The Founder and First Chairman, Heather Lemétayer of TWIG (or ESLG as it was known) reflects on the last 25 years in Toulouse:
Can it really be twenty five years since I took the first step towards forming an English-speaking women’s group ? It certainly does not seem that long ! Many times, I have been asked, how the ESLG (or TWIG as we are now known) came to be and this year, our 25th Anniversary, seems an appropriate time to answer that question.
When I first came to Toulouse at the end of 1980, I was very unhappy. It was not the first time I had moved away from England and I was not sure that I wanted to repeat the experience, however, circumstances were such that it seemed the right thing to do. We came and just like many of you reading this, I left my children (then nineteen and twenty two), my cats, my home, my job, my friends and family. Jacques, my husband was totally immersed in his new position and in any case, didn’t really understand how I was feeling, though he did his best. I don’t think I have ever felt so bereft, indeed no-one knows how near I came to returning to England. When I moved to Toulouse we didn’t have easy access to cheap travel, cheap international telephone calls, internet and satellite. I could ‘get by’ in French, but it could be extremely isolating not to be able to share a joke, have a moan about the weather or chat about the everyday, mundane things in life, let alone a discussion about something more serious.
Quite by chance I met a girl who lived near me in Blagnac, she was very kind and I have always been grateful to her. She introduced me to several people and I began to make friends and to attend the Anglican Church which further widened my circle of English speaking friends.
Life was looking up, but I began to feel very strongly that there was a need for an organisation to help English-speaking ladies to contact each other and to help adjust to life in France, but found no real support for the idea when I mentioned it. I wasn’t brave enough to go it alone ! However, some members of the Anglican Church were much more encouraging and one of them, Dick Thornborough, offered to print out some invitations for me. So using the church mailing list as a base, I sent out fifty six invitations to a meeting at my house on the 19th February 1985. Twenty six women came and ‘The Ladies Group’ was formed. It was run very informally with no subscription and no official committee but it was always very democratic with no one person taking decisions and always open to anyone interested in joining. We grew quickly and in 1988 we registered as an ‘Association Culturelle’ under the name ‘The English-speaking Ladies Group of Toulouse’. From then on we ran on more formal lines, in accordance with the French legislation and I headed the group for the initial three years and was Chairman for a further two.
In the beginning we held monthly meetings, with demonstrations and talks given by members on subjects such as cake decorating, painting on wood or the history of Toulouse, the Cathars. I remember our first guided tour of Toulouse was in May 1985 and it proved so popular that it was an annual event for many years, as was the strawberry tea, hosted so elegantly by Margaret Smith from 1987. We organised many visits, to a chocolate factory, the foie gras market, and the vineyards of the local area, we also sought out the Martres Tolosane potteries, the orchid nurseries, ‘La Depeche’ headquarters and the meteorological offices. Soon we were holding meetings twice a month with a monthly ‘tea and chat’ at which children were welcome and weekly handicraft, quilting and painting groups were also formed.
When the group was ‘off the ground’ I began to think about an event that would raise funds for charity and in 1987 we held our first Christmas Fair. It was small enough to take place in the basement of the home of Vi Hastings, but it was very well attended and from then on it was the main event of our year. After a few years we were overtaken by our own success and the Fair grew too big for us to cope alone so we opened it up to other English-speaking associations and a few artisans, all of whom contributed part of their takings to the charities chosen by our members. Subsequently it has been held in Cornebarrieu, Brax, Blagnac and La Salvetat St Gilles. It is a lot of work, but I would like to think that the pleasure of working together for the benefit of others will continue to result in enjoyable anticipation and a happy occasion for us all.
The ‘Welcome and Help’ section was always very important to me, with particular emphasis on welcoming new members and helping anyone who was ill or who had problems. To maintain contact with the members we issued regular newsletters with a programme of activities until, in 1991 Margaret Smith suggested that we start our own magazine and in the same year we produced the first address book. The initial magazine published in April of that year was an A5 booklet, but the next was in the same format we use today. None of us could have realised that the ‘Grapevine’ would become such an established part of the group, however it was only the Summer 1992, Issue 7 that the name Grapevine was used. Over the years a large team participated in the development of each issue, Hilary Davey, Susan Higgs, Linda Fayers-Hallin, Linda O’Keefe, Edna Prince and Susan Dadswell to name but a few.
We continued to grow and organise ever more frequent and varied activities. To add to the existing Special Interest groups several new ones were formed with the result that there really is something for everyone now. Naturally, over the course of twenty-five years things evolve and towards the end of 2005 a ballot was held to change the name of the group. We wanted something that would reflect our evolution and Toulouse Women’s International Group was chosen – TWIG ! Moving with the times we also set up our website which has proved to be a great asset.
Of course, nothing is perfect and we made mistakes along the way, but it gives me great pleasure to see how we have developed and grown over the years. I am delighted to see such vitality and enthusiasm, and I am lost in admiration at the professional organisation of what is now such a large and diverse group. I certainly did not envisage such success when I took that first tentative step twenty five years ago and it is you the members who have achieved this.
I should like to pay tribute to past and present chairmen, committee members, members and their long-suffering partners who have given their generous support and who have done so much to make this such a successful organisation.
My aim was and still is to help other women who come here, perhaps feeling very alone to find comfort and companionship with kind, thoughtful people and I feel that TWIG is fulfilling this role admirably.
Carry on the good work !!