Zreče crest

Planting of Apple Tree in Zreče – December 2009

An apple tree marking the fraternal friendship between Sedbergh and Zreče was planted in Zreče in December 2009.

A little bit of Sedbergh now grows in Zreče, Slovenia – outside the bus station in the town centre – so that young people going to school can grab an English apple off the tree to give to teacher – or at least they can in about 10 years time.

An apple tree from Zreče apple tree grows outside the Howgills Bunk Barn in Sedbergh by the public footpath where many walkers have already enjoyed the fruits of our twinning.

May the friendship between our towns always be fruitful – naj naše prijateljstov vedno rodi sadove!

In the photos are Zreče mayor Boris Podvrsnik, Zreče town band manager Slavko Kejzar, and Sedbergh’s Town Twinning Cultural Commissar David Burbidge. Photos by Urska Firer.

Town Twinning and International Achievements


Wherever an event or a visit goes towards fulfilling one or more of the following aims it has been an achievement for Sedbergh. The event or visit:

provides an opportunity for the community to look outwards
helps stimulate business ideas and openings
gives opportunities for the more disadvantaged members of our community to broaden their horizons
raises Sedbergh’s profile nationally and internationally
periodically at least, livens up the town a little
The people of Sedbergh who come into contact with others from overseas have the privilege and opportunity to learn about a different culture and way of life.
The coming together of people across Europe and the close relationships and hand of friendship should always bind us in peace and prosperity.

Rationale for Town Twinning in Sedbergh

Most town twinning arrangements were set up following the Second World War. Town twinnings and partnerships in Europe were a way of building friendship, bringing together people who had fought on opposite sides and of consolidating existing alliances. The concept of twinning began in Europe as early as the turn of the last century, with the first recorded UK link in 1920 between Keighley, West Yorkshire and Poix du Nord in France. The number of twinning links increased significantly after the War to aid the process of peace and reconciliation. They grew in number and flourished as young people came and went across the Channel. A second wave of enthusiasm for town twinning took place in the 1970s and 80s, following the UK’s entry into the European Economic Community.

Town twinning in Sedbergh is seen as a concept that includes the friendship-and-understanding aspect of many twin-town arrangements in the past and goes beyond that into more 21st-century objectives. Our aims in Sedbergh are:

•  to provide an opportunity for the community to look outwards
•  to help stimulate business ideas and openings
•  to give opportunies for the more disadvantaged members of our community to broaden their horizons
•  to raise Sedbergh’s profile nationally and internationally
•  periodically at least, to liven up the town a little

Since the first UK international twinning arrangements in the 1920’s, and their rapid growth in the 1950’s, town twinning, or sister cities as it’s sometimes called, has passed through a number of phases in terms of people’s general perception. Currently, it is seen as a positive activity within and by the EU.

The EU website page, Twinning Towns for Unity is positive, if somewhat hard to get a grip on: ‘EU support for town twinning injects a structuring effect and strengthens the strategic direction, as well as the European content, of such activities.

We in Sedbergh are developing our town-twinning goals. We have achieved each of the above five bullet-pointed aims to some degree. A challenge that remains is business ideas and openings, see Town Twinning and Economic Development. The other four aims have been satisfyingly moving forward, in particular with regard to school and musical exchanges, of which there have been a number each year since our town twinning arrangement began (see topics list on left).

Sedbergh began to look at finding a twin town in 2001 following the economically-depressing effect of the 2001 foot and mouth crisis (see Why and how we entered into twinning). Twinning was one idea for helping stimulate economic development; see Town Twinning and Economic Development.

Sedbergh Town Twinning – Economic Development

Economic Development Aspects of Sedbergh’s Town Twinning Initiative
No community, be it a place or a company, ever develops by looking inwards. It needs to look abroad; be ready to take on new ideas; to understand what others of similar type are doing and how they are doing it. If it does not do that then it puts itself at risk of being left behind, or at the very least of not knowing whether it is being left behind or not.

