Being part of an extended family

50th Anniversary Amicale Exchange'(left to right) Pat Rennison, President presents Dominique Gindre, President, with the commemorative clootie mat, made by Sheila Huggins
50th Anniversary Amicale Exchange'(left to right) Pat Rennison, President presents Dominique Gindre, President, with the commemorative clootie mat, made by Sheila Huggins
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Five decades of friendship between two communities from different countries has been honoured recently with a special week of celebrations.

The commemorations toasted the golden anniversary of the Amicale Héry–Shilbottle Association.

50th Anniversary Amicale Exchange'The Amicale officials: Left to Right  Dominique Gindre (President), Pat Rennison (President), Caroline Rameau (Secretary), Irene Marshall (Treasurer) and Sandra Slater (Secretary)

50th Anniversary Amicale Exchange'The Amicale officials: Left to Right Dominique Gindre (President), Pat Rennison (President), Caroline Rameau (Secretary), Irene Marshall (Treasurer) and Sandra Slater (Secretary)

The largest party to come over from France for many years arrived in north Northumberland at the end of last month, with 29 French people hosted in 13 different homes in Shilbottle and nearby areas.

As part of the celebrations, a commemorative gift of a clootie mat had been made by Shilbottle resident Sheila Huggins, representing the Amicale coat of arms.

This was presented to the president of the French Amicale, Dominique Gindre.

Pat Rennison, president of the Shilbottle Amicale, said: “It was wonderful to look back over so many years of the exchange and to think how the welcome, friendship and sense of community have remained so strong on both sides of the Channel, despite the world having changed so much over the last 50 years.”

The golden anniversary celebrations included visits to Durham and the Lindisfarne Gospels exhibition, as well as trips to Bellingham, Kielder and Edinburgh.

There were also events such as a Northumbrian music night and an official reception, which was attended by more than 100 people, including local councillors and many people who had participated in the exchanges over the last 50 years.

Shilbottle Community Hall hosted an exhibition of photos and memorabilia of the twinning and exchanges.

Memories had been gathered from Amicale members, past and present, and put together in a book of memories.

One of the hosts, Jane Nolan, said: “It was a very memorable week. We very much enjoyed spending time with our extended French family – which spans four generations.

“At the end of the exchange, we waved our friends off with a mixture of happiness, for the wonderful time we had spent together, and sadness, that it was all ending for another year.

“But everyone involved in the Amicale felt that we had truly celebrated the golden anniversary of our lasting friendship, with love and with laughter, cherishing and deepening our relationship.

“And next year we will be celebrating again – this time in France.”

It was June Raynal who first had the idea of creating ‘a kind of twinning’ between the two villages she knew very well, Shilbottle and Héry, which is close to Auxerre.

From the very beginning she wanted to create a ‘friendship association’ between the two.

A parish council meeting in November 1963 records that the object of such an association would be to foster friendship and a closer understanding between the two communities.

The Amicale Héry–Shilbottle Association was founded in 1963 and the first group of French visitors were hosted by Shilbottle folk in 1964.

In 1965, a group from the north Northumberland village made a return visit to Héry.

From then onwards, the exchanges have continued over the years.