45 years of friendship!

2019 marks the 45th anniversary of exchange between King James’s School in Knaresborough and Brüder Grimm Gesamtschule in Bebra. Julie Allison, Teacher of MFL at King James's School, tells us how they have kept their partnership alive and kicking for so many years.

How did your link with Germany start out?

The partnership was first established in 1974 by my former colleague, Alan Hemsworth, who still to this day, despite having retired eight years ago, plays an important role in the existence of the exchange. He worked closely with Jochen Hasse, an English teacher in Bebra to establish this amazing partnership. The town of Knaresborough was also twinned with Bebra, Hessen five years earlier in 1969 and they are celebrating their Golden anniversary this year, too!

How have you developed your activities over the years?

I believe it very important to have a good mix of school-based activities and opportunities outside the school environment. Having been leading the exchange for the past 7 years, I feel we now have fine-tuned this! Our German friends spend two / three days in school undertaking specially designed lessons for them in English; this is reciprocated when we return to Germany. Specific trips to English Heritage sites and local towns are included for our German guests as well as a joint German / English trip, usually to Whitby. Sampling Whitby fish n’ chips is a must!

What have been the obstacles and how have they been overcome?

In the summer of 1974 the first party of German pupils came to visit but, as Alan remembers, the exchange struggled to get off the ground. “We had serious difficulties in finding accommodation for all the pupils and only a last-minute appeal in the local paper saved the day.” In the end, two pupils stayed with the local milkman, two with the proprietor of a local coach company and two in a caravan at the bottom of a garden!

Finding host families willing to invite a 14 or 15 year-old German student into their home for a week, to experience the British way of life, has been challenging over the years at times. However, a large majority of host families, both in Knaresborough and Bebra are past participants themselves and feel that reciprocating host duties is important for the longevity of our partnership.

How has the partnership made a difference to your school as a whole?

Our strong links within both schools are well known not just in schools but also within the local community. Knaresborough and Bebra are actually twinned as towns and are in fact celebrating their 50th anniversary this year! Our partnership has truly become engrained into the lives of our schools. German is our second modern foreign language and the uptake of GCSE and A level is certainly on the rise!

What have been the benefits to the young people involved?

Our long-running partnership has touched so many peoples’ lives in both communities and continues to do so through creating memories, making friends for life, overcoming prejudices, promoting tolerance and gaining amazing experiences.

What special celebrations were planned to celebrate the 45th anniversary?

A Gala Event was held on Saturday 6h April to coincide with our German friends’ visit. What a fabulous event it was! 160 guests including our current exchange students and their host families, Headteachers from both schools, alumni participants (including someone who took part in 1979) and Mayors from both towns, as well as our special guest, John Rolfe MBE from the British Council spent an evening catching up with old friends, reminiscing and looking forward to future exchanges.

What are your plans for the future of the partnership?

The main thing is the exchange lives on, as we certainly have something very special to celebrate. The use of social media has made keeping in touch with our friends so much easier and the students are still regularly in contact with their partners, both current and previous participants! As regards the future… plans are already underway for our return trip to Bebra in April 2020 and as long as we have willing staff who are committed to the longevity of the exchange, it will not cease!

Do you have any top tips for other teachers?

Having committed exchange leaders working in schools where there is a desire to recognise and deliver strong international links with partner schools is an absolute must! This exchange has become so firmly embedded in both our schools over the 45 years and I’m convinced it can only go from strength to strength. Here’s to the next 45 years!!

Julie Allison, Teacher of MFL, 2019.

This article is part of the UK-German featured partnerships series.

Would you like to get in contact with the school and find out more about this partnership? Contact us