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Canal college - Heritage Skills Training Course

Partner Action Number & Description

WP3 Action 3

Scottish Waterways Trust led project with support from Scottish Canals a Public Corporation and a network of partner organisations and social enterprises.

The canal college vision is:

To develop and deliver a high quality skills, confidence building and employability programme which, through a rich blend of innovative and accessible learning activities, certificates and a unique setting on the Scottish canals breaks through to, excites and attracts the hard to reach, young NEET group, fosters life-long volunteers who will sustain the built, natural and cultural heritage and becomes a platform for the development of a broader, inclusive framework for learning and career progression within Scottish Canals beyond the two year programme.


Description / Nature of Pilot

canal college is Scottish Waterways Trust’s largest and most ambitious project to date and a brand new development as part of Green & Blue Futures. The model of skills and learning in the canal environment does not exist anywhere else in the UK.

Funded for two years, canal college has been designed by Scottish Waterways Trust specifically to help tackle the high youth unemployment amongst 16 -25 year olds living within the deprived canal-side areas of Edinburgh and Falkirk.

At the start of the programme in June 2013, youth unemployment within these target areas stood at 14.5% in Falkirk and 9% in Edinburgh.

The 14 weeks heritage and environment skills training and employability programme is targeted at 16 – 25 year olds who are furthest from the job market and who have been unable to move into employment, training or education.

Over the course of the funded period, 12 independent programmes will run, six in each location and all providing young participants and their local volunteer mentors with practical, on the job experience and skills training in the canal environment.

Participants take part in practical projects outdoors on the Forth & Clyde and Union canals and at The Falkirk Wheel. As well as projects in the three core areas of Built Heritage, Natural Heritage and Cultural Heritage, they also benefit from employability training. Altogether, this learning and supportive environment helps the young people achieve a range of certificates and awards and move on to a positive destination whether that is paid employment, a work placement, further education or a new volunteering role.


As at October 2014, Scottish Waterways Trust is on target to deliver canal college training to 144 young people over the programme duration with 135 participants already successfully engaged in addition to 19 volunteer mentors from local communities.

As well as the core skills training for participants, the practical projects have knock on benefits for the canals and the wider canalside environment.

Built heritage projects such as bridge and stonework repairs help conserve the 250 year old canal infrastructure. Other projects, such as the two ‘Signature Projects’ – the shallow excavation of the historic Falkirk lock flight and development of a new heritage attraction and the creation of a new garden area and access ‘gateway’ onto the Union Canal in Edinburgh – enhance the canal-side encouraging more people to enjoy and learn about the waterways.

It is also of note that two of the 12 canal college programmes, one in each location, will have been delivered in partnership with Scottish Rural College (SRUC). These programmes enable the young participants to work towards additional qualifications and potentially move into further education with the college after the programme end. canal college is also unique in representing a new approach for this kind of college training.

Scottish Waterways Trust was recognised as runner up in the Youth Engaging Volunteer Organisation of the Year 2013 Award in Falkirk and District for canal college.


Pilot Framework / Timescale

canal college is a two year initiative running from June 2013 to May 2015. During the period, twelve 14 week independent programmes will be delivered, six in Edinburgh and six in Falkirk. Two programmes will run in partnership with Scottish Rural College, one in Edinburgh and one in Falkirk.


Funding / Budget

The £468,189 canal college is funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund £195k, the European Union Interreg IVB North West Europe programme through Green & Blue Futures £185.5k, Scottish Natural Heritage £34k and Scottish Canals £15k.

In addition, Scottish Canals and other partners have kindly contributed in-kind support (see Pilot Stakeholders section for further details).


Technical or Engineering Assessments / Issues



Pilot Outputs / Outcomes

canal college is a highly ambitious programme that is successfully engaging and making a difference to young people, communities and partner organisations. Above all, it is demonstrably helping young people prepare for, and reach, positive destinations.



Four programmes have successfully completed in both Edinburgh and Falkirk since June 2013. The current programme will complete in December with a final programme running between February and May 2015.

