Cllr Gareth Lyon is a former councillor in Rushmoor and the Chairman of the Aldershot and North Hants Conservative Association.
In 1908, a pioneering American showman by the name of Samuel Cody, who had drawn inspiration from European innovation and Chinese kite design, undertook the first successful manned aeroplane flight in the UK. Since then Farnborough has been proud of its heritage as the home of British flight – and has retained a resolutely international outlook.
As well as being home to a huge number of cutting edge British, American, and European companies, it also is the home of the UK’s largest private airport – and the world’s best airshow.
Together with Aldershot – proudly home of the British army and also the possessor of a global reputation – it forms Rushmoor. This area is now pioneering a new wave of innovations and international links which are enriching the lives of its residents, attracting huge levels of business investment, innovation, and creativity. All of this whilst proudly building on its history and being sure of its place in the world.
In recent years, Rushmoor has made the decision to reinvigorate its old town twinning approach by bringing in a fresh focus on business and economic development. To this end, the highly respected Rushmoor International Association has worked with local businesses, museums, and the airport to forge links with Dayton, Ohio and Rzeszow in Poland. Both of these towns are the homes of aviation in their own countries and continue to serve as hubs of innovation and expertise in this field.
These international links are real and meaningful on a number of levels – not just to local and international businesses in aviation and associated fields, but also culturally – with local aviation enthusiasts having been crucial in establishing them. The cultural ties are now being embedded and are delivering for the borough as a whole – as the old town twinning practices of involving schools, sports clubs, and the arts, continues to hold sway.
In concrete terms it is certain that major investments such as the Farnborough International Conference Centre and Gulf Stream’s decision to locate its European headquarters in Farnborough are down to both these international links and the global ethos which exists behind them. On a local level too we are seeing the effect of this – with Rushmoor being consistently in the top few areas in the country for both patents and employment year on year.
Aldershot too has been pioneering based on its historical strengths. In recent weeks we have received formal notification from the Embassy of Nepal that the application to build an international link between Aldershot and the municipality of Gorkha. This is both a recognition of the deep and heartfelt friendship between the two areas, courtesy of the Gurkha forces serving in the British Army which have been stationed in Aldershot for much of their history, and of a desire to build stronger and better connections.
Somewhere between five and ten per cent of our local population are thought to be Nepalese or of Nepalese origin and they are a community which is well represented in the ranks of local businesses, voluntary groups, community groups (including the local Conservative Party), as well as of course our armed forces.
Formally recognising these links with Nepal and making it easier for business, education, culture, and mutual understanding to be established between these areas will be much to the benefit of both.
And of course, it goes without saying that as a well-run Conservative council, Rushmoor is not splurging taxpayers money on these partnerships nor funding councillors’ junkets for fact-finding missions etc. These partnerships are organic, community-led, and backed by business – and are all the more sustainable and meaningful for being so.
These new global partnerships exist alongside the old and important ties we have built with European friends – such as Meudon in France and Oberursel in Germany. I am confident that these will continue to be valued and meaningful in future.
It is this approach of building on our shared history and values, incorporating new approaches, innovation, business, and growth whilst retaining a cultural focus and a friendship with our European neighbours which should serve a model for how towns across Britain can thrive in future.
Indeed there are lessons here for the UK as a whole. Take heed and take flight.