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What European towns are twinned with Tiverton in Devon?

Tivertonplatz in Hofheim the summer. Photo: Ramin Mohabat
Tivertonplatz in Hofheim the summer. Photo: Ramin Mohabat

In the historic German town of Hofheim am Taunus near Frankfurt is a place with a rather unique-sounding name. Tivertonplatz is not far from the main street, close to where a bright red British phone box stands on the corner. Elsewhere, a weathervane, embellished manhole cover, rose bush and crab apple tree provide further clues to a special relationship that has spanned more than four decades.

Tiverton was twinned with Hofheim in 1980. Since then, there have been various gifts shared between these two very different towns as residents have visited and hosted each other, building lifelong bonds.

Across the continent, the people of Chinon, France, have also enjoyed a decades-long connection with Tiverton. This area in the Loire Valley was first twinned with the Mid Devon town back in 1973.

Tiverton Town Twinning Association (TTTA) recently celebrated reaching two major milestones with continental counterparts, marking 40 years with Hofheim and 50 years with Chinon.

Great British Life: Tiverton's French and German counterparts love visiting the town. Photo: Visit South DevonTiverton's French and German counterparts love visiting the town. Photo: Visit South Devon

This happy triangle is the result of a firm commitment by everyone involved to break down barriers and create connections with people from different backgrounds and cultures.

‘The people we’ve met and the friendships we’ve made, it’s just brilliant,’ says John Smith, membership secretary of the Tiverton Town Twinning Association. ‘I really can’t speak highly enough of it.

‘By living with families in their homes, you get to know them well and you experience life the way they live it.

‘It shows that we are all the same, really, deep down.’

Tiverton’s ‘twinners’ organise trips to Hofheim and Chinon and regularly receive their hosts to show them the delights of Mid Devon and beyond.

Pubs feature heavily, as do full-English breakfasts, cream teas (done the proper way, of course) pasties and fish and chips.

Great British Life: Tiverton Twinning Association members love visiting Hofheim. Photo: Hofheim Town TwinningTiverton Twinning Association members love visiting Hofheim. Photo: Hofheim Town Twinning

As well as sampling the local cuisine, Tiverton’s European visitors enjoy spending time exploring the town’s attractions and buildings, including Tiverton Castle.

This year, the guests from Hofheim enjoyed a cream tea cruise on the River Exe, wine-tasting at Heron Farm vineyard near Honiton, plus an ‘oggie and ale’ evening with entertainment provided by a group of local Morris dancers (which apparently took some initial explaining).

‘It was a great visit, really good fun,’ says John, who first became involved with the twinning programme in 2010 after a spare seat became available on the coach to Hofheim. ‘I thought, well, I might as well,’ he says. ‘Everyone was so friendly and we were just so well entertained and looked after during our visit that I thought, right, I’ve got to do some more of this!

‘Since then, I’ve been to Hofheim about ten times and to Chinon five or six times. My wife (Dorothy) and I have also hosted people here on many occasions.’

John says these trips and visits give everyone a far stronger sense of place than any holiday could ever hope to.

‘When you go on holiday, you’re just in your own little bubble,’ says John. ‘This really is the best way to see different places and how people live. Over the years we’ve all got to know each other so well.’

In John’s experience, the German guests love an English breakfast; the French aren’t so keen, preferring a coffee and a pastry. Everyone loves the history of Tiverton and exploring the heritage of the town and the wider area. Pasties are a universal hit, Brexit hasn’t made the slightest bit of difference to these European relationships and no one minds the weather. (Many of the souvenir photographs from the trips to Tiverton over the years show groups of people in various coloured waterproofs, hoods pulled tight across faces.)

‘They laugh it off and say it’s just typical English weather,’ says John. ‘It really doesn’t affect things!’

Great British Life: Matthias Hees (far right), his wife Ulla and Mike Barlow from Bampton, who with wife Sue, host/visit Matthias and Ulla. Photo: fhs-online.deMatthias Hees (far right), his wife Ulla and Mike Barlow from Bampton, who with wife Sue, host/visit Matthias and Ulla. Photo: fhs-online.de

Hofheim residents Matthias and Ulla Hees agree the Devon rain never dampens their spirits. They first came to Tiverton in 1993 when their then 10-year-old son was taking part in an exchange between the towns’ swimming clubs. Later, the couple visited again with the twinning association programme and now regularly come to visit Mid Devon, staying with a ‘very dear couple’ in Bampton.

‘We consider the exchange with our European neighbours to be very important,’ says Matthias. ‘We get to know each other better, learn from each other, respect each other and broaden our horizons. We’ve met many nice and interesting people. Many very deep friendships have developed over the years.’

Matthias and Ulla both enjoy exploring Tiverton’s buildings, history and tradition. The town’s Grand Western Canal is also a highlight.

‘It’s a living testimony of the past,’ says Matthias, before adding that there is another top draw. ‘For us German visitors, the typical English pubs with their cosiness (Gemütlichkeit) are an attraction every time.’

Great British Life:  The Chateau de Chinon dominates the riverside town. Photo: Leonid Andronov / Getty The Chateau de Chinon dominates the riverside town. Photo: Leonid Andronov / Getty

After hosting their Hofheim guests in the summer, the Tiverton Town ‘twinners’ organised a trip to Chinon in the autumn and plan to host their French guests this year.

Everyone’s accommodation is free, however, travel, entertainment and activities all come at a price. The TTTA committee organises regular fundraising events, including three-course Sunday lunches featuring food from all over the world. These lunches are often held at Halberton village hall or other venues, including Tiverton Football Club.

These sorts of get-togethers spread the word about the twinning programme, and, it’s hoped, will help to attract more members, particularly younger residents.

‘The problem many organisations are facing at the moment is bringing in younger people,’ says John. ‘They don’t tend to get involved, but they’re missing out on so many great things.’

Matthias agrees. ‘The experiences gained in another country during one’s youth remain in one’s memory forever,’ he says. ‘We are trying very hard to involve them more in the programme.’

Great British Life: Tiverton twinners and their guests during the Hofheim Visit in July 2023. Photo: Lewis ClarkeTiverton twinners and their guests during the Hofheim Visit in July 2023. Photo: Lewis Clarke

One of the ways this is being done is by building on past successful exchanges between the towns’ clubs and societies, including Tiverton Swimming Club, the local orchestra and under-11s football club.

The twinners are keen to stress that members do not need to speak French or German, because communication is rarely a problem. And ‘smiles and gestures go a long way’, says one member.

Ahh, that’s true. Town twinning has been around for so long across Devon and the UK that it’s easy to forget why maintaining these enduring links is important - perhaps now more than ever.

‘We’ve made friends for life,’ says John. ‘That’s what’s so great about it.’

To find out more, see tivertontowncouncil.gov.uk or emailjohndorothysmith@gmail.com

Great British Life: Tiverton twinners arrange plenty of trips for their guests. Photo: fhs-online.deTiverton twinners arrange plenty of trips for their guests. Photo: fhs-online.de Great British Life: Guests enjoying watching Morris dancing during their visit to Tiverton in the summer. Photo: fhs-online.deGuests enjoying watching Morris dancing during their visit to Tiverton in the summer. Photo: fhs-online.de Great British Life: At a market stall in Hofheim to raise funds for twinning projects. Photo: Graeme CozensAt a market stall in Hofheim to raise funds for twinning projects. Photo: Graeme Cozens Great British Life: The cutting of the 40th anniversary cake last year in Hofheim. Photo: Mathias KnappThe cutting of the 40th anniversary cake last year in Hofheim. Photo: Mathias Knapp



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