Recruitment has grown steadily as canal college has become established in each location and the number of partner organisations and referees has expanded.

Specific programme recruitment to date is as follows.

Programme 1     

June – September 2013

Falkirk - 12 young people and 5 mentors took part.
Edinburgh - 20 young people and 2 mentors took part.

Target: 12 young people per location.

Programme 2     

September – December 2013

Falkirk - 13 young people and 4 mentors took part.
Edinburgh - 11 young people and 3 mentors took part.

Target: 12 young people per location.

Programme 3     

February – May 2014

Falkirk - 16 young people and 6 mentors took part.
Edinburgh - 13 young people and 6 mentors took part.

Target: 12 young people per location.

Programme 4

June – September 2014

Falkirk - 16 young people and 4 mentors took part.
Edinburgh - 14 young people and 6 mentors took part.

Target: 12 young people per location.



Young participants (and their volunteer mentors) undertake a variety of canal-based tasks and projects within the programme areas of Built Heritage, Natural Heritage and Cultural Heritage. The additional employability training provided as part of canal college has also been very well received by participants.

During SRUC partnered programmes, participants are able to work towards additional awards. During the Falkirk programme for example, participants covered a range of topics from the SQA Skills for Work: Rural Skills Intermediate 1 course including employability skills for the land-based industries and an introduction to estate maintenance, land-based industries, crop production and soft landscaping.

In addition to the awards and certificates available at canal college, which include the Saltire Volunteer Award, John Muir Award (Discovery Level), Youth Achievement Award and canal college Award, successful participants of the SRUC partnered programmes also have the opportunity to apply to continue with SRUC afterwards and progress to the Certificate in Land-based Studies.

Sample activities and tasks delivered during canal college include:

Built Heritage

  • Repair and maintenance of canal structures including bridges and stonework repairs. Participants see the project through from start to completion, from vegetation removal to expose stonework, conditional survey of stonework then staged repair to completion with re-pointing with traditional lime mortaring where appropriate
  • Appraisal of weirs and, following, maintenance tasks
  • Signature Project – the shallow archaeological excavation of the historic Falkirk lock flight, which used to connect the Union and Forth & Clyde canals. The original flight, which has been buried from view since the 1960s, will be brought back to life as a heritage attraction at The Falkirk Wheel. Working with Scottish Canals heritage specialists and Archaeology Scotland, the young volunteers and their volunteer mentors are unearthing three of the locks learning how to archive, research and survey buried locks and listed structures and all about the engineering behind the Forth & Clyde and Union canals, which are both Scheduled Ancient Monuments
  • Participants also attend Edinburgh College and Forth Valley College stone carving and brickwork workshops
  • Canal-side training in traditional lime mortaring, as used on the canals over the past two hundred years, is also delivered by specialist Scottish Canals staff

Natural Heritage

  • Signature Project – the creation of a new woodland garden and improved access or ‘gateway’ connecting the communities of Calders with the amenity of the Union Canal. Participants learn about a landscape project, from design through to completion, and tasks to date have included establishing fencing, wildflower and tree planting as well as the creation of new picnic benches beside the waterway
  • Invasive and protected species study and investigation. This includes constructing and deploying mammal rafts on the canals
  • Wildflower surveys
  • Ancient woodland studies
  • Lichens and fungi identification
  • Nature photography
  • Research for potential wildlife guides
  • Participants also learn about survey techniques and visit the John Muir Museum in Dunbar to learn more about the world-renowned conservationist

Cultural Heritage

  • Research into potential heritage trails working with local historians and canal societies
  • Design of a standard canal college trail template which can be populated with participant photos and information
  • Oral history interviews
  • Creation of a silent movie on the history of the original Falkirk lock flight
  • Participants also learn about archiving and take part in an educational visit to Scottish Canals archives in Glasgow


Young participants also benefit from dedicated time spent on employability training. This includes a CV clinic, job search and application support, interview coaching and signposting.

On the SRUC partnered programmes, participants are also able to progress towards the SQA Employability Award.

