CELEBRATIONS of Barnsley’s long shared history with a town in southern Germany will finally go ahead after a year of uncertainty.
This year is, officially, the 50th anniversary of the twinning agreement that took place between Barnsley and Schwabisch Gmund, a town in the foothills of the Swabian Alps with a population of a little more than 60,000.
But, owing to the pandemic, ambitious plans to mark the occasion have necessarily had to be postponed until June next year.
What shape they will take, say Barnsley Schwabisch Gmund Society, is largely dependent on those who want to get involved.
As it has been a bed for blooming community spirit, lockdown has seemingly strengthened the relationship between the two towns - brought together not on commonalities in industry or politics, but after a very human act of kindness that pre-dates the agreement’s signing.
Most recently, German officials sent over rafts of personal protective equipment to Barnsley when they heard about shortages.
In December 1984, during the miners’ strike, an appeal in Schwabisch Gmund’s local newspaper saw £15,000 worth of Christmas presents sent to the borough.
In return Gmundians have, for decades, had the pleasure of relaxing in the ‘Barnsley Garden’, and, next to it, a British red telephone box houses a small international library.
The phone box, a gift from Barnsley, would be used to conduct calls between the two towns in the early days of the twinning.
Particularly in the current climate of lockdowns and Brexit, society chairman Alan Brentnall said, such close and personal partnerships are vital.
“One positive from this coronavirus pandemic that we have all witnessed is the revival of our community spirit,” he said.
“I think it was always there really, somehow forgotten, but it is now back in bucketloads and we should all grasp it with both hands, hold on to it and enjoy the feel-good factor of helping and sharing with our fellow human beings.”
Barnsley is also twinned with the Ukrainian town of Gorlovka - sparked by a short stay by a group of miners in the former Soviet state in 1956 - and Barnsley Chronicle character Sam Barn was famously taken into space in 1998 by cosmonaut Alexander Volkov and became the Mir Space Station’s mascot for a time.
But the town’s relationship with Schwabish Gmund remains a special one.
In 1954, a coachload of children from Schwabisch Gmund set to visit South Wales were abruptly turned around after a foot-and-mouth outbreak.
Barnsley town councillor Arthur Williams, seeing the distraught youths, invited them to Scout Dyke and unintentionally set off a chain reaction.
Former mayor Coun Steve Green, a distant relation to Mr Williams, became close to the society as a result of his familial connection.
“My uncle married the daughter of Arthur Williams and I can recall vividly enthused conversations between them about Schwabisch Gmund and its people,” he said.
“I have been very fortunate to witness for myself the warmth and kindness of Gmundians, together with my wife Tracy, we had the great pleasure of visiting three times during my mayoral year.”
The key to sustaining the partnership, Alan said, is the involvement of young people - as was the case in that moment of coincidence and kindness more than half a century ago.
A unicorn sculpture - inspired by Schwabisch Gmund’s coat of arms - is currently capturing kids’ imagination as part of the town centre ‘Fantastical Beasts’ series, and will hopefully act as a starting point for a series of events next year.
“Barnsley Schwabisch Gmund Society would like to hear from anyone who feels they want to help promote and increase the friendship between our two towns, secure the future of the society and contribute to plans for the 50th anniversary celebrations in 2022,” said Alan.