Hugh Andrew’s attempt to pour oil on the troubled waters of the Great Tapestry of Scotland in last week’s Hawick News ignores the very issues which have caused the storm.
No-one is denying the tapestry’s worth either as a work of great craftsmanship or beauty. What is being questioned is the proposed location and the associated selection process.
There is little point in going over old ground at this stage. However, Mr Andrew should be aware that confusion, either deliberate or unintentional, has dogged the project since the Tweedbank site was nominated as the trustees’ preferred option. His letter, however, raises two further issues.
He correctly refers to the strict rules governing charity trustees, one of which is to ensure the objectives of a trust are met. One of his trust’s objectives is to house the tapestry in a place “where it will be held for the benefit of the nation”.
Mr Andrew refers to it as “a magnificent and humbling thing”, one of his fellow trustees has referred to it as a world-class attraction, and [Scottish Borders Council leader] David Parker has variously referred to it as a unique work of art and a treasured historical Scottish masterpiece. With such glowing references, the tapestry cannot be considered anything other than an object of great national importance, and as such it needs to be housed in a building of national significance.
However, before a building of national significance can be constructed, a public consultation requires to be carried out. In the case of Tweedbank, no such consultation exists, so either SBC and the tapestry trustees have failed in their obligations or despite their pronouncements they do not consider the tapestry worthy of a building of national significance.
Mr Andrew also takes to task those who question the cost, stating that “to quantify cost and assume no income is entirely specious”. If Mr Andrew cares to re-examine his trust’s objectives, he will read that the tapestry “will be made available for viewing at no cost to the public”. In other words there will be no charge for admission (and little or no income), as indeed is already the case with many of Scotland’s national museums and public buildings.
Yet the feasibility study and business case submitted by SBC was based on an admission charge of £10 per head. The public and the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator therefore need to be advised whether the trustees have abandoned their original objectives or whether they have advised SBC that no admission charge is possible, and that councillors who made the final decision have been misled.
Like Mr Andrew, I suspect we all want to live in a Scotland of ambition, generosity of spirit and cultural richness. The difference is that most of us want to do it in a spirit of public trust and openness, and in a society which respects all opinions and concerns.
Hugh Andrew’s letter in last week’s Hawick News states that critics of the bid to host the Great Tapestry of Scotland had not checked the accuracy of their statements with the tapestry trustees.
This is probably because the tapestry website does not provide points of contact for the trustees. Even when this information is obtained, which requires a fair amount of research, the trustees appear reluctant to reply.
As honorary secretary of Hawick Callants Club, I emailed a letter to trustee co-chairman Alistair Moffat on August 14, 2014, and copied in the the other four trustees, co-chairman Alexander McCall Smith, James Naughtie, Lesley Kerr and Hugh Andrew.
The primary point raised in this letter was to have the tapestry located in Hawick as part of the Heart of Hawick project and I asked the trustees to reconsider their decision regarding locating the tapestry building in Tweedbank.
None of the trustees responded to this letter.
A copy of a letter to Scottish Borders Council leader David Parker from the Callants Club raising issues about the location of the tapestry in Tweedbank was emailed to all five trustees on September 2, 2014.
Again, no response was received from any of the trustees in connection with this letter.
Mr Moffat subsequently turned down a request from the then Callants Club president, Derick Tait, and myself, to meet and discuss possible locations for the tapestry in Hawick.
Mr Moffat later responded to say that a site at Tweedbank would fulfill a key condition for the trustees, that the permanent home should be accessible by the full range of public transport. With the terminal station of the new Waverley Line only a matter of yards away from the proposed site, this location met their criteria.
It would seem, despite Mr Andrew’s letter, that the only trustee who communicates with critics is Mr Moffat and the others do not appear able or willing to do so, although according to Councillor Parker and Mr Moffat, it is the trustees who are insisting the tapestry is located in Tweedbank.
Having examined the planning application for the proposed building for the tapestry in Tweedbank, I consider it is poorly located, in a very restricted position without on-site parking, where the tapestry will need to be cut into 23 pieces to be viewed in the first floor tapestry room. The perimeter drainage channel of the roof is flat and does not appear designed to cope with blockages of the down pipes in heavy rain, snowfalls or freezing conditions that are common in the Borders. Even the goods delivery point is on the opposite side of the building from the goods entrance door because of the severely limited nature of the site.
The £40,000 report by Jura, commissioned by SBC, only looked at sites in Tweedbank for a location to house the tapestry and recommended this site with a new building next to the station. This recommendation requires council tax-payers to bear the repayment costs of the building for the next 30 years.
If the council had asked for a report to cover all the possible vacant textile mill sites in the Borders, where Heritage Lottery Funding would have been available, then a robust business case might have been produced that would have recommended a suitable mill conversion to house the tapestry.
The late President of the United States, John F Kennedy had a saying – “An error doesn’t become a mistake until you refuse to correct it.”
Quite obviously an error has been made in choosing Tweedbank as a location for the tapestry. By recognising the real worthiness of Hawick as the best location, the trustees and the council can avoid their error becoming a mistake.