The Borders town determined to save their high street

The Great Tapestry of Scotland promises to attract more than 50,000 people per year when its visitor centre opens in Galashiels in Spring of next year, but the town doesn’t seem quite ready to receive company just yet.

On Channel Street a number of big names have shut up shop in the last few months alone, with Dorothy Perkins, Burtons, and Bon Marche all closing down, and Greggs moving to the other side of town.

It’s thought that visitors to the tapestry should have a better welcome to Galashiels than a sea of shutters and for sale signs. But until then, work is underway to breathe new life into the town over the next 14 months.

Artist impression of the Great Tapestry of Scotland visitor centre. Credit: Scottish Borders Council

Energise Galashiels have created a new position who's job is to help regenerate these streets. It's Douglas Watt’s first week in his new role and he says there’s a lot of work to be done.

Douglas Watt, Galashiels Community Enterprise Support Manager, "There's certainly a lot to get through, we've been given funding by the Scottish Borders Council which is absolutely fantastic.

“We know when the Great Tapestry of Scotland opens we're going to have footfall, it's maintaining that footfall not just to visit the Great Tapestry of Scotland but to have them in the town, around the town spending money, visiting attractions.

"There is a big push to get these projects up and running so that when 2021 comes along Galashiels is in a place that's ready to welcome people in."

Jenny Potter owns Why Not? in Galashiels. Credit: ITV Border

Some towns are getting things right however, with Melrose boasting a number of independent retailers and eateries, and Kelso being nominated for a Great British High Street Award.

Figures revealed in anITV investigation into our high streets suggests the Border region has the highest proportion of independent retailers in the whole of the UK.

Jenny Potter, who owns Why Not?, said: "We thought that Galashiels was just the right place for us, the right place for a lot of talented artists, makers, and producers to showcase their products.

"People can buy so much online now, what we offer is things you're not going to get from some of your big names online because people have spent time and money making and producing things.

“I think the high street will change, a lot more independents, we need a lot more food on the high street, locally produced, grown. People want to come together for a cup of coffee and a look round the shops, they just do."

Louis Carmichael runs Lids Barbers. Credit: ITV Border

Louis Carmichael, who runs Lids Barbers, agrees the key to a thriving high street is diversity and offering something different. He said: “ I wish there were more shops but once people see work getting done, other businesses openly encourages more people to come and try it out when they see things can be successful."

The death of the high street may have become a common turn of phrase, but it seems people in Galashiels are hopeful of a resurrection.

  • High Streets: End of the Road? – Tonight will be broadcast on Thursday 16th January at 7.30pm on ITV