This year, Sunderland celebrates 70 years of being twinned with Essen. Essen is the second largest city in the Ruhr area of northern Germany and like Sunderland, has a strong industrial heritage.
Chloe Donkin and Isabella Johnston, two members of Sunderland Youth Council, a group of young people aged 11-19 who represent the voices of young people in Sunderland, had the privilege of making the journey over to Essen with the purpose of discovering more about youth participation projects in the twin city.
During the trip, Chloe and Isabella were joined by other young people from Poland and Finland to share the cultural learning experience. First on the itinerary was a visit to the Essen council chambers, where members of the German youth council speak about issues they are passionate about.
Members of Sunderland Youth Council discussed topics including the Mental Health Charter Mark, a Sunderland scheme that sees Sunderland schools address mental health issues in an educational setting.
The trip provided an excellent chance to learn about Essen’s industrial past and why it is twinned with Sunderland. Chloe and Isabella visited the site of a coal mining pit that has since been regenerated into an area for young people to develop parkour skills and to promote healthy living.
The programme included visiting Ehrenamtsagentur Essen, a volunteering agency where staff discussed how they involve young people in their work and explained the opportunities that are provided through the agency. Whenever there was a moment for free time, Chloe and Isabella enjoyed seeing the sights of Essen, as well as trying some of the local food.
At the end of November, a delegation of five from Essen, led by its Lord Mayor, Thomas Kufen, is due to visit Sunderland for three days to mark the anniversary and to soak up the cultural history of Sunderland.