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A warm welcome and help assured for new arrivals

The chief aim of this Brittany based association is to be found in its name, Association Intégration Kreiz Briezh (Breton for Central Brittany) as its proclaimed purpose is to help newcomers settle into their new life in the region.

As well as organising activities including French lessons, outings, a conversation club, fundraising events, a library and get togethers, it provides very good help with administrative tasks with particularly close links to the different French authorities, and, unusually, has its own radio show.

Maggie Fee works in the association’s centre at Gouarec in the Côtes-d’Armor, to give help and advice: “The most common requests are for help with the health system and tax system, but we give advice on a whole range of subjects.

"We have formed a partnership with the CPAM in Côtes-D’Armor, one of the main health social security providers in Brittany, and we can get in contact with them directly by email, which is very helpful. We also work with the local tax offices. It is a two-way relationship as we can ask them for information, but they also contact us sometimes if they need help with someone.  I give a 2 monthly presentation about the French administrative system to our members, explaining our obligations as French residents and how to access the system.”

At present, Brexit is a topic of concern: “We can’t give any answers yet, but I have run well attended conferences on how to apply for a titre de séjour and French nationality. We have also been delighted to take part in a research project initiated by the Brittany region which covers all aspects of the possible effects of Brexit on the area in terms of trade, fishing, education and agriculture, and we were questioned about the impact on British citizens living here.”

The association has 580 current memberships, but more people as each membership card can be for a single person, couple or family. Mrs Fee says that even though she has heard that some British people are leaving France because of Brexit, she feels there is a growing number of people coming to Brittany: “There are new arrivals all the time and we welcome them in our association. Our emphasis is very much on giving people the tools to integrate into the local community. We have activity clubs, but we make sure they do not double up on local ones in the area, so that we can also offer something to the local French population. “

The radio show, Spotlight Radio, run by AIKB, also aims to give English speakers information about Brittany. One of the presenters, who as a retired teacher had never done radio before but thoroughly enjoys it, is Elaine Agrell: “We want to open people’s eyes up to what is going on around here so that they will go out and meet French and Breton people. Our programme started in 2007 and was then a 15-minute weekly show broadcast on a local Breton radio station, which kindly lent us their studios. Now it has evolved so that it is a monthly, 30-minute broadcast, put out on two local stations, but also over the internet, via our website and you can also listen to it as a podcast. We now have our own studio.”

The programme covers many different topics: “We do not want to be a tourist programme, we want to reflect life in Brittany. We have interviewed the director of the Vieilles Charrues Music Festival and been to Lorient and visited the submarine base, for example. Usually the interviews are in English, but if they are in French we add on an English voice over. We will talk to anyone with an interesting story about their life here. We recently chatted to American and Australian people living here, as we thought it is such a long way from home for them. They told us they love living the simple life here.”

It is not only anglophones living abroad who listen to the show.: “We are developing more and more links with local lycées and collèges”, says Mrs Agrell. “We go and meet the students and teachers who listen to our podcasts and we also provide a transcript. We have feedback from all sorts of different listeners, even some in other parts of the world.”

The annual subscription to AIKB costs €40 per household per year, with a one-off joining fee of €10. The premises are open at Gouarec from Tuesday to Friday, 10.30-13.00 and 14-18.00. This month there will be an outing to Château de la Ballue on September 14 and a conference, Getting into The French System on September 27. New members are welcome and details of events are posted on the Connexion website. Email address Telephone: 02 96 24 87 90  

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