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Exclusive Interview

Last week saw the visit to Tbilisi of Alderman Derek Pickup, Honorary Consul of Georgia for South West England, First Guardian of Tbilisi and Chair of the Bristol -Tbilisi Twinning Association. He brought with him Stephen Fear, Founder and Chairman of the Fear Group, and Paul Hinchcliffe, Lecturer at the University of the West of England, to explore investment opportunities in the fields of tourism, infrastructure, housing and agriculture.

GEORGIA TODAY spoke to Mr. Pickup to find out more about the Bristol-Tbilisi Twinning and what it means to be an Honorary Consul.

“During the Cold War, Bristol City Council decided to start Twinning as a way to build bridges to avoid a third World War. Their first ‘Twin’ was Hannover, then, in the 80s, they realized a Twin in the Soviet bloc would be good. In 1988, Bristol twinned with Tbilisi- there was an exchange of delegations but at the civic level; an exchange of artists going on in the background but not much officially. Shortly after that, the [civil] war started disrupting the country. Everything went very quiet and it wasn’t possible to carry on a proper Twinning. Then, in 1995, the Bristol City Council (BCC) got a letter from one of the directors of Tbilisi City Council, saying, 'you’re our twin city, you know we recently gained independence; we had a civil war. Things have been difficult, but now they’ve settled down. What can you do to help us?' The Chief Executive at the BCC gave the letter to me and told me to think of some ways to help, but to do so with no financing whatsoever. That’s what I’ve been doing ever since”.

In 1996, Pickup brought the first big delegation from Bristol to Georgia with the aim of stimulating business links. “Even 20 years ago, Twinning was a 360-degree concept, not just about culture, friendship and academic links, but also about connecting businesses and increasing the wealth of our cities.

He admits the timing was wrong, though. British businesses were conservative and were reluctant to come over [to Georgia]. “Of course, if they had invested in land in Georgia back then, they’d all be millionaires today,” he says. “20 years ago, it was grim in Tbilisi. When I organized the first delegation in 1996, we didn’t know if it was safe to come here. Nobody spoke English. There was one 5-star hotel (Sheraton). Now there’s everything from Airbnb to hostels…though I’m not so impressed with look of The Biltmore,” he tells us in an aside. “Some of the city planning decisions have been horrendous, but there’s growing recognition that better care needs to be taken in this regard”.

In 2014, the Prime Minister of Georgia made Pickup ‘First Guardian of the City of Tbilisi’. It was a new award for foreigners who, over a prolonged period of time, had given a lot to the city. The same year the President gave him Georgian citizenship.

Recently, Ambassador of Georgia to the UK, Tamar Beruchashvili, invited Pickup to be Honorary Consul in order to give him “more authority in what I was doing towards building links”. It’s unpaid, and he gets no resources but, he says, “I’m here to make things happen; to make connections”.

With Kakha Jorjoliani the owner of the London Palace Hotel

Next year will be the 30th anniversary of the Bristol-Tbilisi Twinning. The Guild of Guardians, a medieval guild established over 500 years ago in Bristol, represents the 60 top companies. “Every second year they make a trip together and I persuaded them to do next year’s trip in Tbilisi,” he says. In one year’s time, 25 business persons will come to Georgia for four days. Three of those will be spent sight-seeing, and on the final day there will be a business seminar, hosted by TBC in their Headquarters. “The theme will be business opportunities in Georgia,” Pickup tells us.

British business is still conservative, aiming for investments with as little risk as possible. “That’s why BP has been the only major British company to invest so much here as, for them, the returns were too good to miss. Other companies are more reticent, though. This particular trip I was invited for the Local Economic Development forum focused on developing cities. I grabbed the opportunity and brought Stephen and Paul along to look at linking with businesses and universities,” Pickup tells us. “Stephen being here is an excellent chance to show what Georgia has to offer- his Tweets alone can reach up to 2 million people”.

“My job is to stimulate links between the two countries for the benefit of both. We’re building more people-to-people connections. When new Georgian ambassadors come in in the UK, they get a day’s program in Bristol meeting civic, business and academic leaders; they look around the city to get a background of what we’re trying to do and I encourage them and the Mayor to pass on a file about that connection and our aspirations”.

“I’m there to promote, cajole and oil the wheels in as many ways as possible and to open doors,” Pickup says. “If someone like Stephen wants to come over to Georgia, I make sure he gets to see the people he wants. I’m a connector- I’ve known a lot of people who were tea boys and girls 20 years ago who are now working as ministers,” he adds.

Katie Ruth Davies http://georgiatoday.ge/news/7621/Pickup-on-the-Bristol-Georgian-Twinning

 

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