By looking outwards, contacts are made, ideas are assimilated, mistakes and shortcomings identified, and as a result, in a way that is often surprising, you find yourself getting bigger; this applies to a community as much as it does to a business.

There is nothing scientifically advanced about this – it’s what successful organisations have always done. Looking outwards stimulates growth.

It is not the job of a town-twinning arrangement to open up new markets for a local product overseas direct, that should be the job of the individual businesses or local trade organisation; more that initiatives raise awareness of what an overseas community of similar type and problems produces and by planning events the local community can, among other things, help boost the occupancy figures of the guesthouses and B&Bs. The twinning partnership is there to help the community gain a wider view.

The economic development success is indirect. Look outwards. Learn about the ways of others. (see Look Outwards. Learn Others’ Ways.).

History of Town Twinning in Sedbergh

How and Why We Entered Into a Twinning Arrangement
Sedbergh decided to look at the possibility of finding a twin town in 2001, eventually signing its first twin town charter, with Zreče, in May 2005. During that time we were the focus of a television programme. Here is a brief history of how Sedbergh’s town twinning arrangement came about.
2001 and the ‘Foot and Mouth Crisis’

2001 and foot and mouth disease strikes Britain. Foot and mouth is a virulent virus affecting sheep, cattle and pigs and its affect on the ecomony of the country, and on rural areas on the country in particular, was severe. There is a UK government website dedicated to the subject, http://footandmouth.csl.gov.uk/

The widespread slaughter of livestock resulted in images on television of fields of burning carcasses – disposal of so many diseased and deceased animals being understandably not that simple a job. Although the disease does not seem to affect humans in any physical way, it does in a psychological one, and the distress of farmers and those in rural areas caused prime minister Tony Blair to be forced to postpone a planned general election, evidently to his chagrin (see Guardian Politics, April 2nd 2001).

Foot and mouth disease never came to Sedbergh. No animals were slaughtered here. But the signs of closedown were manifest everywhere. There were symbols of exclusion such as disinfectant mats for vehicles to drive over on leaving the motorway, and notices telling people not to drive on by-roads, and all the footpaths were closed including, for a while, those where no livestock would be likely to set foot (and certainly not mouth).

Farming was of course affected, as farmers were disallowed from moving, and hence selling, their livestock. And those people who ran tourism-related businesses found their customers dwindled, both in terms of visitor numbers falling off and in diminished sales of leisure-related goods such as walking boots.

Images such a disinfectant mats for vehicles, while intended in some way to support the farmers, had the opposite effect, giving the message that the countryside was diseased.

Sedbergh needed a boost

Foot and mouth disease was declared eradicated towards the end of 2001, but this did not lead to jubilation in the streets. One reason for this is that it had taught us something; it had taught us that the economy of our town was fragile. No one could be sure that the problem would not soon recur, and if it did what could be done to minimise its effect. An image of fields of burning animals, even if in Sedbergh’s case it wasn’t a reality, was not good for business. The town needed something to boost its self-regard.

A number of options considered

When foot and mouth disease was declared eradicated, sub-groups of members of Sedbergh Chamber of Trade got together to see what could be done to lift the town's spirits and, above all, to get economic regeneration kick-started.

We filled flipcharts with ideas of what might constitute an initiative for economic generation, and with some argument and a bit of agreement, the list was narrowed down to about eight possibile initiatives that might be achieveable and that might have potential.

Two initiatives gained enthusiasm – one was to look at town twinning

Coming up with an idea is one thing, putting it into practice, in terms of time and money, is another. And there was the question of whether the idea would actually achieve anything to make the town feel more optimistic about itself at all.

Two of the ideas seemed to be key candidates for doing something positive; one was to give Sedbergh a focus by which it might become known as identifiable as different from elsewhere, a brand if you want to put it that way, and hence was born Sedbergh Booktown, which you can read more about on Sedbergh Booktown. The other initiative that came out as a viable one was town twinning.

Why town twinning?

The initiatives for economic generation were the result of work by the Chamber of Trade. Business people, or some of them anyway, have learned that when you are faced with a problem, one of the things you can do is to look outside, look what others are doing, and see if there is anything that can be adapted to your circumstances.

