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From Leeds to Lille – working across borders

Today’s guest bloggers responded to a call-out we made in the summer for young ambassadors from Leeds to work in the International Relations team in our French twin city of Lille. Rhiannon Copeland and Megan Dunworth tell us about their first few months in their exciting role.

We left Leeds at the end of October 2018 as fresh graduates looking forward to starting a new professional experience at Lille City Council. As a fellow northern, industrial, cosmopolitan city, Lille did not feel too far from home, yet its Flemish architecture, sweet-smelling waffles and not-so-sweet smelling cheese (Maroilles) soon made it clear we were no longer in Yorkshire!

We grew up together in Leeds attending the same primary and secondary schools before deciding to study French at universities in different cities. We both spent an ERASMUS year living in France during our studies; upon finishing our degree, we were keen to go back to gain more experience in a French working environment as well as improving our language skills and benefiting from French culture. This led us to come across a post on the International Relations Leeds blog, advertising an 8 month paid work experience post at the City Council in Lille. Without realising the other had also applied, we found ourselves accepted onto the programme and in the same city once again!

As part of our role in the International Relations department, we work on projects, events and collaborations between Lille and its fifteen partner cities. These projects are varied and involve creating links with diverse organisations, locally and internationally. The links concentrate on key themes including: youth mobility, sustainable development, education, culture and urban planning.

More recently we have been working on more specific projects. For Megan, she has been following a scheme with Nablus in Palestine which aims to restore important heritage sites in the city’s old town. Urban Planning students from Lille and Nablus are working together on important research covering both cities’ restoration projects. She also is collaborating on organisation for joint sports events with Lille, Cologne and Esch-sur-Alzette. For Rhiannon, she is following Lille’s ongoing promotion of international youth mobility, liaising with key associations who work with young people in the region. In the past few weeks, she has been supporting the organisation of a new project focusing on an arts education exchange between primary schools in Leeds and Lille.

One of the highlights of the programme was taking part in the sixtieth anniversary celebrations of Lille’s partner cities (including 50 years partnership with Leeds) during the Festival of International Solidarity. The fifteenth edition of the festival saw many cultural and educational events promoting international unity. It also welcomed delegations from Lille’s partner cities to participate in a round table discussion where representatives exchanged best practises and ideas for reducing carbon emissions. The event was a great opportunity to meet delegations from all over the world and discover their different initiatives for tackling climate change at a local level.

During our time in the International Relations department, we have gained an important insight into cross-border cooperation, city diplomacy and Lille’s vibrant cultural scene. In the next few months, we are looking forward to following the development of existing projects and taking on challenges as new projects evolve.

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