EVERY August for the last 16 years, Melrose and its annual pipe band championships have proved a magnet for attracting some of the country’s best pipers and drummers to compete for the prestigious silverware.
From a small initial event, the championships now boast fierce competition among top bands and thousands of pounds are pumped into the local economy.
But this year’s contest could be in jeopardy following the decision of founding chairman, Ian Graham, and the event’s entire committee to step down and call it a day.
Just two members of the committee are not members of Mr Graham’s family and he says the only reason behind the mass resignation is nothing more sinister than people wanting to spend time doing other things and the feeling that now is the right time for change.
“The championships have, over the years, grown considerably and are now regarded as one of the flagship events held in our area,” Mr Graham told TheSouthern this week.
“Next year will be the 17th year and, now based firmly in their new home, the Gibson Park, the championships run smoothly without any major hitches. The only reason for everyone wanting to step down is that we’ve all been involved for a very long time and sometimes it is just a case of enough is enough and wanting to have time to do other things,” said Mr Graham, who along with his wife, Susan, manages holiday cottage lets.
The event regularly attracts more than 40 performances through grades from novice juvenile to grade two, as well as classes for drum majors. The associated highland dancing contest often sees dancers from all over the world, including world champions, showing off their skill.
And the concluding march past by the bands along Melrose’s high street has become one of the most popular spectacles on the Borders’ summer event calendar.
Mr Graham, himself a drummer with Melrose’s own town pipe band, says anyone taking over the organisation and running of the championships – which are conducted under the auspices of the Royal Scottish Pipe Band Association with the associated highland dancing run under Scottish Official Board of Highland Dancing rules – will be furnished with all the information, contacts and advice needed to ensure the event’s continued success.
“The championships are held each year between ‘The Worlds’ and Cowal Games, with the 2012 event falling on August 18. So we are looking for several people keen to take over and organise the event in 2012 and forthcoming years,” he added.
But Mr Graham sounded a warning: “Obviously, if no-one comes forward to take on the running of this event, then its future will be in doubt and that would be a great shame for something so popular.”
Local Scottish Borders councillor, David Parker (Ind, Leaderdale & Melrose), says it is a high quality event that should not be lost to the region.
“The Melrose Pipe Band Championships are an excellent event and it would be a real shame if they were not to be part of the events programme in the Borders in 2012,” commented Mr Parker.
“ Ian Graham and his committee have done a fabulous job and they have worked enormously hard on this event over the last 16 years.
“I can quite understand why they wish new people to take over the running of the event after all this time, but at the moment in particular, it is extremely difficult to get volunteers to run events and organisations.
“I do hope that some new volunteers will be found to help deliver the event and certainly Scottish Borders Council could provide some support, but we obviously can’t run the event.
“Let’s hope that the situation improves with volunteers, but everyone in Melrose and the Borders should give Ian and the committee a huge thanks for what they have done over the last 16 years.”
His fellow Melrose councillor, Nicholas Watson (BP), agreed the championships were a superb event for the town and the region.
“This has become a fantastic annual event, and the pride of those taking part and the pleasure of all who attend brings real credit, not just to Melrose, but the the Borders as well, and Ian and his committee should be proud of what they have created.
“We all owe them a huge thank you,” he said.
“It’s really encouraging so many young people are involved too. I think the greatest thrill I have had as a councillor was taking the salute when I was asked to be chieftain.
“It was very humbling – the bands were immaculate. Perhaps committee membership, or at least the role of chairman, could be limited to say, four years – that way people will not be hesitant about taking it on.”