In doing this research, it isn’t usually much help to contact people who are in exactly the same position as yourself, because they are not likely to have any better idea of what to do than you. Far better to try and broaden the horizons.

Early on in this, we quickly discovered something: that of the two-and-a-half-thousand or so twinning arrangements between British towns and those overseas, just five, yes five, were from towns in the county of Cumbia. Did we in our region know something that the other’s didn’t? Or were we missing out on something here? We had a horrible worry that it might be the second.

Town twinning, which has a well-established infrastructure in place, seemed to be an opportunity to broaden the town's horizons.

Having decided to establish a town twinning arrangement, how should we begin to find a town to twin with?

Where should we look for a town to twin with? Some said France. France is our nearest neighbour and our children should learn more French. Others favoured Holland. Of the foreign car number plates we see around the district in summer, by far the largest number are Dutch. Various other countries were mentioned, influenced sometimes by individual people’s favourite holiday destinations.

What we actually did, first of all, was to erect a flipchart, and on it we wrote different people’s answers to the questions: ‘What do we want from this?’, and ‘What could be the synergies that might make this worthwhile?’.

We drew up a list of about seven or eight things that Sebergh is strong at and would be keen to develop. At the end of this we had our community-inspired twinning checklist.

Next, we put our town’s CV on the websites that existed at the time, for towns looking for a twinning partner. We also looked at other towns already on the list, to see whether there were any that seemed a suitable fit, but we couldn’t find any.

Sedbergh’s strengths and identity

Sedbergh has four schools: a long-established and well-known public (ie private or independent) school, a state primary school for children up to the age of 11, a state secondary school for 11–16s, and a residential school for boys with educational and behaviour difficulties. Sedbergh is strong on schools.

Sedbergh is a bookish and musical place. Even before becoming England’s first official book town, there were a number of bookshops and reading and theatrical groups, together with a town brass band, several singing groups, and an annual music festival.

Not all that big on sport, though there are thriving football teams and tennis and bowls.

Lots of shops for a town of its size, and a feature is that people worry about how long this can continue.

And then there are the two industries that, if you aked people what it was were the mainstay of the town, many would identify: farming and tourism. Farming is in severe decline and no one knows quite how to reverse this, and tourism has the problem shared by thousands of other places throughout the world, who also believe that their area is second to none, which is how to attract fewer visitors, with more money to spend (sometimes expressed as attracting more visitors).

A small town in Germany

As so often happens, when you’ve set in train the mechanisms for achieving something, someone comes along and says, ‘There’s a friend of mine who . . .’, and that was exactly what happened. A friend of a friend of someone who knew someone mentioned a town in Germany that was looking for a town twinning arrangement, and so closely did the twinning committee of the German town think that Sedbergh might fulfil their matching checklist, that a group of people from that town was coming over to visit. Of course, we did our best to be hospitable, and arranged visits to local points of interest and dug from the woodwork all our German-language speakers (there are quite a number) and arranged receptions, one of which was in the pub where Dennis, one of our local police officers, appeared in his uniform and said, “’ello”.

And then there was a reciprocal visit to the town in Germany, to which we took a representative from the regional twinning association, Jürgen, whose birthplace is Germany, and we were entertained most hospitably and went to a party in a beer tent and did a speech during the interval and Jürgen, on returning from the beer tent to his lodgings after the party, went behind a tree to relieve himself and disappeared, slowly like a sinking ship, down a hole in the ground he hadn’t spotted in the dark and broke his leg quite seriously and was in hospital for quite some time afterwards and all were concerned that he may never be able to walk normally again, and we thought that surely this must be propitious, and there were so many similarities between the concerns of this small town near Heilbronn, and Sedbergh, that all seemed to be going swimmingly.

The telly

The camera and jolly sound man arrive in Sedbergh

And then along came . . . the telly

Shortly after visiting our potential twin town, in summer 2004, we received out-of-the-blue an email from a television production company, saying that they were preparing a twelve-part series on town twinning, and that they might consider Sedbergh as the focus in the UK.

