Ambitious plans to establish an international welcome group in the town are to be unveiled next week.
The initiative, being spearheaded by Councillor Ron Smith, will be launched at Tuesday night’s Provost’s Council annual general meeting, and it is hoped the group’s inception will see more tie-ups with other foreign towns and organisations, while also maintaining the existing link with Bailleul in France.
Mr Smith says Hawick’s town-twinning arrangement with Bailleul, interest in which has dwindled over the last few years, has “come to the close of its first phase of life”, and he believes an international welcome group would maintain interest in group exchanges through a “much wider field of interests”.
He told the Hawick News: “The town twinning association was formed in 1974 at a time when taking groups to be hosted by local people was an inexpensive way of introducing them to foreign travel. Many successful exchanges took place and firm friendships formed.
“However, in recent years, as package holidays have grown in popularity, the desire to arrange group travel to Bailleul has diminished.”
Councillor Smith said the world was now a much smaller place, and he cited other factors which had influenced the recent lack of twinning development such as the increasing age of early participants, the small number of local residents who now came forward as potential hosts and the increased cost of coach travel.
It was, said Mr Smith, time to move to a “fresh phase of the link”, and he explained that Bailleul’s German twin, Werne, operated a model which encouraged foreign links far more widely.
“Whether the title is business club or international welcome group, the principle is the same – an organisation which exists in the town to help host a programme for business visitors or for individuals or groups making cultural visits.”
Councillor Smith, who has visited Bailleul on several occasions, said that twinning recruitment had been difficult as the areas of interest were somewhat restricted.
And he felt that for an international welcome group, local participants could bring a much wider field of interests.
He continued: “The sole criterion would be that they wanted to show their town, Hawick, in its best light for visitors.
“And a large pool of participants would provide a range of skills and interests, and could involve themselves in as many or as few visits as they wished.
“They could be guides, stewards, performers, hosts or organisers of events, and the key would be to have a flexible team who were prepared to take part in whatever they felt comfortable with.”
Mr Smith added that the link with Bailleul would be “subsumed within the activities of the wider group, and those with a core interest in maintaining the twinning link could then find support for receiving their French visitors from the wider group”.
Jack Yallop, chairman of the Welcome Hosts, who have greeted thousands of visitors to Hawick over the years, said: “We’re all for the international welcome group and support anything at all which would bring more people to the town.”
Provost Stuart Marshall: “I think the setting up of this group will give us the opportunity to widen our scope for attracting visitors to the town, and I must commend Councillor Ron Smith for his efforts in bringing this forward at our AGM.”