ABOUT a year and a half ago, I wrote about a trip I had made to a town called Pascani in Romania.
I travelled with and have since become involved with a charity called ECHO, the European Children’s Help Organisation and we were working on a small project that would provide the area with a similar venue to Carlton Camp that would allow schools to take children and experience outdoor activities, team building and a totally different way of learning.
The project has since encountered a few obstacles and ECHO. is not directly involved any longer. However it is hoped that the owner of the land and facilities will see the project through.
During my visit, I met up with the Mayor of Pascani and we have since stayed in touch. At the time, he had recently been elected into office for the first time and was the first mayor for many generations that wasn’t part of the majority party.
He has found it difficult to get support from the rest of the councillors for any of his ideas and it seems that party politics is doing its worst to hold back any progress that the mayor wants to make.
Undeterred, the mayor bid for some European funding to help improve and develop the staff at the town hall and, as part of this, a visit to a local authority somewhere in Europe is funded so that the staff can learn from best practice and experience first hand how a good council in another country operates.
I was delighted that they chose to come to Hartlepool and I’ll never miss an opportunity to share our skills and experiences withy anyone who listens.
A delegation of twenty people, including the mayor and the deputy mayor, flew into Newcastle a week past Saturday and spent a very busy week in and around Hartlepool.
I’m proud to report that the visit was a resounding success and that everyone has left holding the town of Hartlepool and its people in the very highest esteem.
Two volunteers from ECHO were kind enough to give up their time to drive the Romanians from place to place during a very busy schedule and help to arrange plenty of extra curricular activities that gave our visitors a real taste of what life is like in Hartlepool.
A number of morning were spent at the civic centre speaking to staff and officers from different departments and getting a feel for how
local government operates in England and particularly how we approach different issues here in Hartlepool.
It was certainly interesting to learn a little bit about how different things work in Romania and what really struck me was the scale of some of the problems in Pascani, like poverty for example, and the country’s attitude towards it.
It seems like the state doesn’t do, nor doesn’t even want to do, anything about it.
Throughout the week, visits were made to places like HMS Trincomalee, the Heugh Battery, Salthome, Carlton Camp and even Stranton School for an assembly.
A trip to Durham Cathedral proved to be very popular and, although I couldn’t make it, I understand everyone was throwing a few shapes on the dance floor at the Mayfair on Friday night at a Take That tribute night.
The message I got back more than any other however was about the welcome they had received from absolutely everyone where ever they went.
They were gushing in their praise for the warmth and friendliness of Hartlepudlians and it had blown all of their preconceptions out of the water about the English being rather cold and snobbish.
It was nice to hear some of them say they will definitely come back for a holiday in the future and one lady is already planning to bring her family for a visit in the summer.
It was really pleasing to hear them heap praise on everyone they met at the council and that they could really feel a good working atmosphere and could see why we are rated so highly.
With a bit of luck, they’ll feed it back to their European funders who might just be looking for somewhere to spend some of their money in the future.
It’s easy to question what we get out of a visit like this and, on the face of it; the answer is not a lot.
What it does do though is create new relationships and open the door to potential opportunities further down the line.
Apart from the extra profile it brings the town; it gives us strong links to a place in a country that would never have previously been on the radar.
There could be great value in schools and even businesses working with their counterparts in Pascani further into the future.
The mayor talked about the possibility of twinning our two towns and jointly working on a tourism project.
ECHO is still very much involved in Pascani and I’m hoping the Mayor will use his influence to help get a few things off the ground for children over there.
The possibilities are endless and the reality is that the name and the good reputation of Hartlepool are stretching out across Europe and all round the world, which can only be a good thing.