Representatives from the television production company came to Sedbergh during a sunny few days and met various people in the pub and seemed to think we might be quite a telegenic place.

We told them about our budding arrangements with the town in Germany but they said that set-up jobs would be seen through by the great television-watching public and that we should have to be introduced to places, which we were not told even the name of beforehand.

This is an unconventional approach to finding a twinning partner, but on the other hand the town felt that it could not reject the opportunity for some exposure on national television, and we therefore put our position to our new-found German friends, who kindly understood the dilemma we were in, and so to Sedbergh came the arrival of the cameras. You can see a description of the presence of television cameras in Sedbergh here.

Sedbergh sets up a formal town twinning arrangement with Zreče

The activities put in place by the television production company resulted in a pulling-together of the people of Sedbergh, the like of which had not been seen in anyone’s memory. The number of people who voted for a twinning arrangement with Zreče exceeded the votes given to all the other candidate towns put together, and the number of people who voted was greater than the number who turn out for most general and local elections.

A formal twinning charter has been signed and reciprocal visits are regularly underway.

In Britain, at least, Slovenians come with no baggage. Everyone likes a Slovene. The twinning arrangement between Sedbergh and Zreče has so far been a huge success. A satirical song dating from the 1950s includes the words: ‘The whole world is festering with unhappy souls. The French hate the Germans and the Germans hate the Poles. Italians hate Yugoslavs, South Africans hate the Dutch. And I don’t like anybody very much!’ †. Fortunately, so far as we know, we have no Slovenophobes, in Sedbergh.

† lyric by Sheldon Harnick, who also wrote the words to Fiddler on the Roof

Speaking Slovene

Some thoughts on the Slovene language from David Burbidge, organiser of numerous exchange singing events.

There are many who say that Slovene is a very hard language to speak – my experience has been the opposite, it must be one of the easiest.

I’ve never been good at languages. I put it down to a crippling experience in my early teenage years. My father worked in the United Nations and clearly thought that speaking more than English was a good thing. So I was packed off to stay with Vincent Roland in Paris for the summer. On arrival I tried out my creaky schoolboy French: ‘Bonjour. Je m’appel David. Comment allez vous?’ And was greeted by guffaws of laughter and: ‘I think perhaps we speak in English – your French is terrible.’

So what makes Slovene so easy to speak is the enormous ammount of encouragement you receive if you say anything more than hvala (thank you) or dober dan (good day). I try out my growing list of phrases which started with those gleaned form the Berlitz phrase book: Kako cudovit dan (what a wonderful day) and Bi kay popili? (can I get you a drink) and moved on to even more useful proclamations: Naj bo vasa casa vedno polna (may your cup always be full) – and the results are either total delight or total incomprehension (can an Englishman really be speaking Slovene?) But never scorn.

The reasons why there is this myth about Slovene being a difficult language and why there is so much encouragement to learn it are, ironically, the same. With only 1.8 million people in the country Slovene is not very widely spoken throughout the world. And most people having enough spare time to learn a language tend to choose the ones where there are countless millions of people to communicate with.

And the Slovenes, being essentially a polite and thoughful race of people, let people off the hook by telling them that the language is far too hard to learn anyway.

Je Skomarskih Ofarjev – a song about a pig
Je Skomarskih Ofarjev is a song by the famous Zreče poet Juri Vodovnik about a pig who hides in an old house which the villagers use as a toilet, because the mushrooms are so good there!

What I think is this: if it is so hard, how come that all the tiny infants and children in Slovenia speak it? And also, if there are only 1.8 million people speaking it then the more people who learn it the better – there’s already far too many people speaking in German, French and Spanish.

Although, having said that, the grammar for Slovene is not easy – there are different endings for everything, not just for singular and plural but also for if you are speaking to two people. (Though every language has its hurdles. How people learn English with grammatical constructions like one cow, two cows – and then, one sheep, two sheep – is a mystery to me.)

