China calling: Winchester visits mark new possibilities

The Mayor of Winchester, Cllr Angela Clear, has hosted two visits from delegations of Chinese officials.

Greeting the guests at Abbey House, her official residence on Broadway, the Mayor was keen to extend the hand of friendship to local government colleagues.

The first delegation, shortly before Christmas, came from Hubei Province in the south-east. Exploring the links between culture and the economy, the group was delighted to fit in an impromptu tour of Winchester Cathedral, following a presentation by The Rev Canon Dr Roly Riem about the Cathedral’s history and role in the cultural life of the area.

The second delegation last week came from Zhejiang Province. They were keen to find out how local government in the UK is harnessing the power of IT in the delivery of services for residents. In addition to hearing from IT professionals at both Winchester City Council and Hampshire County Council, the group was fascinated by a speaker from the University of Southampton, Dr Yunjia Li, whose academic interests are ‘e-learning, linked data, multimedia, open data, provenance, social networks, user interface design, web 2.0, web services’. Himself a graduate of East China University of Science and Technology in Shanghai, which is in Zhejiang Province, Dr Li also stepped in to help with the technical translation.

Cllr James Byrnes, Winchester City Council’s Portfolio Holder for Local Economy, commented:

Winchester has welcomed a number of groups of Chinese officials over the last couple of years, and in December we had another enquiry from an Anglo-Chinese couple seeking to create a new twinning relationship. At a time when David Cameron and George Osborne are seeking to build links with China for long-term economic advantage, I am interested to see how we might explore this at a more local level, particularly working with the Local Enterprise Partnerships and Chamber of Commerce.

Tourism links are obvious possibilities, and the Council will be creating a new tourism web portal in Chinese in 2016-17. Head of Tourism Ellen Simpson said:

We are invisible to the Chinese world at present. That’s over 21 million people. The number of tourists visiting the UK from China has more than doubled in the last few years, up from 89,000 in 2009 to 185,000 in 2014, making the country one of the UK’s fastest-growing tourism markets. Research shows that they love the romance of the UK, the museums and the landscape. They also stay longer and spend more than many other visitors. Winchester should definitely be part of this.

Winchester already has strong links with China through the School of Art, a campus of the University of Southampton in the city which has a collaborative enterprise in Dalian, one of China’s most affluent regions, home to a large number of hi-tech enterprises and China’s long-established international fair for the fashion and textile industry. Both Universities in Winchester reach out to overseas students, with growing numbers of Chinese enrolments reflecting the appeal of the city as a safe and attractive place with relevant, modern courses.

Cllr Byrnes added:

We are currently taking stock of the contacts we have made. Whatever our direction of travel, we have had some fascinating cultural experiences – characterised by humour and goodwill on both parts, however little language we share in common.