Pedal-weary cyclists from Germany and Poland have praised South Tyneside College and its Ofsted ‘outstanding’ rated Dr Winterbottom Halls of Residence for high-quality hospitality and accommodation during a cultural and friendship stay.
Thirty-two riders used the halls as a home-from-home during a five-day visit to South Tyneside, and they also replenished their energy levels by dining in the college’s recently upgraded The Dock refectory.
The cyclists, from South Tyneside’s German twin town Wuppertal, and from Wuppertal’s German and Polish twins – the cities of Schwerin, and Legnica, respectively - rode 225 miles to celebrate the 21st anniversary of cycling friendship links across Europe.
On the way, they were met on the German-Holland border by Tom Fennelly, Neil Frier and Alan Ward, members of South Tyneside Green Route, a cycling organisation founding from the first riding expedition in 1997.
That was when a group of South Tyneside cyclists came up with the idea of riding to Wuppertal, which led to the formation of a similar group - now named Der Grüne Weg, the equivalent of ‘The Green Route’ - in the German town the following year.
Since then, there have been numerous exchanges between South Tyneside and Wuppertal in which hundreds of cyclists have journeyed thousands of miles in both directions, forging long-lasting friendships.
The Green Route is an unofficial series of cycleways across parts of Europe, established by the South Tyneside and Wuppertal riders.
Wolfgang Mohrhenn, of Der Grüne Weg, said: “South Tyneside College has been very welcoming and its staff have been very friendly towards us.
“Taking part in this ride, we don’t feel like sportsmen but rather tourists who want to get in touch with other people and cultures.
“Cycling is a great way of meeting people – we have to take the challenge and make people open their hearts, and that’s the main idea behind this.
“Through our cycling exchanges we aim to promote peace and understanding of different cultures across Europe.”
Tom added: “All our visitors have been greatly impressed by the hospitality and the warm welcome given by everyone at South Tyneside College, and the accommodation at the Halls of Residence has been fantastic.
“The riders have been made to feel very at home, and the college has been a tremendous ambassador for town twinning. It has been a real credit to South Tyneside.
“Cycling is a healthy and sustainable way of travelling, crossing borders and boundaries, meeting people, learning different customs and experiencing the fruits of twin town friendships and strengthening such relationships.
“On previous visits to Wuppertal we have met with cyclists from their other twin towns and it is wonderful that the groups from Schwerin and Legnica have come to South Tyneside.”
Alison Maynard, Deputy Chief Executive of Tyne Coast College, of which South Tyneside College is part, said: “I’m delighted that the cyclists enjoyed their stay with us.
“They benefited from first-class hospitality, which included fantastic food, and accommodation that cannot be beaten in any college.
“Cultural and friendship visits such as this have helped to strengthen relations between South Tyneside and Europe for many years, and it is important that people play their part in maintaining, and even extending these.”
Some of the Wuppertal cyclists have previously stayed at the Halls of Residence during other riding and music performance visits. However, none of the Schwerin or Legnica group had visited England before.
The riders were welcomed to South Tyneside by the Mayor, Councillor Norman Dick, when they arrived on Wednesday, July 3.
They met at the Friendship Oak Tree outside the Littlehaven Hotel, South Shields, which marks the start and finish of the Green Route, and later enjoyed an official civic reception.
During their stay they also enjoyed several other events and visits, including taking part in the South Tyneside Summer Festival parade.
And they made a special bike ride to Gateshead to visit the Angel of the North, which they have adopted into the title of their visit, the ‘Angels of Europe Tour 2019’.
The Halls of Residence, used mainly by young mariners studying at world-famous South Shields Marine School, also part of Tyne Coast College, was rated ‘outstanding’ by government education inspectorate Ofsted in May 2018.
Ofsted found the support residential students receive to be so effective that they achieve more than their non-residential peers, benefiting from progress that was ‘significant and sustained’.
Inspectors judged all three inspection categories – overall experiences and progress, how well young people are helped and protected, and the effectiveness of leaders and managers – as being first class.