Personally I find it easier to sing Slovene than to speak it. Our group in Sedbergh has been learning some of the Slovene songs, most of which tend to be very sad love songs. Like Nocoj pa oh nocoj (Tonight oh tonight, when the moon shines over the earth, I will leave – but don’t cry my love, I will be back in seven short years.) But also lively drinking songs like Kolko kaplic tolko let (May God grant you as many years in your life as there are drops of wine in the glass).

And the wonderful national anthem which translates as:

God’s blessings on all nations who long and pray for that bright day,
When over earth’s habitation, no war, no strife, shall hold its sway.
Who long to see, that all men free, no more shall foes but neighbours be.

Being the seventh verse of a long poem by the national poet France Preseren called the Toast, in praise of wine, women and camaraderie. And the only national anthem in the world to advocate world peace rather than national glory.

The advantage of having a healthy repertoire of songs is that I am now able to communicate the odd line when appropriate. So when I am leaving a company of Slovenians with friends I turn to them and say: Pojd’mo veselo domo (let us go joyfully home) – from the lovely old song Vecernica (Evening hymn).

The Cautley Carollers in Medved
The Cautley Carollers met with the Skomarje singers in Medved – along with the Mayor and the president of Unior who both made some fine speeches. We all sang Zivijo together, the pace slowing down with every toast.

And from the same song I am able to comment on beautiful sunsets: Glejte ze solnce zahaja, skoraj za goro bo slo (look at the sun setting over the distant hills). A translation of an Ali Burns song – May your cup always be full – has many useful lines for greeting and toasting like: Zelimo vam veselja in zdravja in ljubesni in vecni mir (we wish you joy and health and love and peace for ever) though it’s not so useful when shopping at a supermarket or haggling over the price of a taxi ride.

Other phrases come from asking my long suffereing Slovene friends for translations. So when I was asked how I like being back in Zreče recently I was able to reply: Vreme je lepo in toplo kot se srca Zrečanov – (the weather is beautiful and warm like the hearts of the people of Zreče).

I have been organising cultural exchanges and performance projects between singers from Sedbergh and singers from Zreče for the last couple of years and have found that the best events were the ones where most people didn’t speak the other’s language.

Oscar Wilde put his finger on it when he said that America and England were two countries divided by a common language. Language is so much more than the mere words – behind everything we say there are layers of meaning which are tied up with our culture and our history.

So when the Zreče youth choir visited Sedbergh and were singing in the mediaeval market fair they met the Fool, the court jester, sitting on a pole in the middle of the street. ‘Ah here come the Slovenes, you can smell them.’

The Odmev Quartet from Zreče
The Odmev Quartet from Zreče singing in Rydal Caves with the Lakeland Voice singers one wintry night in December 2005. The acoustics were terrific. Everyone had learnt some Slovene phrases, and especially Bi kaj popili? – which was very useful when we all went to warm up and continue our singing in the Badger Bar.

Now as a straight translation this is nothing but a terrible insult – what a dreadful thing to say! But the wider context around the court jester being the only one who could insult the king, and his role as the one who makes everyone feel a bit uncomfortable, gives a different meaning. (Although personally I was quite ready to kick him off his pole.)

Similarly, when the Scottish football players were recently visiting Slovenia and walking down Celje high street in their kilts singing and happy after having won the match, the Slovenes all said how much they liked them. ‘Yes, we were calling out to them how pretty they looked in the skirts.’ Fortunately in Slovene rather than in English. I have known Scotsmen who had been told something similar in England and had never returned south of border again.

And when the Ljudski Pevci iz Stranice (folk singers from Stranice) came to Sedbergh, none of the singers spoke any English at all. But that didn’t stop Ivan getting into a very long conversation with Vivienne Postlethwaite in her shop, both in their native tongues, neither of them worried that they didn’t understand a word the other said.

The Odmev Quartet from Zreče in the Sportsman’s Inn
The Odmev male voice Quartet joined us in the Sportsman’s Inn for some more singing – 150 people all joining in on the choruses, and even some Balkan dancing in the back room. A night to remember.

