Privas club’s warm welcome

From left are Jill Betts, Dave Hart, Simon Martin and Nick Oates, Aidan Pound. (S)
From left are Jill Betts, Dave Hart, Simon Martin and Nick Oates, Aidan Pound. (S)

‘Twinned with Privas’ say the signs as you enter Wetherby. The twinning relationship has long held a special meaning to people who are members of the Wetherby Twinning Association. But it is the whole town which is twinned and not just the members of the association, a fact which people tend to forget.

A Rugby Club centenary is an event which should be celebrated in style and not be missed. So thought members of Wetherby RUFC when the club received an invitation to attend the hundredth anniversary of the Privas Rugby club. The Wetherby club isn’t anything like as old. There is evidence of there being a club of sorts in existence before Second World War, but the club wasn’t reformed until about 1966, moving from Lime Kiln lane to Loshpot Lane in 1971 and Grange Park in 1987.

So Dave Hart, Simon Martin, Aidan Pound & Nick Oates flew to Privas as representatives of the Wetherby club to attend the four day celebration. They couldn’t wait the 45 years before Wetherby RUFC celebrates its own centenary.

Arriving in Privas, they found that the whole town was involved with every shop in the town having displays, posters, old photographs and stories of the club spanning 100 years in their shop windows. It was a major event which had taken the French club two years to plan and was headed by organising President Paul Chautard. On the Thursday the English players were invited to a dinner with the Privas twinning committee hosted by Francois Briffotaux, also attended by Monsieur Chastan (the Privas Mayor).

On the Friday night there was a six-a-side rugby tournament held under the lights of Privas’ magnificent stadium. They learned that Privas, until fairly recently, played in the second tier of French rugby.

Then at midday on the Saturday the whole of the town seemed to be marching through the town with bands playing and everyone dressed in straw hats, wearing orange shirts and scarves. Then in the towns indoor Boulodrome there were speeches by the Privas town mayor and by club presidents. Simon Martin delivered a response in French on behalf of Wetherby RUFC thanking Privas for the invitation.

During the evening there was a representative game at the stadium with players from Biarritz and other Southern French cities. The intrepid quartet from Wetherby had been given the opportunity to play but had declined the invitation as all the other players seemed much younger. There was another reason and that was that they’d enjoyed so much French hospitality that they wouldn’t have been at their best. Simon had sent me some photographs of the visit and said that he had great difficulty in finding one which didn’t show them holding glasses! This was followed by a dinner for 500 when the Wetherby club representatives were presented with Privas club’s rugby shirts, the Saturday’s signed match ball and books covering the 100 years of Privas Rugby. In turn they presented Privas with the Wetherby club tie, club plaque and 1st XV shirt.

It was obvious that the Wetherby representatives had thoroughly enjoyed the experience and been made welcome by their French hosts. None of them had previously been involved with twinning events or were expert in speaking French. Simon told me that he’d particularly valued the help which Cindy Bentley had given him before they left for France. She is chairman of the Twinning Association and a fluent French speaker and had helped him translate his speech of thanks into French and coached him in delivering it. The Wetherby team are already talking of the possibility of another visit to France with a veteran’s team – or of a veteran’s team from Privas being invited to visit Wetherby.

A very different visit to Privas was made by Sandra Clynes, headteacher of Crossley Street Primary School. The school has been teaching French for four years and a couple of years ago Sandra had seen an appeal in the Wetherby News for schools to become involved in twinning and this resulted in the school became corporate members of the Wetherby Twinning Association. Then earlier this year Sandra Clynes visited Privas accompanied by Carole Wood acting as interpreter and chief photographer.

On arrival they were met by their French hosts and whisked straight to their home for a beautiful family meal that went on for hours and included many courses with the most wonderful goat’s cheese. Sandra told me that next day they were shown round the area visiting many of the breath taking landmarks including the famous arch, the volcanic plugs and local chateaus. They had a very long lunch of suckling pig and in the evening attended a piano recital by one of the ex-students of Evelyn’s music school playing a grand piano at a chateau. It was quite magical. Again another wonderful meal followed with wine and cheese in plenty. Left alone in the house for a few minutes during the evening, Sandra heard the sound of footsteps on the stairs outside her room. Bravely opening the door she was confronted by a cat which was so startled it jumped five feet in the air – and that was just the cat!

Monday was the highlight of the visit for Sandra as she spent the day at Rene Cassin School meeting the staff and pupils and learning about the French way of teaching and learning. There were no computers or whiteboards and the old-fashioned blackboards and chalk were very much in evidence in a very formal method of education. Teachers were very loving towards the children and didn’t hesitate to put their arms around them to give them a hug. But they also had a light dowel rod used to tap a child who misbehaved.

Sandra said:

“It is certainly very different to English education and we were able to discuss assessment, the curriculum and of course Ofsted and inspection procedures. The pupils were a delight and Carole and I were able to help them with an English lesson and do some singing and some Maths, the mental arithmetic really kept us on our toes. The following day I returned to the school and gave the children letters and gifts that Crossley Street pupils had made. I am really looking forward to showing Evelyn round my school and sharing our systems and procedures with her. We had in depth discussions about education and were able to pick the best from both England and France. I think left to Evelyn and I we could really sort out the problems in education in both countries!”

There are now hopes that the children can write to each other; children of Crossley Street writing in French and the French children replying in English. It will have to be real writing – the French children don’t have access to computers or emails. Sandra hopes that this is the beginning of a fruitful partnership between both schools where children can learn about each other’s lives and traditions and hopefully the philosophy of twinning can be extended to a new, younger generation.

I asked if Sandra spoke French herself. “Un peu” she said. But as with the rugby players, there is no doubt that language has not proved to be a major problem and that future visits to or from Privas are being considered.

I’ll let Cindy Bentley have the last word. Hearing that I was writing this article she emailed to say “You might like to mention that 2012 is the 20th anniversary of our twinning link with Privas and that the French delegation (hopefully including the Mayor) will be coming to Wetherby next June to join in our Diamond Jubilee celebrations.”