Splendid isolation? Not in Blyth!

They lead the both twinning societies: The hosts Anne and Brian Dawson (l.) with Christa und Bernd Clemens. Photo Melchior Fred Lothar

Solingen. The signs “Welcome to Blyth” on the village border are still hot off the press. 30 Solingers felt again most welcome in its twin town. By Fred Lothar Melchior
What is new in Blyth, except the Aldi-supermarket in Cowpen Road? Apart from the hotel at Commissioner’s Quay, the first in the English town, and its newly elected mayor– not much. The twinning exists for 55 years. And still: The new thing its hat it seems to get stronger every year.
“It’s good to be together again”, welcomed mayor John Potts the group of 30 members from the ‘city of blades’, that came by Hull and York to Blyth. The 16 council members elected the 68-year old only the night before as the successor to mayor Margaret Parker. Mrs. Parker was the successor of Potts wife Olga, and was because of re-election for two years in the honorary office.
‚It’s getting better from year to year ‘, Bernd Clemens returned the compliments. The former managing director of the business development of Solingen, is the CEO of the twinning society Solingen-Blyth. And as the packed 3,5 days program was about sights in Blyth and surroundings, and the atmosphere was not darkened yet, by the Manchester attack, the conversations and the daily meetings in the evening showed how much Solingen and Blyth are connected even above the personal friendships.
The tasks are the same even if Blyth has only 37.000 inhabitants. It’s about making the community more attractive. When talking to political power, there is an advantage to Blyth: ‘We are in the council to achieve the best for the community’, says John Potts. One is, one is not ‘too political’. Considering the clear Labour majority in the council (there are only three liberal democrats and one tory) this is easy.
Potts, also head of the planning committee, wants to bring forward housing projects. ‘There is a great need for affordable flats. Apart from that we want to get more people to live in Blyth’ he says with Newcastle in mind, the city which is only 30 minutes away.
The return of service of railway line would help. Now, there are only freight trains. A great deal of perseverance will be needed by the Blyth council to get connected to Newcastle’s metro. It will take three or four years, assumes John Potts.
The turnaround in economy did not come in one day either. But the former coal town became a center of renewable energy. The company Catapult for example, is a specialist in offshore-wind parks. Apart from that the world’s longest submarine cable shall bring clean electricity from Norway to England in the future. It will come out of the sea north of Blyth. The two defunct coal-fired power plants have made way for relocations. The port prospers, earnings before taxes (EBT) last year was nearly 1,7 million Euros. The new hotel will not only attract tourists, but also a lot of business travelers, Potts is sure.
Also, the retail recovers partly, also because of ‚Arch ‘. With this scheme communities in Northumberland can to borrow money which is not only spent for housing and producing industry, but also for retail. For example, in the neighboring Cramlington, it is spent for a shopping center. , great sums came from the European Union to the North of England. For the Blyth community center, some money came from the EU. Therefore, it is sure what Potts thinks of the Brexit: nothing. Labour was fighting for a long time to keep England in the European Union ‘there was a lot of fake news’.
The advocates of the Brexit have not realized how complex the matter is. The ‘splendid isolation’ is not an issue for the Blyth/Solingen Citizen Exchange Group. But it still is not easy to attract more and younger people for the town twinning. The group has only 15 members in Blyth; the average age is around 70. Therefore, it is even more remarkable what this small circle performs every two years.
For eight years Anne (63) and Brian Dawson (62) are members. Two years ago, Anne became chair, and Brian treasurer. ‘It is very hard to attract new members’, underlines Ann Dawson. ‘Among other things, there is the fear to travel to countries where English isn’t spoken as a first language’. A fear that employees of the Dräger subsidiary in Blyth should not have. The experts in respiratory protection from Lübeck manufacture pressure regulator and breathing valves in Solingen’s twin town. Employees that met by incident by the German group in a pub, were interested.
Jan Claudius Salewski, the only council member of Solingen who traveled with the group held the welcoming speech at the civic dinner commented on this incident: ‘There is a lot of potential in this generation’.
Also for the Solingen twinning society was a breath of fresh air: Some fellow travelers already signed their membership application already on the coach journey back to Germany. ‘I like the English mentality, but have not been to Northumberland yet’, said Birgit Schmidt. ‘Now I got to know the warmth of its people’. Her husband Manoucher Thomas Shareghi like Salewski will engage himself in the society. One idea: an own stall at the traditional Zöppkesmarkt-fair. Also, the municipal utilities of Solingen should get in contact with the experts in renewable energies of Blyth.
In Blyth politicians have their minds on other things: On the 8th of June, general elections are held. Traditionally the election campaign takes place at the doorstep.
Source: Fred Lothar Melchior/ Rheinische Post
Translation: Manu Shareghi

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