Carrie Mansfield, The Garage's Creative Director, was fortunate to be asked by Adam Taylor, The Garage’s Executive Director, to go in his stead to Rouen, in France, as part of the City of Norwich Delegation to celebrate the 60th Year twinning anniversary between our two cities. She reflects on the trip.
I read an article earlier in the year which asked ‘What’s the point of twinning?’ and at the time of reading, I was not too sure I knew. However, the timing of the Rouen trip was well-placed for two reasons.
Firstly, during 2019 I had project-managed The Garage’s involvement as the UK partner in the international inclusive dance project DAN.CE IN working with partners from Italy and Spain. This involved the planning and execution of exchanges, travel, shared practice and performances. My confidence in the possibility of international projects had grown considerably and I had experienced first-hand the positive impact travel and creative partnership projects can have on one’s life. I had been enriched both professionally and personally from the experience.
Secondly, the Rouen trip came hot on the heels of The Garage’s national conference New Horizons titled International Inspiration, where we spent the day discussing and debating the benefits and challenges of international collaboration. I listened throughout the day to people’s positive experiences of working across cultures and countries.
As one of eight delegates – which included the Lord Mayor, the Lord Mayoress, the curator of Norwich Museum, the Events and Visitor Programme Manager of Norwich Castle, a tutor from UEA, a film-maker from NUA and a Norwich arts promoter – the trip promised to be an interesting cultural experience just meeting people from my home city.
It was with a positive, can-do and open attitude that I boarded the train at Norwich with my travelling companion and arts promoter Marion Caitlin. We arrived at Rouen Station some seven hours later - after a fantastic, easy trip on the Eurostar, meeting the Lord Mayor Vaughn and his wife Vivien en route who were both fascinating, hardworking, down to earth, lovely people.
Prior to the trip, the Rouen International Affairs Manager Amelie had been diligent in finding out who in the city of Rouen it would be interesting for us to meet. The idea being to share practices, gain insight and begin the journey of creating projects that Norwich and Rouen can collaborate on for the benefit of the people we work with. We each had personalised schedules to suit our work, organisations, experience and interests.
The trip was a whirlwind of meetings and visits, with three-course meals of delicious French cuisine punctuating our activity. Our hosts treated us to the kind of hospitality I didn’t think existed anymore. My gratitude and enjoyment of how well we were looked after was underlined by a feeling of guilt - unused to being treated and spoiled, with the knowledge it would be impossible to return the generosity given to us by the city of Rouen.
Over the course of three days I had meetings with the Head of Rouen Cultural Development, discussing how funding for the arts differs. He was very interested in how The Garage is working towards sustainability through a mixed income model. I met the Director of MJC and we discussed organising a two-day festival in Rouen at her venue, giving young musicians and dancers from the UK the opportunity to travel and perform.
I visited the Victor Hugo Lab and met the Production Designer. We spoke about the opportunities for Norwich artists to have residencies to create work in their spaces.
I met with the Production Manager of music organisation The Kalif. We talked about bringing bands from Rouen over to perform at next year’s Wild Paths Festival in Norwich. The Festival organiser teaches for The Garage on our Music Programme.
I visited the Rouen Conservatoire of Music, Dance and Theatre and discussed possibilities with the head for tutor exchanges so our students and their’s get to work with new and diverse delivery artists.
In-between each meeting we moved through the city on foot and by tram, stopping frequently in awe and admiration at the beauty of the place. I have to say, I fell in love.
During my time in Rouen the This Is England Film Festival was taking place. The organisers programme new UK-made short films which culminate in an award ceremony. We were invited along to these evening screenings and the awards.
Throughout, the city of Rouen was celebrating the UK and advocating for us.
Over lunches, dinners – and a few drinks – I was able to get to know not only our French hosts, but also my fellow delegates from Norwich. I gained a much better understanding of the work being delivered by cultural peers across our city and the role and hard work of our Mayor and Mayoress. As the trip came to an end – after another easy train trip back to Norwich – I realised the experience had given me much more than just contacts to deliver international projects with. It had also been the catalyst for forging new friendships.
I for one will use the relationships developed to create opportunities for meaningful projects with our friends from across the channel. To demonstrate that, even in this climate, there is a willingness and a drive to work with people from other cultures. To learn from each other, to understand each other and share this world we live in.
Next time you see a sign that says Norwich twinned with Rouen, use it as a reminder that there is a place out there linked specifically to Norwich, with people in the city who care, who are invested in building friendships, partnerships and creating working relationships relevant to today.
And next time you get a break, consider visiting Rouen, I promise you will love it!