October 2018 marks the 50th anniversary of the partnership between the cities of Leeds and Lille. We have delved into the history of the link in order to tell the story of the partnership as part of our celebrations.
As early as 1946 the Yorkshire-Lille Exchange Committee was organising exchanges between young people aged 14 to 18 from both Lille and Yorkshire. The British boys and girls would stay in Lille with an exchange partner and their family for three weeks over the summer and then host the exchange partner from Lille in Leeds and surrounding towns and villages afterwards.
In the 1960s there was a wave of twinnings between towns and cities in Europe, driven by the idea that if people from different countries were brought together through twin city activities, then the countries of Europe would never go to war again.
On 15th October 1968 the Lord Mayor of Leeds, Councillor John Rafferty, and the Mayor of Lille, Augustin Laurent signed a twinning agreement in Lille in this spirit of peace and understanding between the people of Europe. The agreement was reaffirmed through a further signing, this time in Leeds, on 11 April 1969.
The partnership very quickly became established as much more than a local authority to local authority link, and extended way beyond the exchanges of young people. Links developed between universities, cultural organisations, youth and community groups, charities and businesses, many of which still exist to this day.
Part of our celebrations included the planting of a tree in Temple Newsam park to mark the 50th anniversary. The tree was planted by the Lord Mayor of Leeds, Councillor Graham Latty and the Lady Mayoress Councillor Pat Latty, joined by Marie Pierre Bresson, Deputy Mayor of Lille. The planting of the tree was especially poignant, as it was placed in the vicinity of another tree, planted back in November 1995 to remember Madame Godeleine Petit. Godeleine passed away in 1994, and as a former Deputy Mayor of Lille, she worked tirelessly to promote the twinning between the two cities.
Following a call out on social media and in the Yorkshire Evening Post for people to send in stories and memories of the Leeds-Lille partnership, we gathered some great examples of how the link has brought people together over the years. Some of the stories are told on a film which explains how people from Leeds and Lille including students, teachers, artists and politicians have got involved in the partnership. The film can be viewed here.
We also created an exhibition in the Town Hall, which was open to the public as part of Light Night Leeds 2018. The exhibition was opened by the Lord Mayor of Leeds and the Deputy Mayor of Lille at a special event which brought together 90 people from both Leeds and Lille who have been involved in the partnership over the years. The audience was made up of people of all ages, ranging from 10 year olds from Rothwell Primary who take part in a regular school exchange with Samain Trulin Primary in Lille, to a 91 year old former elected member of council who was part of twinning exchange between British Telecom in Leeds and La Poste in Lille.
Our research uncovered some great stories from members of the public, including a couple of love stories and a testimony as to how participating in a Leeds-Lille school exchange as a child provided the inspiration for a glittering career using foreign languages at work.
If anybody missed the exhibition but would like to explore the history of the Leeds-Lille partnership, you can see the 8 exhibition panels here.