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Ask an Expert: Alix Hughes

In this interview we meet Alix Hughes, who coordinates twinning projects for the city of Bristol, to see why he thinks such projects are so important.
Bristol has just recently launched its global plan, which is our international strategy, but our history really on the global stage goes back well before that. I mean, after the Second World War Bristol was the first city that developed twinning with Germany; this was in 1947, so you can imagine it was a very brave move given the climate at the time, Germany was in ruins. Bristol people wanted to contribute to peace in Europe to, really, reconciliation, get to know our enemies, and, you know, to prosperity in the future and now of course you wouldn’t really conceive of a war with Germany. Bristol has been working with Bordeaux as well on similar grounds.
Another good example is our twinning with Tbilisi in Georgia, the capital. This was done in the ’80s during a period of the Cold War when we were being told that the USSR was our enemy; many, many thousands of people were frightened that the the two superpowers would blow up the planet. And people in Bristol wanted to reach out to our enemies and get to know Georgians, make friends with them, and in our own way try and undermine the Cold War rhetoric of the times. Again in the ’80s Bristol linked with a community in Nicaragua, in Central America, and also with Beira, in Mozambique.
The Mozambique link was very much based on the anti-apartheid struggle so Bristol had the biggest anti-apartheid movement outside London and one of the key ideas was to support a frontline state because Mozambique was coming under attack from the apartheid government.
For instance, the Nicaragua group, they’ve aligned a lot of their work with the Sustainable Development Goals, the global goals, so for instance around gender equality. You know, for 30 years we’ve been supporting women’s groups in Nicaragua, so we helped set up a women’s shrimp farming cooperative which has 16 members and maybe a hundred dependents, we’ve worked with women’s groups in Nicaragua around domestic violence issues, we’ve sponsored a ‘woman’s right to choose’ art exhibition for instance, when the country made therapeutic abortion illegal. So we’ve helped Nicaragua, in our own way,
reach ninth place in the world in the UN gender equality list: Britain is currently at 53rd place. We also do a lot of work with Fairtrade so we bring every year a Fairtrade producer to Bristol from Nicaragua - could be coffee, sesame, cocoa - and they will spend two weeks here working in schools every day, talking about life in Nicaragua, the benefits of Fairtrade, you know, what they
spend the premium on: whether they build clinics, schools, repair the roads, whatever. But also, they will give our local children an idea about the effects of climate change. In Nicaragua they really do suffer the effects much more than other parts of the planet, so if there’s a two or three degree rise in the temperatures, it tends to be four degrees in Nicaragua because they’re near the equator and this has a direct impact on coffee production, so we can make that real for thousands of local children here.
Well the benefits to people in Bristol, well there are many. I mean, predominantly if you get involved with these sort of issues you you up-skill yourself, so you learn a lot more about global issues, you work with like-minded people and you can increase your skills around events management, charity fundraising, you get a better understanding of the part of global politics and things like social justice issues, so that’s really important.
Well I think it’s how to survive with very little. I think it’s almost like the old values that people talk about, community, and, you know, that your grandparents are part of the community, they’re seen as elders and not people that you should put in a home, you know. I think those kind of old-fashioned values are still very strong in countries like Nicaragua and Mozambique, but I think things around, like we were talking about gender equality, Nicaragua is very strong on women’s rights.
There are laws in the country that say when you have an election you can’t just put up male candidates it’s got to be 50/50 and you can’t just put them on a slate where the top 10 are the men and the next 10 are the women it’s got to be 1-2-1-2 and that goes right through local and national elections and it’s also with other government funded organisations. So there are things like that that we can learn from Nicaragua. So one of the other benefits of twinning and our global work is very much around economic development and business links.
I mean, our link with Guangzhou, we regularly have trade missions back and forth, it really has been a gateway for Bristol companies and regional companies to Guangzhou and the Guangdong province because there’s a huge market, you know, there are 10 million inhabitants in Guangzhou. They say every microwave on the planet is made in Guangzhou, you know, so there are huge opportunities there. And that is also right through to the growing economies in Mozambique and in Nicaragua, because Nicaragua at the moment is developing a huge inter-oceanic canal project with trade zones, building a railway alongside of it, and again some of the bigger Bristol companies, particularly the green tech and construction companies, I think are looking quite seriously at that.
Well people would be very welcome to get involved. I mean, certainly as an individual you can take certain actions within your own lifestyle, in terms of the environment. But also, if you want to get more involved with groups you can seek out in your local community or online, there could be groups that are involved in single issues or there could be a wider development groups. Like, Global Justice Now is an organisation that’s national but does campaign on global citizenship type issues. It can be localised, so the Bristol link with Beira just operates in Bristol and Beira, so organisations, charities or NGOs like that would be local to your community, you know.
So there’s a range, those that work nationally and globally and those that also work locally. Alex, thanks very much indeed. Pleasure.

In the previous activity we asked you to consider if and how twinning helps to work towards the Sustainable Development Goals.

Here, we meet Alix Hughes, who coordinates the twinning projects for the city of Bristol. Mark Allison asks Alix to tell us more about the city’s activities with the towns and cities it twins with, and why he thinks such projects are important in terms of global citizenship.

One of the first cities Bristol twinned with was Hanover in Germany after the Second World War. It started when Bristol provided shoes for children in Hanover whose homes and possessions had been razed to the ground by bombing. The city of Hanover felt they had nothing in return to offer except their music, and so a tradition of Hanoverian choirs coming to play in Bristol churches and theatres was born. This cultural alliance was, at the time, a bold and controversial statement, as it was the first post-war twinning between a British and German city.

In this interview, Alix discusses more recent examples of twinning, including with Tbilisi in Georgia, Puerto Morazán in Nicaragua, Beira in Mozambique and Guangzhou in China.

In the previous activity, you made a list of the SDGs you thought twinning and organisations like Sister Cities are helping to achieve. When you watch this video, listen out for all the examples that Alix gives that relate to some of the SDGs. Then, answer the following questions in the comments.

  • Which of the Sustainable Development Goals do you think initiatives like twinning or organisations like Sister Cities are helping to achieve?

  • Do you think the list you made in the previous activity covered them all, or do you think you need to think again about your idea of twinning based on this interview?

  • If you are in another part of the country, or a different part of the world, why not find out where your town is twinned with, and what activities or initiatives they are doing?

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