Zutphen, Where The Only Red Lights Are Traffic Lights

So as I promised this is my first brief report from Zutphen in the Netherlands. If you recall this year marks it's thirty fifth year of being twinned with Shrewsbury. I have joined a team of Shrewsbury delagates that are here to explore how the Dutch deal with the anti social element of the town and both the delegates and youth professionals of Zutphen will swap ideas and brainstorm new ones .

The trip is led by Shrewsbury's former mayor Tony Durrell and it comprises of Housing Officers, Teachers, Voluntary youth works and the only full time Shrewsbury Youth worker. And me who has come along for the ride. However, the seminars have been highly useful and networking is happening, realtionships and contacts are being made and that naturally is good for the twinning.

I will later talk a little more on the trips objectives but first let me walk you through some of the lovliest streets of this beautiful medieval town. I will talk of the GroenMarkt. Just down the road from my Hotel. Groen Markt is a wide cobbled street, the architecture ranges from 1360's to present and many of the houses found out their true ages after dendrologists were able to date them from their roof timbers. Obviously as you would expect, work has been done over the centuries and additions and extentions and modernisation has also played a part of the overall look.

Today being Thursday the road was closed for the Market. Once a week there is a massive market that runs for half a mile. The counters are laid out with beautifully  fresh vegetables and fruit, the cheese, or Kaas as it is called here is, is eye catchingly tempting and there seems to be a propensity amongst the locals for buying huge bags of nuts. I even stumbled into a shop that actually sells nothing but nuts. The joke is to say..."are you nuts?"but I would never be so cheap.

The shops are sophisticated with discrete signs tempting you in. Beautiful healthy eating shops, lingerie, fashion shops and wonderful smelling bread shops are all so tastefully decked out. The intelligent window dressing becomes part of the picture.

Amazingly tall churches look over the town from their medieval towers and they see  people hustling and bustling in the market.The bread man is calling out his bread is fresh and tasty, the Green Grocers yells fresh tomatoes, fresh fruit come to me and I will cut you a deal. It was an awesome feeling, and I use that word in its truest sense, to dicover that Zutphen folk have been doing this every thursday since their charter was granted in the fourteenth century.

There is evidence of world wide trading between the Far East and Holland, luxorious goods poured in from all oer the globe and were sold on a thursday to people now long gone. People who had never heard of Shakespeare because he isnt born until the next century. But I get the feeling as I walk around the market, in the rain, that life  isn't so very different now. The market traders still bring in the goods and the people still want them. We of course have this too in our market hall but an out door one ones seem so much more exciting. They have the fair ground feel and smell about them. Every thing smells adorable.

Then I hear the carillion of bells singing out their chimes, full tunes so beautiful that they add texture and harmony to an already bustling soundscape.This to me is an enduring image, a moment that may never be replicated but never forgotten.

The weather over here has been rainy and cold, much colder than Shrewsbury. It comes in heavily and it will soak a man in moments,
believe me I know. Today there was a break for a good twenty minutes and the sun came out and dried up the ground, only so the rain can renew its naughty fun.

Zutphen is a very liberal town, children can drink beer from sixteen and move on to spirits at eighteen. They, of course, also have the coffee shop culture too. Coffee shops are where people meet leaglly to buy and smoke marijuana. Its clientele is probably mostly male and they play cards and pool , they watch telly with the volume off and theres a background sound of trance music. They chat, laugh and get stoned together. It seems they do no harm and the Police agree that the coffee shops rarely are the cause of trouble. They are more concerned with the thieving and drunkeness, they are aware that the coffee shops cater for the law abiding citizen who just wants a smoke. These coffee shops are a safe haven for smokers who would otherwise risk a criminal record and using up massive amounts of Police time.

Zutphen is a busy, beautiful and exciting place for the English man abroad and the hosts here are so hospitable. I have been booked into a wonderful hotel where the food is five star. The comfort is lovely and so are the staff it is so Dutch in architecture and it transmits a sense of calm after a busy day.

So far the delagation has met with social workers, educational welfare officers and police, they have exchanged a whole host of ideas and discussed issues such as theft, truancy, drunkeness and violence. The discussions are lively and fruitful and all the delegates can see first hand the benefits of our twinning and the validity of what they are achieving in their discussions.

Such a beautiful place to be, to learn of these issues.. I think the delegates will be delighted to bring back to the UK their new knowledge and maybe they can try some ideas out.

Zutphen and Shrewsbury belong together and as yet they have only scratched the surface of what they can achieve,



Owen Lewis Owen Lewis

Owen Lewis was born fifty something years ago in the land of the black puddings. For the geographically challenged that is in Lancashire. Moving to Shropshire From 1970 Owen was brought up in Church Stretton. His first real job was in radio. After starting on BBC Radio Shropshire he became known on Marcher Sound, broadcasting throughout the North West for several years. After a university degree course in Theatre, Owen became an actor and went on to play "Pirate Bill" in The Alton Towers Hotel. He also made several television appearances. Returning to university he took his PGCE enabling him to teach. That saw him on the Essex coast as a drama teacher and latterly as a Creative Educational Liaison Officer making films and creating new teaching methods to employ on children in need of more help in their fundamental learning skills. Published playwright Owen ultimately wants a house boat in Amsterdam to focus on his work as Playwright and Poet.

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