In Galashiels this week – and not for the first time – I breenged in clumsily when a situation required delicacy.

The Galashiels YM Rugby Football Club, just off the main street, seemed a good place to ask about happiness. The Borders town is basking in the warmth of being named the second happiest place in the UK. The nods and smiles from passers-by on this brisk Wednesday lunchtime had suggested a place at ease with itself and with me.

And so, I head up to the club’s bar, my resolve reinforced by the sound of laughter coming from the top of the stairs. On these occasions I usually favour the direct approach.

“Good afternoon, I’m from The Herald and I’m here to write about Galashiels being the happiest place in Scotland. So, why do you think everyone’s so happy?”


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A pleasant couple are behind the bar and two well-dressed and polite chaps are on this side. One’s wearing a club tie. Behind him in this upper room little plates of sandwiches and assorted comestibles are being arranged on crisp, linen table-cloths.

Somewhere in my consciousness a little red flag is already being raised but, as usual, I’m missing it and plough right on. They all have a giggle at the accolade, especially the Hawick chap in their midst. And there’s some gentle back-and-forth regarding extended family bloodlines of uncertain lineage.

Karen behind the bar says: “Gala’s had a few setbacks over the years with the gradual disappearance of some of our traditional industries, but there’s been a feeling over the last few years that the town’s getting back on its feet.”

“Does it feel like a happy place to live and work in,” I ask.

Jim, he of the sharp blazer and club tie, drops the bomb that’s been teetering on my head since I got here. “Well, it can’t be too bad when you can pop in here and start a conversation about happiness just as we’re setting up for a funeral.” They all laugh and I’m reproaching myself for being such a horse’s fundament.

I apologise and make the situation worse by trying to crack a joke about Glasgow funerals being livelier than Edinburgh weddings. Way, way too late do I remember that Galashiels is only half an hour down the A7 from Edinburgh.

Yet, they really are happy souls down here – and decent too – and refuse to chastise me. Instead, they indulge me further and talk about the community spirit in the town.

HeraldScotland: Amy Wight and Amanda Robinson are co-founders of Café Recharge which tells customers to pay what they canAmy Wight and Amanda Robinson are co-founders of Café Recharge which tells customers to pay what they can (Image: Newsquest)

Says Karen: “It’s a nice place to live and we don’t see much trouble. A lot of families have been here for generations and look out for each other and the textile college up the road brings a vibrant student population from all over the world.”

We talk about the Common Ridings of these border towns: Gala, Hawick, Langholm, Selkirk, Jedburgh and the rest. These three-day bucolic bacchanals convey the unique identity of Galashiels and its Border cousins more than anything else. Jim agrees: “They’re very important in knitting communities together and getting us through life’s challenges.”

And then they wave me on my way, and once more I apologise for intruding on their grief. But they’re having none of it and even politely wait for me to reach the foot of the stairs before the peals of laughter ensue. This is a happy place indeed … and kind too.

More than 21,000 people took part in Rightmove’s Happy at Home Index, which asked residents from all over the UK how they felt about their towns. Social measurements such as a sense of belonging, access to green spaces, local facilities and community spirit were all factored in. Maybe, for future surveys they could ask about their approach to funerals.

Perhaps it’s my imagination, but they do seem to have something here. As you walk through the streets around the town centre people meet your gaze and smile or give a nod of acknowledgement. They say ‘Hello’ to each other a lot.


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I was tempted to start my day at the Great Tapestry of Scotland, not least because you can weave a word like ‘tapestry’ throughout articles like this. This is an appropriate setting for the tapestry, for Galashiels was once the textiles capital of Scotland. But the delights of the Galashiels YM Rugby Football Club beckoned and the dye was cast.

Even the existence of a couple of retail parks and the global brands which dilute the unique identities of towns – B&Q, Halfords, Sports Direct, TK Maxx – don’t seem to have gnawed too much at Galashiels’ sense of itself. Even the McDonald’s keeps back at a respectful distance, tucked beneath a canopy of trees and well back from the road, not too brazen.

A Turkish hairdressers announces itself optimistically and confidently as ‘World Class Barbers’. It’s owned and run by father and son Ahmet and Can.

“I’ve been here for four years now,” says Ahmet, "and I’ve already got customers who’ve been coming here all that time.”

Can tells me his name means ‘life’ in Turkish. “I came here two years ago,” he says. “Our family is originally from a city of 350,000 people, so the peace and quiet of Galashiels is lovely. My father and I often talk about how contented the town is. We are very family-oriented and Galashiels has a strong family atmosphere. It’s a good place.”

The Southern Reporter, stout chronicler of life in the Borders for 168 years, seems also to have caught the happy fever. It still happily maintains the old print tradition of carrying some adverts on the front page. And, amidst the weekly newspaper’s quotidian diet of crimes, misdemeanours and the maladroitness of local councillors, there are large helpings of more uplifting occurrences.

An entire spread this week tells of a new water works at Peebles and making progress on Borderers’ mental health. Farmers are doing their annual bird species count and this part of the country tops the national index for pothole compensation.

Just along the street at Café Recharge a sign tells customers to “pay what you can” and that if you’re “struggling to even afford the basics, we’ve got you covered. A small donation is fine.”

Café Recharge’s payment system is anonymous and patrons can “add a little extra” when they can. “No one should go hungry when there is so much surplus food going to waste,” it proclaims.

Once more into the breach I go and approach the two breezy women holding court at the counter. Amy Wight and Amanda Robinson are co-founders of this social enterprise hub and when I tell them I’m from The Herald they inform me that The Telegraph has already carried something on Galashiels.

“Aye, but it’s not official until The Herald covers it,” I reply. They laugh and make fun of my Glaswegian braggadocio.

Amanda, who’s originally from the US, says: “There’s a nice community mix here. I lived in Edinburgh for a while before coming to Galashiels. And, unlike Edinburgh, people don’t roll their eyes when they hear my accent. You know your children are safe here. You can go out anywhere in Galashiels and never feel intimidated.”

The pair have been running Café Recharge for 18 months and Amy says business is healthy.


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“When we started it was a bit different for Gala but we’ve noticed that a few other places have been operating a similar “pay what you can” scheme. It brings communities like this together and we can both attest to the power of doing this. It actually empowers people and reduces feelings of inequality.

“It shows that ‘community’ isn’t just a nice-sounding word but a force for good. It means something. Those who can afford to pay a bit more than the norm are willing to do so because they know what we’re trying to do here. It works and I think this spirit which we see here every day is one of the main reasons why Galashiels is a happy town.”

And then, they ask me where else I’ve visited and why I didn’t come to their place first. “Cos I just got out the car and jouked into the first place I saw,” says I.

And then I tell them about my encounter at the Gala YM and talking about happiness at a local funeral. “That’s so brilliant,” says Amy. “Gretna’s got the weddings but Gala puts the fun into funeral.”