The Hungerford Twinning Association was founded in 1980 when the then Mayor of Hungerford Jack Williams visited the town of Ligueil in the Indre-et-Loire. It’s about half the size of Hungerford but shares many of its features, with a football club, a secondary school, an elegant town hall and a strong community spirit. Like Hungerford, it is in a mainly rural region, a gently rolling landscape of farms, woods and hamlets. Its equivalent of Newbury is Loches, about 15km away: for Swindon or Reading, read Tours.
The arrangement is that a visit en masse is made every other year. In 2017 it’s the turn of Hungerford to visit Ligueil. This will take place on the bank holiday weekend at the end of May.
Penny and I got involved about seven years ago and were billeted on a family we’d never met before. We’ve been back to see them every other year since (and they’ve come to us every other year): in addition, we’ve visited them separately from the Twinning Association trips once and aim to do so again this summer. We got on with them immediately. Almost everyone has a similarly harmonious association with a particular family. Some reciprocal trips between Hungerford and Ligueil have been going on for over 20 years. The relationships which are built up are unique and quite different from those with those whom you see every day or every week.
A number of events are arranged by the host association – on the French visits, a large and leisurely lunch is usually a feature – but also include trips to local attractions. The schedule isn’t arduous or intrusive and there’s time enough to spend time with one’s hosts. For me, one of the chief delights is visiting local markets, which the French do so much better than us. There are many other equally simple pleasures to be had. Above all, a good deal of eating tends to take place in the hosts’ homes. Don’t feel guilty about helping yourself to another slice of quiche or accepting another glass of wine, though – next year it will be your turn to entertain them.
I find it all utterly delightful. For three or four days I am a guest in someone’s house. I have to make very few decisions. I am immersed in a different culture in a way which ten times longer staying in a hotel in France could never achieve. Aside from the transport costs, it’s also a free holiday.
Of course, there’s the language issue. This really doesn’t matter. As I’ve noticed on several visits in both directions, people can get on surprisingly well with only a few phrases in common. A bit of English will be learned by the French and vice versa. it could be argued that we all talk too much anyway. You can regard the whole thing as an intensive Berlitz course or you can just just sit back and let it all wash over you. There are no rules.
To our great regret, we are unable to go this year as the trip is in the middle of our elder son’s GCSE (hence why we might go in the summer, if we can). The rest of the twinners will be going. The Hungerford Twinning Association is always seeking new members: also, the larger the group the better the ecomonies of scale and the wider the options for the travel arrangements. If you like France (or even if you think you might); if you fancy four days away from Hungerford and yet be with some of its inhabitants; if you fancy experiencing something different that could in a few years be reassuringly familiar; and if you fancy spending some time in congenial, friendly company in what amounts to a largely free holiday; if any of these apply then I urge you to get in touch with Joy Gilbert or Penny Brookman (see below). They’ve been going there far longer than I have and can tell you all about it better than I can.
I could end with the obvious cliché about how, post Brexit, these kind of connections are more important than ever: but I won’t. The Hungerford Twinning Association was, quite simply, a good thing when Jack Williams started it and it’s a good thing now. Give it a go this year and confirm that for yourself.
For more information about the Hungerford Twinning Association, please click here.