Journeys of understanding: how town twinning brings new perspectives to our places

November 19, 2018

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By Pauline Radcliffe, Associate, Carnegie UK Trust 

‘After Twin Towns our vision for our towns and how we shape them in future has changed ….. (both) our priorities and pre-conceived ideas for the future development of our towns’.

Whitburn and Oswaldtwistle Twin Town representatives

When the Carnegie UK Trust initiated our Twin Towns UK programme in 2016, we wanted to trial how small towns across the UK might develop, through twinning relationships, rather than in isolation.  By pairing towns with similar characteristics and socio-economic challenges, we aimed to find out how these interactions could act as a catalyst for positive change in the participating town communities.

The programme supported 10 towns in phase one to trial bilateral twinning arrangements during 2017, with 6 of those towns continuing to develop their twinning relationship throughout 2018, working together to find solutions to common challenges and delivering specific projects in their own places. Participating towns were:

Here are the links to all of the videos created during the process:

Wooler Twin Towns Film:

Broughshane Twin Towns Film:

Merthyr Tydfil Twin Towns Film:

Whitburn Twin Towns Film:

North Shields Twin Towns Film:

Unusually for a towns-based programme, the communities selected to participate were represented by a wide variety of organisations representing their towns’ interests in some capacity, including a community development trust (in Wooler), a membership based community association (in Northern Ireland), a chamber of trade and Commerce (in the  north east of England), a business improvement district (in Wales), an arts based social enterprise (in Lancashire) and a community council in Whitburn.

Fast forward now to October 2018 in North Shields, when four weeks ago these towns came together to celebrate their successes, learning and benefits of their twinning partnerships over the 18-month period of the programme.  This creative mix of organisations paired together, and exhibiting a wide divergence both in individual capacity and missions, were able to celebrate economic and wellbeing impact across a number of remarkably similarly themed projects but with distinct approaches to delivery:

  • Improving towns as a visitor destination and for the benefit of residents;
  • Towns markets as a source of income and sustainability;
  • Building identity and a sense of civic pride;
  • Boosting community leadership capacity; and
  • Developing a digital footprint.

Whether business, arts or community-led, all of those participating found re-charged or brand-new collaborations across sectors critical for the delivery of their projects.  In North Shields, the business-led Chamber has well-developed cross-sectoral collaboration, realising wellbeing outcomes that go far beyond their primary economic focus; learning from this collaborative approach has been reflected in its twin ‘Big Heart of Merthyr’ BID’s newly developed heritage trails which have brought about new and fruitful collaborations and increased understanding with the Welsh Speaking Centre and local heritage sector. The short videos above provide a snapshot of these two towns’ learning and the positivity created through their collaboration.


Figure 1: Emerging benefits from participation in the Twin Towns UK programme

These inspirational place-based communities have demonstrated the positivity, re-visioning and ‘can do’ energy that is created when towns come together to build honest relationships rooted in trust, exchange ideas and ‘hold a mirror up’ to their own town. Despite the challenges facing our high streets, these community organisations are ‘using the strengths and people of their area to do the work that’s needed’ to sustain their vibrant communities and tell their story. Through learning exchange they have widened their perspectives and capitalised on newly recognised community assets, both economic and social. As we commence Scotland’s Towns Week, what better message to promote than the human flourishing that these town communities demonstrate.