From its purpose-built iconic geometric roof and views out over the Scottish Borders hills to transformative events and workshops with local makers, every element of the new Great Tapestry of Scotland experience in Galashiels has been designed to create a powerfully enriching experience for all those who visit.
'The warmth of human connection and great community spirit is at the very heart of The Great Tapestry of Scotland and we wanted to ensure this ethos was integral to every part of the visitor experience,' said Sandy Maxwell-Forbes, Centre Director. 'Together our wonderful team of stitchers, architects, curators and designers have created a powerfully enriching experience that will lift spirits and soothe the soul.'
The Tapestry itself brought 1,000 stitchers from communities across Scotland together to embroider 160 different panels, together telling a compelling account of the people's story of Scotland. Speaking about the therapeutic effect this process had on everyone, Chief-Stitcher of the Tapestry, Dorie Wilkie, said: 'We all found it meditative and soothing and that unconsciously helped us sort things out in our minds. When you're stitching, you can be in your own world for however long you want.'
The Great Tapestry, hand-stitched by a team of 1,000 led by Dorie, tells the people's story of Scotland's history, heritage and culture from its formation to the present day. It was the vision of one of the world's best-loved writers Alexander McCall-Smith, designed by artist Andrew Crummy and teams of stitchers around Scotland from a narrative written by the award-winning writer and historian Alistair Moffat. It is made up of 300 miles of wool (enough to lay the entire length of Scotland from the border with England to the tip of the Shetland in the North Atlantic).
The new national gallery and exhibition space, purpose-built to house the Tapestry, has received over £6.7 million in funding from the Scottish Government Regeneration Capital Grant Fund, the Borders Railway Blueprint programme and Scottish Borders Council. It is based in Galashiels in the Scottish Borders, one of the UK's leading textile regions. The cultural venture is operated by the charity Live Borders.
In addition to housing the Tapestry itself, the building will host a range of visiting exhibits, tours and workshops. The first temporary exhibit is 'Iconic Scotland', which features written and photographic contributions from 40 iconic, inspiring and pioneering individuals including the late musician Scott Hutchison, Outlander stars Sam Heughan and Grant O'Rourke, actress Joanna Lumley, sports star Doddie Weir and brewing pioneer Sir Geoff Palmer.
Neil Hutchison, Trustee at Tiny Changes, a mental health charity launched in memory of Frightened Rabbit singer Scott Hutchison (who also features in the Tapestry's opening 'Iconic Scotland' exhibit), added: 'Through Scott's music and art, he made many thousands of tiny changes and encouraged other people around the world to do the same. It is a legacy we are continuing, and nourishing and it is fantastic to hear the new national Great Tapestry of Scotland gallery, which is close to one of Scott's childhood homes, is doing the same.
Mental health was a cause close to Scott's heart, and we are aware of the impact of the pandemic on everyone's mental health. So it's important that facilities like The Great Tapestry of Scotland think about how they can provide safe, calm and reflective spaces and ways in which people can creatively reconnect post lockdown.'
Explaining how the design of the purpose-built centre continued this ethos, Suzy O'Leary, the architect who designed the building explains: 'At the heart of the building is a special room, specifically designed to hold The Great Tapestry of Scotland, one of the world's largest community arts projects. With its dramatic geometric roof and folding walls, the gallery takes the visitor out of their everyday life to explore history, storytelling and craft. At the four corners of the gallery are tall windows looking out to the hills surrounding Galashiels, rooting the visitor within the ever-changing Scottish landscape. We used a soothing natural colour palette throughout the interior, inspired by the colours of the Borders' landscape, to create a calm and relaxing environment.'
Isobel Jones, a Senior 3D Designer at Bright (gallery and exhibition designers), added: 'Many of those who saw The Great Tapestry of Scotland when it previously toured Scotland, said they were incredibly moved by it and could sit for hours looking at the detail of each beautifully embroidered panel. There are benches located throughout the gallery so that visitors can sit and relax as they carefully contemplate the detail of each panel and soak in the restorative views. We have created an accessible, interactive exhibition space that takes people on a transformational journey. Our storytelling celebrates the key people and communities involved in the Tapestry's creation. Just like the Tapestry panels, every room has its own identity.'
Speaking of the important role galleries can have in supporting positive mental wellbeing, Dr Emma Ducklin, Clinical Psychologist and owner of Engage Clinical Psychology Ltd, said: 'With its relaxing, neutral environment, The Great Tapestry of Scotland could provide a unique lifeline as a safe, calm place.
A number of studies over the years (such as the Nord-Trondelag Health Study) have evidenced the real difference that facilities such as this can make to improving mental health. Workshops where people create their own art, for example, can help people (no matter what their artistic ability) reduce levels of anxiety and depression and boost confidence. Engaging in art-related activities have also been linked to improved memory, reasoning, and resilience in healthy older people. Feeling connected to a wider creative community can play a key role in boosting many people's emotional wellbeing and combating loneliness.'
For more information about the new visitor attraction, visit the Live Borders website or follow @GreatTapestrySc on Facebook or Twitter, and @GreatTapestryScotland on Instagram.
Kirsty Innes, communications consultant