Galashiels, Scottish Borders

Susie Stirling: Civic Designer

Liverpool is where I was born. Earliest memories stem from visiting the iconic waterfront, with The Three Graces as an architectural backdrop – the Liver Building my favourite. Growing up, witnessing the changing built environment, was like being on a film set. And as the scenes transitioned – from down to up-beat spaces and buildings – it was not just a physical change but a ‘mood shift’ it gave to its people. That ability to ‘shift’ how people feel led me to study Civic Design.

Today, as Head of Placemaking and Housing Team (Scottish Government) a project creating a shift is Galashiels – a university town once on the global textile stage located in the heartland of the Scottish Borders. My connection started over six years ago, initially spanning from a strategic city region scale – working for the First Minister’s Champions Group to deliver the Borders railway corridor (£350m) opened by the Queen in 2015 – to the detail of improving the ‘feel’ of the town’s streets/spaces. Bridging the two scales was a secondment with Scottish Borders Council. As well as plugging into masterplans (led by Stallan Brand, Proctor & Matthews and Wardell Armstrong) critical to the role was establishing a new six million pound building (Page/Park) to house the Great Tapestry of Scotland – one of the world’s boldest, community, art projects. With construction nearly complete, a new energy is being released as the striking structure settles into the skyline.

In response, the town is reawakening artistically. And it’s been through working creatively with the place, not least with the ingenious role of the Energise Galashiels Trust, that the town’s fabric, and it’s personalities, has shone. Inspiring, also, was the ability to create seven community ‘thinking small’ projects and launch them during the pandemic. My thanks to everyone from children to councillors.

Symbolic, therefore, of the Liverbird mural (#PaulCurtisArtwork) Galashiels is not only flexing its wings but reminds me of Liverpool through its grit and heart of gold.