Great Tapestry of Scotland: Unique gallery breathes new life into Galashiels

  • Report by Ralph Blunsom

The arrival of the Great Tapestry of Scotland is already proving a resounding success for Galashiels.

That's according to local figures and business owners, who say the Scottish Border town is reaping the benefits of increased footfall generated by the tourist attraction.

Opening in August 2021, the centre exhibits its namesake project - one of the largest community art projects in the world.

Hand-stitched by 1,000 people across Scotland, the tapestry tells the nation's history from its land formation millions of years ago up to 2013, when the last panel was completed.

The tapestry is made up of 60 linen panels like this one - and 300 miles of wool.

It also houses various temporary exhibitions, including works by English contemporary artist Grayson Perry.

Twelve thousand visitors have so far been recorded despite the centre opening during a global pandemic.

Debby Patterson of the Energise Galashiels Trust believes this figure - similar to the town's population - is already having a rejuvenating impact on the high street.

Two of Perry's tapestries currently on display

"Certainly, a lot of the shops that have been empty over the last few years are starting to get picked up," she told ITV Border.

"It’s actually quite difficult now to find an empty shop that has not been purchased or that someone is keen to let. 

"The Great Tapestry of Scotland is an attraction in itself but the very fact that it was something concrete and something new has been a catalyst to bring people’s attention to the town."

Craig Murray runs an established bakery a stone's throw from the visitor centre.

He was "delighted" when he saw plans for the gallery and is pleased to see it exceed expectations.

"You can see every afternoon - you just have to walk around the town - and there are visitors here you can tell weren’t here before," he said.

"My afternoon trade… is where I’ve seen a noticeable increase in customers and that’s the new visitors to the town."

There was considerable public opposition to the centre when it was first put forward. Director Sandy Maxwell-Forbes believes they are now winning the hearts and minds of residents.

The centre

With Covid restrictions easing and eight coach tours already booked for April and March, she is hopeful tourism continues to improve the town's prospects.

"Galashiels is not a tourism town," she said. "This means that when we brought this, we were bringing tourism which brings footfall. 

"We are helping the community to understand that this phenomenal asset we have here is going to bring business to them and it’s going to create an energy within the town."