This is not really a story about a twinning event. However, it is an account of two events which were made very special by Ashford’s twinning connections and friends.

Every year, in April, Ashford Sings! community choir visits a European country for a ‘tour’ (sounds grander than it is) involving 2 or 3 performances (gigs) some sightseeing and some social activities. The usual format is a very early start on Friday, a gig en route somewhere, a group dinner in the evening, a full day somewhere on Saturday including a gig, a big social event on the Saturday night then travel back on Sunday via somewhere nice (for a boat trip, maybe) and sometimes a spontaneous performance (flashmob). As there are 120 to 150 of us going on tour, coach is the only practical means of transport (we normally have three coaches) and that limits us to a sensible travelling radius around the channel tunnel. For 2018 we thought Germany deserved another visit. Why not visit our twin town? Maybe the twinning arrangements could present some opportunities, we thought. That was when we met Gillian Lines and joined the Twinning Association. Gillian put us in touch with Hans Josef Dederichs in Bad Münstereifel.

In September 2017, Barbara and I, and Linda from the choir (we three are the ‘Tour Team’) drove to Germany on a recce. We have found a recce is vital for our tours to go smoothly: gig location, electricity, coach parking, walking distances, check out the hotel bar etc. The devil is always in the detail! We met with Hans Josef, we were shown around the lovely town and came away buzzing with enthusiasm. All the arrangements we would need just fell into place, thanks to the lovely Hans Josef. In contrast, we were also planning a stop and gig in Aachen en route during the tour and organising that felt like pulling teeth: bureaucracy, permits, advertising, coach parking, finding someone who was interested…

Come April 2018, the tour happened. Aachen turned out to be a success after all, and we had a brilliant time in Bad Münstereifel. It was a lovely day, Hans Josef had arranged the sunshine, obviously, and some guided tours, then we all explored the town, tested the local food and drink and set up for the gig outside the church.                                                 A good audience assembled, no doubt encouraged by Hans Josef and the local twinning people. The mayor, Sabine Preiser-Marian, joined us there, made a speech, and we presented a picture of the choir to thank her and Hans Josef for making everything possible.

After the gig we all dispersed into a variety of eating establishments until late afternoon before returning to our hotel near Bonn. The following day we stopped in Cologne for a short Rhine cruise and refreshments before heading home.

Flushed with the success of Bad Münstereifel, visiting Fougères for the Ashford Sings! 2019 tour seemed like a good idea. We hosted two guests during the twinning visit to Ashford in September 2018 and that allowed us to meet some of the Fougères contacts including Evelyne Charrier from the Town Hall and Alain and Catherine Ausseurs. Shortly after that the ‘Tour Team’ visited Fougères for a recce. In April 2019 Ashford Sings! went on tour. We spent a memorable day in Fougères. With support from the Town Hall and Alain and Catherine we had wonderful hospitality, a tour of the Château, and a gig in the Place Aristide Briand. We presented a painting of Ashford by local artist John Harvey to Madame Carré (representing the Mayor) as a souvenir of our visit and to thank everyone in Fougères for their support and hospitality. Hopefully you may spot it in the Mairie if you ever visit! That evening, Alain and Catherine were brave enough to join us all at our hotel for our big social event, which included a mass karaoke. With nearly all of the 150 tour-goers wanting to sing, you can only try to imagine how the evening unfolded… Sorry, no pictures.

Our 2019 tour also included the beautiful Honfleur. Once again, without the twinning contacts this was frustrating to arrange but, fortunately, turned out well.

A big part of the ethos of Ashford Sings! choir is community and friendship. In fact it is arguably more important than the music. The experiences we had, and the memories we made, in Fougères and Bad Münstereifel were enriched so much by the support and friendship extended by the twinning community.

If anyone is interested in finding out more about Ashford Sings! you can look at or talk to us. Obviously, like ATA, nothing can currently take place until the Covid crisis has wound down. But, we’ll be back.

Written by Alan and Barbara Foxon

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