Social Outcomes

In general, canal college is already contributing to the following social outcomes:

  • Practical on the job experience and skills training for young people leading to improved long-term job prospects in ‘green’ employment sectors
  • Improved management practices and relationships within both social and public sector organisations for the delivery of employment-related initiatives including sources of referral and organisational learning
  • Increased volunteering throughout the project area with volunteers benefiting from being able to share their skills and experience and also from gaining new skills and the awards available to the young participants
  • Enhanced canal-side blue and green space for water-side communities

In addition, lessons learned through the actions will feed into the overall framework for managing and developing green and blue infrastructure in WP4 and are now being shared amongst partner organisations through three workshops with associated documentation/reports and two staff exchanges during the WP duration.


Positive Destinations – Pathway to Skills and Employment

“Thank you all so very much for the help that you have given Craig at canal college. This has clearly paid off as he was offered a job following what the interview panel described as an ‘outstanding interview’.”

Maureen Clements, mother of Craig

As at October 2014, Scottish Waterways Trust is on target to deliver canal college training to 144 young people over the programme duration with 135 participants already successfully engaged as well as 19 volunteer mentors from local communities.

52% of the 135 young participants, 71 to date have already moved on to a positive destination -  employment, a work placement, paid training, further education or a new volunteering role. These stats are current up until the end of Programme 4.

Many have moved on to exciting new opportunities within the environment and heritage sectors including Angus Harkess who has secured a Historic Scotland funded bursary with Scottish Canals, Craig Clements who is now a trainee forestry operative with Central Woodland Services Limited, James Stevenson who now has a placement with Edinburgh Zoo and Connor Stibbles who took a business start-up course with The Prince’s Trust after canal college to equip him to make the leap and launch his own landscaping business.

Other young people have moved on to further education or a new position within the construction, engineering, retail or services industries.

It is of note that a number of young participants have developed good team leadership skills through canal college and others have found the confidence to return to canal college to mentor new recruits or lend their time to supporting young volunteers on other local projects.

Positive Destination Type Total to October 2014
Work 23
Work placement 11
Paid training 7
Further education 12
Volunteering 11
Total 64


Accredited qualifications achieved

(including Youth Achievement Award, John Muir Award, Saltire Award, SRUC Rural Skills, LANTRA (sector skills council for the land-based, environmental and aquaculture sectors), First Aid, RYA Helmsmanship)    53


Softer Outcomes

“The main reason I joined canal college was my social anxiety. I would never talk to anyone, never make eye contact or stand in front of a camera. Now I’m doing all this. I’ve moved on in leaps and bounds and built up so much confidence. Fourteen weeks ago I would never have thought I would be at this stage. It’s amazing.”


canal college has attracted young people presenting with a wide range of challenges which impinge on their progress to employment, training or further education. These have included speech problems, chaotic lifestyles, low self-esteem, acute shyness, poor social skills, learning disabilities, criminal convictions, Tourette’s, depression, schizophrenia, attempted suicide, social isolation and other diagnosed disorders.

The change in many of these young people over the course of the programmes has been remarkable and endorsed by parents, carers, social workers and the young people themselves during the programmes and within the evaluation led by the external evaluation consultant.  

Another softer outcome is the success of intergenerational working. Young participants work alongside volunteer mentors aged from their mid-twenties up to mid-sixties. Mentors have come from a wide range of backgrounds and have included a retired lecturer and local canal expert; two current Scottish Canals employees who volunteer on their days off; and two people who have faced traumatic challenges in their lives including homelessness and mental health issues.

There are also additional outcomes for some of the participating young people who leave canal college feeling less isolated and with improved social skills and family relationships.

