When I moved to San Pedro del Pinatar from northern Spain in 2001 there were still only a small number of English residents in the town.   Over the following few years a number of new residential areas grew up and the English speaking population of San Pedro started to grow dramatically.  As a language teacher I have always been interested in the relationship between different cultures and language groups and during my first few years in the area I worked in a number of ways to encourage the integration of British residents in Spain.

In early 2008 I was approached by the Citizens Participation department of San Pedro town hall with the suggestion of forming an association of British residents.  The idea immediately appealed and I spent a few days thinking through the idea and deciding on a name, eventually coming up with ADAPT which came from my choice of official title in Spanish “Asociación De AngloParlanTes” and also expresses the main concept of the association.  With the help friends I advertised a preliminary meeting at the Casino to explore the idea of forming an association.  To my amazement about 80 people came along and there was a unanimous vote to go ahead, as well as eight volunteers to form the first committee.

The Citizens Participation Department, in the person of Eva González, was tremendously helpful in getting all the paperwork sorted out and in April 2008 we held a presentation ceremony in the local Cultural Centre attended by both British and Spanish residents.  Our first committee consisted of President – Jane Cronin, Vice-president – Val Gilbert, Secretary – Jenny Corfield, Treasurer – Kim Johnson Kendall and other committee member were Gwen Thomas and Tony Weeden.  With us to present the association to the town was the local Councillor for Citizens Participation María José Albaladejo Álvarez.

When the association’s constitution was put together I was careful to make sure that the objectives clearly expressed the reason for our existence, and so the main objective was “the integration of the English speaking community into local society”.  The idea was to get involved in projects which demonstrated our goodwill in helping the local community in whatever ways we could.  However, I also realized that there needed to be a social element to the project for it to be attractive to members and so the second objective was expressed as “the well-being of the English speaking community”.  My hope was that those who were attracted to ADAPT initially for social reasons would also become interested in getting involved in local projects.

The first meeting of ADAPT took place at the Thalassia Spa Centre.  About 100 people attended and after a general session talking about the purpose of ADAPT we designated five activities which had been chosen by the committee, and asked people to form themselves into groups to decide on a coordinator, a meeting time and place and a short-term objective.  From this exercise emerged our very first groups including:  The Singles Friendship group, the Skittles Group, the Photography Group.   We also agreed that our monthly meetings would be held on the first Saturday morning of the month at San Pedro Casino.

At one of our first monthly meetings we were visited by a member of a local conservation group who was encouraged by our enthusiasm to set up a series of activities for members to learn about the Mar Menor and San Pedro salt lakes and to participate in conservation activities.  This was a huge success and led to us formulating a follow-on project funded by the town hall called “Approaching San Pedro”.  This involved a deeper study of the local environment and several clean-up projects of beaches and the salt lake canal system.  At this time there was still money available from the town hall for association projects, something that has since disappeared because of the economic crisis.  As an association we applied for and received funding for two other projects “An Intercultural Christmas” and an “Access for All Awareness Day”.  These projects gave ADAPT greater exposure in San Pedro although the paperwork involved was quite daunting.  One of the most rewarding spin-offs was our contact with AIDEMAR, a day centre for people with physical and mental disabilities.  After our first visit singing Christmas carols, we developed a long-standing relationship with the centre which even included basic English lessons and their participation in one of our early theatre group performances.

Over the Christmas break in 2008 the committee was looking forward to the New Year and wondering what new activities we could get involved with.  The idea of carnival was put forward along with the thought that we could dress up as the Spanish stereotype of the English holidaymaker, known as “guiris”.  Some of our members who were not used to the idea of carnival, were a little reticent about the idea as they felt they wanted to get away from stereotypes, however a group of about 45 members saw the funny side and went over-the-top with red sun-burnt faces and loud, tasteless clothes, rounded off by a tall male ADAPT member dressed as a pregnant teenage girl.   As we walked down the main road in San Pedro the people watching were laughing their heads off and for several weeks afterwards people mentioned our group as the highlight of the parade.  In my own mind I felt that this occasion marked our arrival as a significant part of the town: a group of people who not only wanted to participate but who were prepared to laugh at ourselves.  Since then we have participated seven times in the carnival parade and our group name is still “Los Guiris de San Pedro”!

Also in the early years of ADAPT we had a regular English radio programme on Radio Pinatar with news items, recipes and an environmental report.  Also for a few months we contributed an English page to the local newspaper “El Pinatarense”.  It is hard to remember now all the activities that we got involved with, but there was certainly an atmosphere of creativity and fun in most of what we did.  Along with these projects of course our membership was expanding to include people from neighbouring towns and our social groups were expanding and evolving.  The Camera group turned into the Out and About group, organizing trips to nearby towns and cities.  The Singles Friendship group went from strength to strength and to these were added groups for Painting, Cross-stitch and Sewing, Cycling, Rambling, Board games, Metal Detecting which worked alongside the local museum, Dinner Dance and Menú del día, amongst others.

As an off-shoot from our environmental activities, ADAPT members were asked to help fish for tiny “artemia” cells which were fed to sea-horses that formed part of an experimental project in the Oceanographic centre.  Only a few decades ago the Mar Menor was full of sea horses, but their population had been several diminished by contamination.   In 2010 ADAPT was nominated in two categories for the San Pedro Citizens of the Year awards and I was privileged to receive the prize for Environmental Action on behalf of ADAPT.

Another aspect of our work has been to help local children and adults to learn English.  Initially we provided volunteer English monitors for local summer schools.  After this we established a school monitors’ programme which now works very successfully with four local primary schools.  Another way we have reached out to the local community has been by providing a weekly language exchange for members to practice their Spanish and allow Spanish people to practise their English over a cup of coffee.  With so many activities going on, I was asked to give several presentations about citizens’ participation in conferences organized by the town hall.

We have sometimes been approached by other associations in the town requesting volunteers and helpers but we have not always been able to meet these demands.  We have learnt to develop a clear strategy to deal with all new groups and projects.  This includes appointing a committed project coordinator and building up a large enough team of volunteers to cope with the activity, bearing in mind members’ time and other limitations.  Our schools monitors programme has been a good example of this strategy.  Not all of our projects have required such a long term commitment though.  There have been single-day activities such as the International Delicacies day when we provided English cooking for sampling and the Associations Fairs when we have had a stand for one day to advertise our activities.

One of the initial concerns of ADAPT members was to contribute to charity in some way, and so we decided to work for two causes, both recommended by the town hall.  One was for the “Vacaciones en Paz” (Holidays in Peace) association which brings Saharawi children from their exile camps in the Algerian desert to stay with Spanish families for the summer.  For three years our contributions helped to pay for flights and we also bought books and toys for the children to take back to the camps.   In addition we started raising money and collecting food every month to donate to needy families in San Pedro via the El Samaritano association.  As the economic crisis in Spain intensified, our efforts focused more and more on helping local people and this remains a major charitable focus for ADAPT.

After six years at the helm of ADAPT my own life has changed and in 2014 I decided to move away from San Pedro del Pinatar.  I also strongly felt that the time had come to pass the presidency of ADAPT on to others and to allow the association to grow in new ways.  This process took almost a year to complete as I certainly did not intend to jeopardise the success of ADAPT by any sudden decisions.  However, I am now happy, and very proud, to look back on nearly seven years as president of a very healthy association which does what it says on the packet – to work towards the integration of the English speaking community and to support our well-being in Spain.

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