A good few years ago, Anne Findlay and myself published a paper on the changing retail structure in the Borders using longitudinal data. We titled this ‘Weaving new retail and consumer structures in the Scottish Borders,’ reflecting the weaving history of the area and the inter-dependencies across the area.
Weaving has appeared in this blog before when I covered the work of Anne Findlay in helping design and then stitch a panel for the Scottish Diaspora Tapestry. The panel – of course- had a retail theme being on Thomas Lipton (there is a range of various books about Lipton available and a nice blog post at Building Our Past on Lipton and his stores) – and its side association with William Low. We were also lucky enough to host the travelling exhibition of some of that Tapestry in the University.
Last week, a different tapestry project finally opened to the public in a new permanent home for the Great Tapestry of Scotland. Housed in a purpose-built building in the High Street of Galashiels this is intended as a suitable home (the weaving history again) and an attractor in the heart of one of the major Border towns.
The building of the home in Galashiels has not been without some controversy and the new building too involved the removal of existing buildings, so it and the location have been both a little contentious and long awaited. The building itself is designed by Page\Park (disclosure –oI work with them on a development under way at the University of Stirling) and it is an interestinge setting for the Tapestry (an unusual artefact to house) in my view. It is certainly a dramatic presence on the High Street.
The Tapestry itself is a wonder – the story of Scotland in 160 panels. It is a visual and historic delight and I could spend a lot of time on the individual panels as well as the grand sweep of the Tapestry. It is a delight and there are some fascinating facts, stories and comments in the written descriptions and narrative. It is also not without humour, as with the accurate but harsh commentary on Scottish rugby post the first international.
I was also taken by the panels on the New Towns of Scotland. From East Kilbride to Cumbernauld, this has been a challenging but interesting facet of Scottish urban change; something that has been covered in this blog before.
The location of the permanent display in the heart of a Borders town is a deliberate statement. It could have been in one of our major cities, like so much else, or on some greenfield out-of-town site aimed at the car-borne. But here, on the Borders railway, in the centre of Galashiels, the intent is clear. This is intended as an asset for the town and the Borders. An attractor for Scots and national and international visitors, preferably by more sustainable transport. It is also set up as a catalyst to get people to explore and spend in Galashiels and the Borders.
Towns need assets and attractors. The Great Tapestry of Scotland, whilst new, has in a way, come home. It is a delight in its own right but adds to the strengthening of Galashiels and the Borders. Let us wish it every success.