary of the English arriving at Jamestown. But the Council stayed in a hotel and the civilians stayed with Chesterfield County host residents.

All of the 2011 Chesterfield civilian hosts said they really enjoyed spending time with the English citizens and experiencing the difference in cultures. This year, it was our turn to cross the pond. With little expense, due to staying with a host family, our twinning group was immersed in the English cultural, learning more about the English than one would ever learn from the window of a tour bus.

Although the CCTA has a membership of 16, six members made the trip in mid-June. The twinning group had been formed in mid-2012 but kept the membership small so, according to its president, Elliott Fausz, “the Association could work out the kinks while communicating with the English and organizing the first civilian visit.” The couples Jacobson, Pletcher and Larson said that the trip was aptly coordinated and agreed that it was time to grow the Chesterfield group.

“It’s great, now there is a twinning association for Chesterfield County residents that will support and enhance the county’s twinning relationship with Gravesham,” said Chris Ruth, who acts as the government liaison for CCTC. “It’s a totally unique way to travel and get to know the country and the people.”

Tom Jacobson and his wife Andi said that on their free day, which is built into the stay, they visited Leeds Castle. “They had a demonstration of a falcon that actually picked things out of the air,” Tom Jacobson said. “The gardens were absolutely beautiful. We also went to a third-century villa that the Romans built.”

Meanwhile Calvin and Donna Pletcher visited Chadwick, the home of Winston Churchill. Calvin said that evening “Ian and I had a great night sampling bitters.” Ian was part of the Pletcher’s host family. The Americans, accompanied by their English hosts visited London together and one of the Gravesham twinning members acted as their tour guide.

“Town twinning has been part of the life of Gravesham for over 25 years. Families that have met through Gravesham Town Twinning Association are now firm friends – both in Europe and, more recently, across the Atlantic in Virginia, and South Asia in India. Schools arrange annual exchanges; sports clubs join in each other’s competitions and in various ways each town has become a part of each other,” according to the Gravesham Town Twinning Association Website.

After the Gravesham delegation visited here in 2011, they thought it appropriate that Chesterfield have a civilian group (non-government affiliated) just as they have in Gravesham. Seventy members make up the Gravesham Town Twinning Association and they are not affiliated with the government council.

So the CCTC was formed under the umbrella of the Chester Community Association and soon it will gain its own identity after growing large enough to warrant its own non-profit status.

The Gravesham group will return here in April when Chesterfield begins the commemoration of the Civil War actions that took place at Bermuda Hundred. A return trip is penciled-in for another Chesterfield to Gravesham trip.

According to the Gravesham group, not all members travel. For some, it is a social club that enjoys the opportunity to meet those from other countries and cultures.

“It’s a big social thing for them; they all know each other and have been friends for forever,” Larson said. “They use it for an opportunity to just get together and have a good time.”

The CCTC will have a meeting on August 13 at 6 p.m. at the Chesterfield Center for the Arts Foundation office, 11801 Centre St., Chester. Everyone is welcome who is interested in traveling to, hosting or just has an interest in all things English .

“We are also planning a big social event for sometime in the near future,” Fausz said. “We think it’s important to grow our relationship with our friends in Gravesham.”

For more information contact Elliott Fausz at efausz@yahoo.com

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