A Royal helped silver business show its mettle

A Royal visit has given a Scottish business a massive boost.

Since opening in September last year, Vanilla Ink’s silversmithing workshop in Banff has welcomed many visitors through its doors – but receiving a royal seal of approval from Prince Charles has provided a massive boost to its profile.

The VIP visit by the Duke of Rothesay created a flurry of activity on social media, as well as newspaper and television coverage, elevating its profile beyond their dreams, according to Alison Arrowsmith, The Smiddy workshop co-ordinator.

Alison explained: ‘We’ve been flabbergasted at how Prince Charles’ visit has upped our profile, raising awareness of our objectives for young people, and our desire to make Banff a centre of excellence in the art of making in metal once again.

‘We have had a big surge in our social media following after Prince Charles’ visit, and we have received more emails from people asking about the classes we offer.

‘It has broadened our audience to a far wider area and we hope that this translates to bookings.

‘We haven’t been going for even a year so to be noticed like this is exciting and reaffirming in terms of what we are trying to achieve.

‘It has been really fantastic to generate so much interest in what we are doing and to tell the world about what’s going on here in Banff by reviving old traditions and offering up new opportunities.

‘We are proud to be part of Banff’s regeneration and Prince Charles took a real interest in what we’re doing. It wasn’t just the fact that the Prince spent time with us, but we expect to raise the profile of our social enterprise work from his visit, as it has magnified awareness of what we’re doing.’

Prince Charles has a keen interest in traditional arts and initiatives to support young people and dropped by to find out at first-hand how the studio is playing a key part in Banff’s regeneration by reviving the art of silverwork in the Banffshire town.

The bright and modern workshop that houses Vanilla Ink’s second studio outside of Glasgow was created from a former blacksmith’s premises which until three years ago was in a neglected and dilapidated state.

As part of the town’s regeneration, there was a vision to bring it back into use and revive links with Banff’s historic silver trade.

Banff Preservation Trust commissioned a feasibility study and the building was renovated with the support of the Banff Conservation Area Regeneration Scheme, which has seen £500,000 of grants from Historic Environment Scotland for the restoration of traditional buildings in the hub of the former burgh town. The total investment has been more than £1 million, with additional funding coming from Aberdeenshire Council, Scottish Government and private owners.

Vanilla Ink is a Community Interest Company with the hopes of educating, inspiring and empowering people through making. Vanilla Ink The Smiddy passes on skills and knowledge in silver making in a range of classes for beginners through to intermediate and advanced. As a social enterprise, it has a firm focus on developing opportunities, particularly for young people, offering up skills and experiences that they might not otherwise be able to access.

Alison explained: “The building was just a shell – it had no roof, just four walls- but it has had a completely new lease of life. We get people stopping by who remember it as a blacksmith and tell us lovely stories about its past. We’ve also had people sending in details and photos of Banff silver.

“People are thrilled to see the site back in use and no longer sitting at the end of Bridge Street looking sad and depressed. However, this is more than just upgrading an old building for a new use; it is creating innovation and providing a change of direction which is important for the community.”

A few hundred yards along the road on Bridge Street, work is underway on creating accommodation units for visiting experts to The Smiddy; these renovation works having also been supported by Banff CARS. The Category B property was on the Buildings at Risk register, but its refurbishment by the North East of Scotland Preservation Trust will pave the way to it being used to provide accommodation to visiting artists and students. Vanilla Ink plans to develop a residency programme and having a place for specialists to stay opens up many opportunities for experts in the field to come and work in Banff.

Prince Charles’ visit to Banff at the end of April also included a trip to Banff Museum which is run by the Banff Preservation and Heritage Society, where he viewed examples of work by many of the known Banff silversmiths.

With many buildings of great architectural and historical interest, Banff has been described as an Edinburgh of the North and the Banff CARS scheme has helped preserve several key properties within the town’s conservation area.

CARS is a Historic Environment Scotland initiative seeking to regenerate towns throughout Scotland that have been impacted by deprivation in recent years.

Banff CARS was led by Aberdeenshire Council and has resulted in the restoration of properties in Bridge Street, Carmelite Street and Low Street, and is part of the Council’s wider regeneration strategy. It builds on the work of “Banff Renaissance” multi-partner project which ran from 2008-2013 and saw £1.45 million invested in property restoration in the burgh.


Photo: Vanilla Ink’s The Smiddy has received the royal seal of approval. The recent visit by Prince Charles has been lauded for helpings elevate the profile of the Banff workshop and its aspirations. He learns more about the craft from silversmith Megan Falconer. Download photo here.

Banff Vanilla Ink’s Alison Arrowsmith. Download photo here.