Monday 23 June 2014

On the Trail of the EU Grant

Bridgwater Mayor on the Square in UH

 This year we had a shake up of Twinning in Bridgwater.  We agreed that we have 6 twin  towns. 4 official ones and 2 that we’re working on.  We decided to target the EU and it’s attractive funding and training packages  and to do this in co-operation with our key partners around Europe by identifying projects and people who would benefit from them.

Uherske Hradiste in the Czech Republic has been one of Bridgwater’s twin towns since 1992 and as an ‘accession’ country has a good track record of achieving EU funding. Together we have brought in funds to our 2 towns through mutual co-operation on projects ranging from Family Centres to Town Planning to student exchange projects. UH council is a strong supporter of International links and has a Twinning committee, a grants officer, a jet setting programme of exchanges and a budget to match. In Bridgwater we  tend to treat twinning activities as a hobby  and Brits  who visit pay their own way.

This week we took a delegation over to UH to investigate and kick start some potential EU projects and arm twisted a useful team along to back up our Mayor and Mayoress, Steve and Stella Austen. 

A delegation

Steve and Stella sign the visitors book
Steve Austen has been a councillor for just 3 years and a Mayor for just 3 weeks. He agreed to lead the delegation to support the town council's policy of encouraging beneficial EU link projects.  In UH they have a Mayor with full executive powers and a workforce, including a Town Police force, at his fingertips covering everything from housing to environment to arts and culture. 

Bridgwater Town Council has an unpaid  Mayor with a limited hospitality budget and a workforce of 3. 

To make the links match up we need to include Sedgemoor District Council. On this occasion we were able to take along Estates Valuer Tim Mander , Press Officer Claire Faun and Environment boss Adrian Gardner.

Town Wall remnant world
Flying out from Gatwick to Vienna the group was met by  Karel – a man in a minibus sent by UH council, and whisked the 2 hour journey  through the Austrian Czech border lands to the heart of Moravia and UH itself. Guided by twinning officer Adela Tobolova and shadowed by International Commissar Smedley, the group set about their first priority – watching the England v Uruguay Match. 

Temperatures plummeted in  Moravia as blankets were issued on the terraces, and temperatures soared in Rio Capitalisto as our brave boys in white headed inevitably home.

Down to business and the next day we met the UH council leaders in their ornate Town Hall –and every Mayor who goes over there says “We must get something like this in Bridgwater”.  And of  course we should. UH is a historic town and proud of it’s past –even though, like Bridgwater, much of it has disappeared. Castles, fortifications, moats and gates  have all gone under the developers hammer. There  museum has an interactive computerised simulation of a walk through their city in 1670-when it was a major fortress on the border with Hungary with it’s network of Vauban glacis’ and canalised defensive ditches. I'm sure some bright spark could get a grant to do that in the Blake Museum.

Cabbage soup in abundance

Adrian Gardner is shown flood mapping data
Main visit of the day was the Bata University. Although based in nearby county town Zlin, the Uni has a faculty based in UH. In a new housing development created from a former army barracks. The Department of Crisis Management had a special interest in flood response and nuclear safety and this was the place to focus on for our links. We were shown an interesting device they had developed called ‘Drone 2’ which was basically a remote controlled flying camera that could be sent into areas of flooding and send back data that was crucial to understanding the developing situation. The key target of this link-up was to put Bata Uni together with Bridgwater College and this seems now likely with a special focus on the Energy Skills centre back in Bridgwater.

Drone 2 takes to the skies
All the Sedgemoor officers present had worked at different levels of Flood response during the recent Somerset emergencies and were able to discuss the differing approaches with authority with their Czech counterparts and take back or share valuable information and ideas.

Lovely leather trousers

The cultural event of the month in UH was the Kunovice Leto . Kunovice is one of the 3 towns that make up historical Uherske Hradiste, and this was basically a childrens folk music and dance festival. We were taken to see various floor shows of whirling folk costumed kids ensembles from all across East Europe – Romanians, Slovenians, Hungarians , Russians and at one point taken outside of the town to taste the ‘mineral waters’ in the spa town of Luhacovice. Almost being physically sick, the stout Mr Mander commented on the taste of sulphur and similarity to rotting eggs. No-one said getting healthy would be easy! For him it had the opposite effect.

Tim and Adrian in costume

Back in UH the 3rd town of the local triumvirate ‘Stare Mesto’ was suddenly the focus of attention. We watched the 6-9 year olds singing and dancing competition. The Mayor of Stare Mesto was the judge. Stare Mesto contestants were surprisingly successful in every  single category. Who could have predicted !

Debbie Harry

Our next important visit was the Akropolis family centre.  Fronted by Dagmar Mega, Akropolis have been successful in numerous EU grant projects in the past and have linked up with almost all the family centres in Bridgwater. Now we wanted to widen our link and see what else we could do. This meant bringing in Erasmus funding by co-operation with the Bridgwater College. We spoke of projects ranging from the UK tradition of volunteering –almost unknown in the Czech Rep with their history of virtual full employment, working with special needs departments especially in the area of training, and projects where we could establish work placements in each others towns. 

Working with the Akropolis was statuesque,blond, pop starlet lookalike, Marcela Bradova from nearby Kromeriz, who informed us that the first project had already been approved and so we came away with an offer of a placement for a lively young UK worker who might like to work with kids at their centre for 12 months starting in September – for more information contact us here at Bridgwater international!

Dagmar at the Akropolis centre snoezelen room
One of our most important contacts in UH is Antonin Machala who started the link back in 1991. Antonin runs the Altech factory in UH and every year his workers come with our workers on a sporting trip (exclusively football thus far) to another partner town elsewhere in Europe. This Summer we agreed to go to Sarvar in Hungary – another of our target partner towns. Watch this space.

Raving Ambassador

'Mildman' Gardner is introduced to 'Wildman' Napthine
One of our most enigmatic exports has been people. Several Bridgwater people have uprooted themselves and settled in UH. The mysterious Andrew ‘Wildman’ Napthine has been in UH since we wouldn’t let him back on the original tour bus back in 1992. A teacher and , in a strange way, something of a ‘roving ambassador’ he kept popping up. And so on the final evening we let him join us as we went to the  main Kunovice Festival itself . The highlight of the evening was the band PULS from Slovakia whose stage musical version of cymbal music took everyone by storm. Shortly before an out of control hot air balloon nearly landed on us before veering off towards a minaret. And then there were fireworks. Not the ones you might have prayed for involving Wildman and a lathe, but a genuinely startling display of pyrotechnics that lit up the Moravia plain as night fell.

Slovakian group PULS
Brush and Wash-up

There was plenty of time to consider future projects. Evening socials in wine cellars with almost everyone who dropped by picking up and playing some instrument with amazing talent and ‘light snacks’ at lunch times which turned into  diet busters for the rest of the group except me and my endless plates of salad. Without a doubt we’ll be linking Akropolis, the Bata University and Altech with Bridgwater partners through the forthcoming years and the Town Council were also especially keen on one idea to link up our police forces. An idea that found some support in the Avon and Somerset constabulary so the prospect of uniformed British police showing little old ladies across the road in UH while armed Czech response units deal with the issues in Blake Gardens might not seem so fanciful….
The delegation(s)

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