1993 The Bridgwater Czech Link develops

By 1993 we had a formal twinning and we’d sent groups and individuals to each others countries. But where now? Bridgwater’s name and reputation was spreading across the new Czech and Slovak Republics, independent as of January 1st 1993. In these days there wasn’t an internet and everything was done by letter. The group planned another ‘big’ trip this time to the ‘Kings Ride’ festival in UH but the popularity of the project was breaking all new records and the year was filled with more and more Czech visitors, and from not just UH.

February 12-20 Smedley and McCausland decided to go for a train trip to the Czech lands and took with them Stuart Croskell. The deep mid winter might have been a bad time to go. But they met a new contact – Ken Biggs and his wife Zdena. Ken runs a Communist ‘fanzine’ called Postmark Praha and Zdena is a teacher. The group also visit Uherske Hradiste and find that Liba Koluchova has now set up the youth wing of the young Czech social democrats as the UH branch of the friendship society. Smedley has to ask her to open it to all political parties. Ceske Budejovice where Alena Tragrova is coming up with lots of new ideas for projects.

April 1993 and Sedgemoor District Council recognises the work of the Czech link and increases its grant to £700 a year. By Summer 1993 239 Czechs have visited Bridgwater 191 have been home hosted. The members in addition raise £805 through their own fundraising in 1992 and another £790 in 1993.

April 27 a coach party of 45 Czechs from Uherske Hradiste led by teacher Milan Stepita come to Bridgwater

milan stepita

May 21-June 2nd The ‘Big Trip’ of the year to the Czech republic includes Bridgwater Mayor John Turner, Sedgemoor chairman Patrick Daniels and chief executive Allan Lovell. A civic group flies and the rest drive 2 minibusses across. The group stays in the Plachy Hotel in Luhacovice and takes part in the Jizda Kralu (Kings Ride) festival. The journey is broken in the German twin town of Fritzlar. Attempts to make links with Czech Trades Unions are slightly succesful, but the TUs are still too linked with the Communist past. Better news in Ceske Budejovice as Alena Tragrova introduces Smedley to Eva Kordova and Jan Zahradnik who run the CAG (Czech English High School) and a long programme of events is dreamed up and then put into practice.

Patrick Daniel and John Turner meet a visiting Czech dignatory

June 25- Jana Hubena and a group of Teachers from UH visit Bridgwater and another long term friendship and programme of links is conjured up. Jana Hubena teaches at the Agricultural College and links are created with the Bridgwater Young Farmers.

July 10 Czech students from SPS school in UH visit Bridgwater.

On July 18 Czech students join the TUC coach to the Tolpuddle festival. It pours with rain, they have no idea why they’re there or why lots of old men are marching around a small Dorset village carrying red flags and spend most of the rainstorm in a very small busshelter. All 45 of them.

July 20 A coach from Ceske Budejovice turns up. Rather unexpectedly. Accommodation is quickly arranged on gym mats in the sports hall at the YMCA. Jan Zahradnik -the headmaster of this private school, has organised the trip in conjunction with Rotary (Swindon).

Zahradnik meets Mayor John Turner

July 26 A group of 6 Czechs who are the sons of Trades Unionists visit and are home hosted. This has been organised with Ken Biggs.

The summer of 1993 is basically full of more and more Czechs turning up in Bridgwater. Small groups, large groups, overlapping groups. Many people are very happy to home host but for others it’s getting a bit much. A direction is needed.

Aug 11 the AGM sees a change in personel as Trades Unionist John Gwilliam becomes Chairman. Smedley is re-elected secretary and says “We are becoming a victim of our own success”. The society changes it;s name to the BRIDGWATER-CZECH-SLOVAK FRIENDSHIP SOCIETY

17 Aug another Czech coach full of students arrive. This time its c/o Keith Painter who is now living in UH and in the process of setting up his own agency combined with an au pair agency. They are supported by the Daniels , Patrick and Tessa. Also involved is Lea Slovackova from the UH Kultury Klub

Sept 2-9  Brian and Elaine fly to Vienna and are met by Antonin and taken to UH. The visit is to help to unite the developing factions in UH within and around the Czech-English friendship society. The Cesko-Anglicky Klub is set up. Jana Hubena agrees to investigate the HOPS scheme for agricultural work in UK.

November 1993 a bid for extra funding for the Czech project to SDC is rejected. Smedley & McCausland, Sedgemoor Labour councillors point out the considerable increase in work and request equity with the German twinning group. This is rejected. The Germans are awarded £4,000 and the Czechs just £700. Smedley attends a series of Local Government International Bureau Conferences and sources funding from numerous European enlargement projects. There now commences an annual funding splurge where the Bridgwater Czech Society submits numerous projects and is awarded the appropriate money receiving some large settlements which set up the organisation for a major increase in 1994 with adequate funding.

December 1993  Smedley attends the Manchester LGIB conference and it becomes clear that the Bridgwater Czech link is the single most active in the country

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