TEN years after the UK became a member of the European Economic Community – otherwise known as the EEC or Common Market – two members of Woking Soroptimists were inspired to “widen horizons” for people in the borough.

In 1982, Anne Lusher and Joan Larcombe set up a town twinning club, aiming to develop friendships and special relationships with other member countries.

They laid the foundations for Woking to form close relations with three towns – Amstelveenin The Netherlands, Le Plessis-Robinson in France and Rastatt in Germany.

The first connection developed in 1983, when former Woking Mayor Egerton Spanton was invited to become club chairman. as he had strong connections with Amstelveen, in the suburbs of Amsterdam.

After Marlie Roes, a Dutch national, joined the committee, a Dutch week was arranged in Woking, with the then mayor, John Jewson, taking an active part in the proceedings. Marlie went on to become chairman from 2012 to 2021.

Regular cultural and school visits with Amstelveen followed, and Woking Mayor Alec Grayson signed a twinning charter between the two towns in 1989.

The club was renamed in 1992 as Woking Town Twinning Association. Members of the Woking-based Bourne Concert Band arrived in Amstelveen to visit Dutch towns and play with their local counterpart, the Patrimonium, in a historic joint concert. The band is still connected with the association.

Regular contact was maintained with the town and, in 2017, the Amstelveense Stadsdraken – the Amstelveen City Dragons – came to Woking to compete in the Woking & Sam Beare Hospice dragon boat races on Goldsworth Park Lake, which they won.

As many association members spoke French, it was decided that a connection should be made with a community in France. In 1992, a link was formed with Le Plessis-Robinson, a town around six miles south west of Paris.

A declaration of friendship was made, followed by a charter signed in 1993 between Woking Mayor Rosie Sharpley and the Mayor of Le Plessis-Robinson, Philippe Pemezec.

Over the years, exchanges between the English and French communities have included sporting, business and educational activities. There are well-supported relationships between pupils of Barnsbury Primary School and the Henri Wallon Primary School as well as West Byfleet Junior School and Louis Hachette School in Le Plessis-Robinson.

The French town hosts a popular festival in June known as the Fête des Guinguettes which association members have attended. The tradition is to dress in turn-of-the-century Belle Epoque style for the event, to enjoy dancing, local food and ride in a classic car.

The town gets part of its name through restaurateur Joseph Gueusquin building a restaurant perched in a large tree there in 1848. He named it the Grand Robinson, in reference to Robinson Crusoe, the castaway in the Daniel Defoe novel. It was an immediate success with crowds flocking out of Paris to enjoy the fresh air and rural atmosphere.

Such restaurants became known as guinguettes and were the locations for dining and dancing on Sundays.

With German speakers joining the association, it soon became obvious that a partner town in Germany should be sought. Rastatt, a baroque town in the vicinity of the Black Forest, was found and an official charter with its community signed in 2001 by Woking Mayor Ian Eastwood in the beautiful Ancestors Hall of the town’s Residenz Castle.

Rastatt is home to a Mercedes Benz assembly plant and sales outlet, similar to the McLaren Technology Centre in Woking.

It also holds a bi-annual street theatre festival, the Tête-à-Tête, which draws crowds of people from all over Europe. Performers arrive from far and wide congregating after work late at night for a feast in the town’s popular Nachtkeller.

Forty years after the town twinning club was founded, and with the UK no longer part of the organisation that the EEC eventually became, the European Union, Woking Town Twinning Association continues to maintain strong links with Le Plessis-Robinson and Rastatt.

Longstanding committee member and former Woking Mayor Anne Roberts said: “While there have been invitations over the years to our twin towns,Woking has hosted a considerable number of visits by their partners.

“The liaison with Amstelveen has not continued, but the relationship with Le Plessis-Robinson has endured, with French students visiting Woking and a strong liaison between Barnsbury School and the Henri Wallon school. Contact with Rastatt also continues.

“Under the chairmanship of former leader of the council and past mayor John Kingsbury, Woking Town Twinning Association now looks forward to arranging regular social occasions and keeping in touch with our European partners.”

The association has arranged a buffet supper to celebrate its 40th anniversary. It takes place at TS Dianthus, the Sea Cadets headquarters in Goldsworth Park, on Wednesday, 21 September. Anyone who would like to attend is asked to email Chris Sansom at [email protected] for more information.