Leeds strengthens French connection as it renews twin city link with Lille
Leeds City Council has put pen to paper on an agreement that reaffirms its special relationship with the French community of Lille.
Leeds has been twinned with Lille for more than 50 years and during that time the two cities have worked closely on a range of arts, education and business projects.
Now, following the UK’s exit from the European Union, the partner cities have signed a new memorandum of understanding as part of efforts to maintain and strengthen co-operation post-Brexit.
The memorandum pledges that Leeds and Lille will work together in a number of fields of co-operation – including youth mobility, health and wellbeing, climate change and inclusive growth – with a view to supporting local economies, creating jobs, enhancing social cohesion and encouraging cultural diversity.
Leeds City Council leader Councillor James Lewis visited Lille yesterday for the signing ceremony, where he was joined by Jérôme Pianezza, the northern French city’s municipal councillor for international relations.
Following the signing, Councillor Lewis and Mr Pianezza held discussions on a number of topics, including the Ukrainian refugee crisis.
The human cost of Russia’s invasion has been felt particularly keenly in Lille, which counts Kharkiv, in Ukraine, among its other partner cities.
Councillor James Lewis, leader of Leeds City Council, said:
“It was an honour to represent Leeds at the signing ceremony and confirm our ongoing support for the relationship we have enjoyed with Lille for more than half a century.
“The ceremony came at a time when tragic events elsewhere in Europe are offering a reminder of the importance of understanding and shared values, and I thank everyone in Lille for the warm welcome I received.
“We are very proud of our ties with Lille and our other partner cities around the world. These links add an extra dimension to many aspects of life in Leeds, including culture, sport, education and business.
“Sharing knowledge and expertise is a fine way of bringing people in different countries closer together – here’s to the next 50 years of our friendship with Lille.”
Mr Pianezza added: “The city of Lille is very pleased to have welcomed Councillor Lewis, leader of Leeds City Council, to renew the historic cooperation between Lille and Leeds. Fifty four years after the officialisation of our partnership, our two cities wanted to reaffirm, through the signature of a new cooperation agreement, the links and exchanges of good practices that unite us, despite of Brexit.
“As municipal councillor in charge of International and European Relations, I attach particular importance to the relationship with Leeds and intend to strengthen this cooperation and our shared values and ideas in no less than six areas of cooperation: climate change and the sustainable city, education, training and youth mobility, culture and sport – including the theme of sustainable culture – and the fight against discrimination.”
Leeds and Lille’s relationship was originally formalised with two twinning ceremonies, one held in France in October 1968 and the other at Leeds Civic Hall the following April.
Since then, regular exchanges involving young people, academics and businesses have taken place between the cities.
Dame Menna Rawlings DCMG, Her Majesty’s Ambassador to the French Republic, said: “I am delighted that the historic cities of Lille and Leeds have agreed a new MoU to define their future partnership. French and British cities have so much to gain by working together to enrich their communities and to tackle common challenges.
“The British Embassy will continue to support efforts to reinforce regional links between the UK and France. I’m certain that the next 50 years of the Lille/Leeds relationship will be exciting ones.”
The 50th anniversary of the official start of the Leeds-Lille partnership was marked in 2018 with a tree-planting ceremony at Temple Newsam and an exhibition at Leeds Town Hall.
Leeds last year underlined its commitment to co-operation with partners across Europe by signing updated memoranda of understanding with another two of its twin cities – Dortmund in Germany and Brno in the Czech Republic.
The basic concept of establishing formal links between towns and cities in different countries dates back hundreds of years, but the popularity of twinning really began to grow during the middle part of the 20th century as communities throughout Europe sought to forge new cross-border connections and heal the scars left by the Second World War.