INTERNATIONAL friendships have blossomed in Barnstaple this week with the official twinning of the town with new European cousins. Italian delegates from the Piedmont mountain town of Susa, in Northern Italy, arrived in North Devon on Friday morning to me

INTERNATIONAL friendships have blossomed in Barnstaple this week with the official twinning of the town with new European cousins.Italian delegates from the Piedmont mountain town of Susa, in Northern Italy, arrived in North Devon on Friday morning to meet teachers and pupils at Newport Community School. The entourage, which included Susa Mayor Sandro Plano, regional President Professor Antonio Ferrentino, a local journalist and photographers, met staff and youngsters who have helped foster a special relationship between the two towns that has developed following a chance meeting seven years ago."This is a fantastic day for our school, and for Barnstaple," said assistant head teacher Frances Bell."Seven years ago, a friend of a friend mentioned that there was an Italian school looking to form links with a school in England."I got in touch with Anna Giaccone at the Direzione Didattica di Susa. Anna and I visited each others' schools during half term and we have been co-ordinating exchange trips for the pupils ever since."A real friendship has grown out of our close relationship. We estimate that as many as 500 families in Barnstaple and Susa have been affected by the programme's success."Chairman of governors Theresa Poole said that the relationship had had a profound effect on the way both schools had adopted their approach to both teaching and learning.She said: "It is all about engaging and understanding humanity. To see how children are taught in different settings has transformed the way we think about how children learn."Seeing things from a different point of view helps to develop your own thinking about your own methods and practice."The Italians have taken ideas from us, such as the way we display children's work in the school. We have been inspired by the their openness and friendship with pupils."Mrs Bell said that children at the school were now learning foreign languages from the age of four, in line with Italian counterparts who are taught English from a similar age."It was wonderful to hear all the children - even those in the nursery - greet the Mayor with 'buongiorno' this morning," she added.Speaking to Newport children at a special school assembly, Susa Mayor Sandro Plano said that Barnstaple was a very clean and beautiful town."I am very pleased to be able to come to Barnstaple and mark the friendship between two big towns and two big countries," he said."You are all very well behaved children - much better behaved than Italian children," he joked.Exchanges between the two schools have had a remarkable knock-on effect, also helping to forge links between North Devon College and the nearby University of Turin, and with Exmoor National Park and the Orsiera National Park. And on Friday evening at a special Mayor's Charity Ball at the Barnstaple Hotel, the hand of friendship was further extended with the historic signing of a formal charter - the first to be signed since Barnstaple twinned with Barnstable in the USA, more than 20 years ago.Alan Gracie, chairman of the Barnstaple Twinning Association, said that the event was a proud moment for the town, which has been twinned with Uelzen, in Germany, since 1967, and Trouville, in France, since 1975. "A relationship that started with two teachers has grown with the bonding of two schools, two colleges, two national parks, and now, two towns," he said.On Saturday, the hospitality continued with a civic reception at the Guildhall, where Italian visitors met town councillors and members of the twinning association. After the formalities, the visitors were taken on a tour of the North Devon coast."It was a fantastic few days and great to be able to welcome new friends to North Devon on such a gloriously sunny weekend," said Barnstaple Mayor, Cllr Sue Haywood."The more we can do to unite cultures, the more we can strengthen our friendships and the better our understanding of one other."Cllr Sue Haywood said she was looking forward to visiting Susa with a group of representatives from Barnstaple for the reverse signing of the charter on April 6.