Afterwards Ivan told our friend Igor Cvetko, a Slovene ethnomusicologist who speaks perfect English, that Ivan had had such a good time that he wanted to take her home and marry her!

There has been much research which suggests that communication has little to do with the actual words – some people say as little as seven per cent – and everything to do with the tone of voice, facial expression, and body language.

When we visited at Christmas and drove a minibus on the right for the first time we managed to upset several other drivers who saw our number plates and thought we were Italian. Their gesticulations really needed no translation. Though it was interesting that when we translated the number plates with the addition of GB stickers, the rude gestures changed to friendly waves.

And there is also the point raised by a Irishman I heard on the radio recently talking about his countrymen’s fame as talkers: ‘It’s said that Ireland is a nation populated by warm hearted people talking to each other’, he said describing typical people meeting to talk in the emerald isle. ‘But my experience is that they are a nation of warm hearted people talking to themselves. Few people bother to listen to each other.’

Perhaps there is something of that in all of us.

I recently attended a meeting of Slovene poets in the hilltop village of Skomarje, in the Skomarski Hisa – the old house where Zreče’s most famous poet Juri Vodovnik lived. The poems were all written by the people who read them, about love, and loss, and hope – the poets’ themes. I sat listening to the music of their voices, not particularly troubled by understanding only one word in every fifty.

And then someone read a poem by Robert Frost – and the extraordinary thing was that it was no different – I still couldn’t understand a word, but took great delight from the music of the words and the drama of the setting.

But I continue learning my phrases and my songs, because it gives me as much pleasure as it obviously does our Slovene friends to be able to say something in the language of this beautiful country. So . . . Se eno si zapojmo.

David Burbidge

A video with some basic phrases useful when visiting Slovenia.
Slovene language courses in Sedbergh take place each year.
See comments from His Excellency Iztok Mirošič, Ambassador of the Republic of Slovenia, (2008).

Visit to Sedbergh by the Slovenian Ambassador to the UK

His Excellency Iztok Jarc Visits Sedbergh

Tuesday 7th July. His Excellency Iztok Jarc, the Slovenian ambassador to the UK, together with his wife, Helena Jarc, and two members of the consular department from the embassy, Ms Mateja Ŝtrumelj Piŝkur and Mr Matej Zakonjŝek, arrived at Oxenholme station on a train from from London, to be greeted the mayor of Kendal, Coun John Bateson, station manager Stephen Reynolds, Sedbergh twinning officials Garth Steadman, Susan Garnett and David Burbidge, and a 45-piece band from Slovenia playing the Slovenian national anthem.

While the band went to give a public performance in the centre of Kendal (see The Zreče Community Band Visit Sedbergh), a lunch of welcome was held in the Cross Keys at Cautley where the leader of Sedbergh Parish Council, Vic Hopkins; the head of the Sedbergh Booktown project, Carole Nelson; the secretary of the Sedbergh Town Band, Hilary Hodge; the head teacher of Sedbergh School, Christoper Hirst; the head teacher of Sedbergh Junior School, Sara Hirst; the head teacher from the state primary school, Sedbergh Primary, Maggie Cullen; and the head of languages from the state secondary school, Settlebeck High School, Alison Brown; together with members of Sedbergh’s town twinning group, were host to the ambassador and his party together with the Mayor of Zreče, Mr Boris Podvrsnik. This lunch meeting was well-reported by all the Sedbergh people present as consisting of useful and stimulating discussion, in particular the learning about what the embassy does and plans to achieve, and about economic conditions and developments in Slovenia.


After lunch the ambassador and his party, together with Mr Podvrsnik, were taken to the farm of Thomas and Barbara Gorst at Mutton Hall to see and hear about the raising and economics of cattle and sheep on a hill farm.

In the evening there was a concert in Powell Hall of Sedbergh School with Sedbergh’s town brass band and the Zreče Community Band that included some renowned Slovenian musicians and singers, see The Zreče Community Band Visit Sedbergh

David Burbidge

See more videos of the tour at www.youtube.com/davidburbidge