Last Updated: Jan 8th, 2015 - 07:42:25

Hopewell celebrates 20-year relationship with England
By Caitlin Davis, Senior Staff Writer
Apr 15, 2013, 16:19

CAITLIN DAVIS/HOPEWELL NEWS/NEWS-PATRIOT The visitors from England gather in Ashford Plaza at the 20th Anniversary commemoration of the Twinning Association.

Though Ashford, Kent, England, is thousands of miles and an ocean away from Hopewell, the relationship between the sister cities has been grown in strength for 20 years. That friendship was celebrated on Thursday in Ashford Civic Plaza as the Hopewell Twinning Association commemorated 20 years of twinning.

Started back in 1993, Hopewell’s Twinning Association was founded to pay tribute to the history that exists across those thousands of miles. Clint Strong, founder of the Hopewell Twinning Association, said a plant worker told him about the connection Hopewell shared with England. Francis Eppes, founder of City Point in Hopewell, was born in Ashford, England. It was then that Strong decided to connect the two cities.

“The idea was to get citizens and students going back and forth, because Hopewell at that time, the students didn’t look beyond Hopewell and Virginia,” Strong said. “And we wanted to broaden their horizons.”

Since the group was founded, five groups of students have traveled those thousands of miles to England.

At a 20th anniversary commemoration at Ashford Civic Plaza on Thursday, the visitors from Friends of Hopewell in Ashford, Kent, England, gathered at the plaza along with current and former members of Hopewell’s Twinning Association, to share 20 years of memories and share in the dedication of a directional sign in the plaza, similar to signs that are seen in England.

“It’s a great reminder of our international relationship with the English,” said Ken Emerson, president of the Hopewell Twinning Association, during the dedication of the sign, which was paid for by current and past members, as well as donations. “We hope that we will be able to remember it every day as we pass by here.”

After the ceremony, Emerson said it was an honor to be standing in the plaza marking 20 years as an organization.

“The interest has stayed with twinning,” Emerson said, also noting that the visitors from England do not stay in hotels in the area, but rather in the homes of residents. “It has been very, very successful. You make friends, you get to know the people over there, the way they live and you become fond of them and they become fond of you.”

Mayor Mike Bujakowski said having the visitors from England and having the association for 20 years has changed Hopewell. Bujakowski presented Mark Whitling, chairman of Friends of Hopewell in Ashford, Kent, England, with Hopewell’s flag.

“One of the great things that is always helpful to this city and to my hometown and most people here to their hometown is when we have the ability to have good people come into our city regardless of where they come from or how long they stay here,” Bujakowski said. “It makes us a better place and we are certainly a better place today to have these fine folks from England visiting here with us and I thank you for making that effort.”

The Friends of Hopewell spent Thursday visiting the city, including a day at Hopewell High School, hearing musical selections from the choirs, jazz band and sampling some dishes from the culinary classes. For the rest of their visit, the Friends of Hopewell have planned to visit Henricus Park, Richmond, Williamsburg and the shipyard in Norfolk.

Whitling, who was in Hopewell for his third visit, said it was always a pleasure to travel those thousands of miles to the city, saying the residents of the city are always welcoming and friendly.

“Even though we’re 4,000 miles apart, we got a very close friendship,” Whitling said. “More than we have with some people at home ... the fact that you’re celebrating that connection, also just celebrating different cultures, different friendships, different environments. All around it’s just a fascinating opportunity to be involved in and visiting somewhere else many miles away that you wouldn’t necessarily visit otherwise.”

As Whitling stood in Ashford Plaza on Thursday, he looked around and took note that every time he visits the city, it grows and changes. Whitling said he recalls on one visit four years ago when the Beacon Theatre was “effectively derelict” and now is undergoing renovations. He said those changes in Hopewell are akin to those he sees back at home.
CAITLIN DAVIS/HOPEWELL NEWS/NEWS-PATRIOT Mark Whitling, Chairman of Friends of Hopewell in Asford England, addresses the crowd at the 20th Anniversary commemoration of the Twinning Association on Thursday. Whitling said the twinning has provided great friendships over the years.

“It’s certainly interesting,” Whitling said. “It’s like Ashford. It’s changing and new businesses coming, new businesses coming out and grows and develops. They develop as towns in similar ways.”

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