The King and Queen keep Scotland’s stories alive on tenth anniversary visit to The Great Tapestry of Scotland

The Great Tapestry of Scotland, where the people’s story of Scotland begins, has a new royal story to tell after Their Majesties The King and Queen visited the centre in the Scottish Borders today (6 July 2023). During the royal engagement, The Queen added the final stitch to a new panel commemorating the historic occasion.

Their Majesties’ visit to view one of the world’s largest community arts projects in the town of Galashiels, coincided with the 10th anniversary of the Great Tapestry of Scotland’s unveiling. The new panel is the first royal story to be added to the Tapestry since that time.

The centre was later opened for free to the public to give everyone an opportunity to be among the first to see the new specially designed Tapestry pane.

The King and Queen were welcomed by Mike Gray as Chair of the Tapestry Advisory Board and Centre Director Sandy Maxwell-Forbes, who introduced them to some of the thousand stitchers and wider team responsible for the creation of the Tapestry, including Alexander McCall Smith who conceived the idea, artist Andrew Crummy (who was presented with an MBE yesterday), stitcher coordinator Dorie Wilkie, fundraiser and tour manager Jan Rutherford and historian Alistair Moffat, alongside representatives for architects Page/Park who designed the centre’s award-winning building.

Speaking after the visit, Sandy said: “It was the greatest honour to introduce The King and Queen to individuals who were instrumental in creating this compelling account of Scotland’s history, heritage and culture and one of the nation’s top-rated visitor experiences right here in Galashiels in the Scottish Borders. This marks a significant moment in the Tapestry’s extraordinary success story.

“Their Majesties appeared to be moved by the Tapestry’s compelling artwork. Indeed, The Queen described it as ‘Absolutely Wonderful’, she said she wished she had more time to take it all in. In keeping with the Tapestry’s original ethos of allowing people to tell their own story in their own way, we were also thrilled that The King and Queen signed our commemorative certificate and Her Majesty added a stitch to our new panel. 

“We specially designed the panel to reflect the significance of this royal visit and The Queen’s own appreciation of embroidery, which was so evident in her stunning Couture Coronation gown, hand embroidered by the Royal School of Needlework. In keeping with the design of the dress and indeed The Great Tapestry of Scotland, there are some beautiful intricate hidden details stitched into the new panel which reflected The King and Queen’s greatest interests in life including nature, wildflowers, The King’s own book, The Old Man Lochnagar and The Queen’s Jack Russells Bess and Bluebell.”

Andrew McCall Smith added: “It is now ten full years since the completion of The Great Tapestry of Scotland. All who have been involved throughout this period are grateful to His Majesty The King and Her Majesty The Queen, for their visit to see for themselves this remarkable artwork in its new home in Galashiels – in a striking, award-winning gallery that does full justice to the artistry that it houses. When we started this project we had no idea that the result would be so lovely and so affecting, or that so many people would be brought together in friendship. I’m particularly delighted that the many hands that worked together to realise this vision have been recognised by Their Majesties today.”

Stitcher coordinator Dorie Wilkie said: “A lot of hard work and camaraderie went into the making of the Great Tapestry of Scotland, and great friendships were made. When we first completed it, we were exhausted, but we knew we had created something truly special. However, it wasn’t until we started touring that we realised the profound impact it would have on all those who saw it.

“It is incredibly significant now for the Tapestry’s army of volunteer stitchers that this work is being celebrated by The King and Queen ten years on. In the past, you never knew who had embroidered tapestries like the Bayeux Tapestry, now through The Great Tapestry of Scotland their passion and hard work will be preserved for many generations to come.” 

Now in its permanent home in the once thriving textile region of the Scottish Borders, The Great Tapestry of Scotland’s 160 panels tell a visually compelling account of the people’s story of Scotland from millions of years BC to present day. This includes key moments in royal history such as the stories of King Macbeth, St Margaret of Scotland, Mary Queen of Scots and her son James VI of Scotland and I of England, Queen Victoria and her particular love of Scotland, and Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II’s Coronation.

After meeting Their Majesties, Tapestry artist Andrew Crummy, who was awarded with an MBE at the Palace of Holyroodhouse yesterday said: “It is a real honour to see the Great Tapestry of Scotland and all those who worked on it get this royal recognition. Everyone involved in the project has played a key role in making the experience what it is today, and I hope they’re all rightly proud of what they’ve achieved. I’m passionate about creating art that supports communities and enhances the wellbeing of all those who visit, so it is brilliant to begin to see this come to fruition here in Galashiels. It is fantastic also to hear from local business leaders that it has been supporting regeneration.”

The purpose-built Great Tapestry of Scotland visitor centre, with two galleries, café, workshop space and shop, opened to great media and visitor acclaim in August 2021.

Retailers in Galashiels have reported a noticeable increase in footfall resulting from the Tapestry. Mike Gray, who is also chair of Energise Galashiels Trust, said: “It’s fantastic to see the hugely positive impact that the Great Tapestry of Scotland and our associated Energise Galashiels Trust regeneration initiatives, which are funded by South of Scotland Enterprise and Scottish Borders Council, are delivering in our town centre. There really is a renewed positivity about Galashiels with many businesses reporting increased footfall from those who have come to see our town’s five-star visitor attraction.”

Councillor Euan Jardine, Leader of Scottish Borders Council said: “It is an honour to have the King and Queen come to the Scottish Borders to visit The Great Tapestry of Scotland, the visit will help to establish the fact that it is now one of Scotland’s greatest cultural assets. This is especially rewarding given the significant investment made into developing the Great Tapestry of Scotland visitor centre in Galashiels.  This comes alongside strong evidence of the centre drawing new and repeat visitors to the Scottish Borders. 

“Supporting the regeneration of Galashiels town centre was also a key driver for bringing the Great Tapestry of Scotland to the town and it has helped to bring in many millions of pounds of investment from a whole range of partners. That investment not only helped us develop the visitor centre but also support community-led regeneration projects, particularly through Energise Galashiels Trust.”

The Great Tapestry of Scotland visitor centre, located close to Galashiels Transport Interchange, is part of a critical town centre regeneration project which has received investment from the Scottish Government through its Regeneration Capital Grant Fund, the Borders Railway Blueprint programme and Scottish Borders Council. 

The attraction received five stars, the highest rating possible in VisitScotland’s Quality Assurance Scheme, following its first-ever quality assurance grading visit. This was described by VisitScotland, Scotland’s national tourism organisation, as ‘an exceptional achievement for a new visitor attraction’. The Centre’s five-star status was retained following their second inspection this year.

Photo credit: Phil Wilkinson

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