Other softer outcomes include:

More people considering the canal as a potential workplace/ career path (from participants through to referral agencies, such as JobCentre Plus)

  • The heritage significance of canals, their design, operation and cultural heritage, being better understood and appreciated through canal college and in particular through the two Signature Projects, the excavation of the historic Falkirk lock flight and the new gateway on the Union Canal in Edinburgh
  • Local communities taking pride in their local canal through canal-side enhancements delivered through canal college and through involvement as volunteer mentors
  • The preservation / safeguarding of the canal infrastructure for waterside communities and visitors to enjoy
  • Increased knowledge of, and respect for, native plants, protected species, ancient woodland, lichen, herbs and waterway bio-diversity amongst participants and volunteer mentors



An evaluation framework was created to monitor outputs and outcomes for all the funding partners. The model, which includes Interreg specific outputs and outcomes was presented and discussed at the Green & Blue Futures partnership meeting in Tipperary in October 2013 and thereafter adopted.

An interim evaluation, including a review of performance against the Interreg Work Programmes related to canal college and wider partnership objectives, was completed by an external evaluation consultant in mid 2014 and shared with Green & Blue Futures partners.

The sources of evidence used in the evaluation include:

  • Participant and stakeholder interviews at celebration events
  • Participant telephone interviews, 2-3 months after leaving the programme
  • Project paperwork and reports, including notes from programme review meetings
  • Participant files and portfolios
  • Interim electronic stakeholder survey
  • Site visits and observations


Constraints / Requirements



Pilot Stakeholders

Scottish Waterways Trust has worked closely with lead partner Scottish Canals. Scottish Canals has provided permission to work on Scottish Canals managed land and identified relevant and rewarding tasks for canal college projects.

In-kind support from Scottish Canals has included technical personnel and expertise with heritage projects, health and safety processes, live stonemasonry projects along the canals and an introduction to Scotland’s canals induction session covering canal history, maintenance and operation. Scottish Canals has also provided free use of classroom space and the Conference Room at The Falkirk Wheel for training and for the project launch and celebration events marking the end of each programme round.

Scottish Waterways Trust has also developed a strong and growing canal college partnership network. Partners include:

  • Andrew McDonald – A Natural Heritage tutor who has delivered natural heritage training
  • Archaeology Scotland – The organisation helps lead the Falkirk Signature Project, the partial excavation of the Historic Lock Flight
  • Calders Gateway Steering Group Participants – This group of organisations shares the neighbouring land around the Edinburgh Signature Project, the creation of a landscaped gateway connecting the Calders community with the Union Canal. Partners include Bridge 8 Hub, Edible Estates, Wester Hailes Health Agency and Edinburgh City Council
  • Capital Skills, City of Edinburgh Council – Capital Skills provided transport for participants to travel to the SRUC pilot course in Edinburgh and remains an active referrer of young people
  • Edinburgh Canal Steering Group – This group includes City of Edinburgh Council, Scottish Canals, Re-Union Canal Boats, The Seagull Trust and Edinburgh Canal Society
  • Edinburgh College – Delivers stone and brick workshops for Edinburgh groups
  • Edinburgh Volunteer Centre – Facilitates the Saltire Award for Edinburgh participants
  • Falkirk Community Trust – Supports the Falkirk group with heritage trail research and walks led by Geoff Bailey, Custodian of Records
  • Falkirk Council – Moderates the Youth Achievement Awards
  • Falkirk Volunteer Centre – Facilitates the Saltire Award for Falkirk participants
  • Floramedica – Medical Herbalist Services – Floramedica conducted environmental appraisals (wildflowers) to demonstrate natural heritage on the Union Canal
  • Forth & Clyde Canal Society – Provides boats for welfare facilities
  • Forth Valley College – Provided a student to mentor a Falkirk group
  • Forestry Commission Scotland – Provides materials and invasive species activities
  • Greenhill Historical Society, Falkirk – Leads heritage trail guide research walks and talks
  • Harrison Stevens – Landscape Architects working on the Signature Projects
  • Historic Scotland – Delivers stone and brick workshops for Falkirk groups
  • John Muir Trust – Awards Discovery Level Certificates to participants and volunteer mentors fulfilling award criteria
  • Kirkwood Minibus Hire – Provides minibus hire services for the Falkirk groups
  • Land Engineering – Has contributed in-kind support, felling trees to allow safe access to the Falkirk Signature Project work area and preparing the site at Calders allowing the Edinburgh Signature Project to begin
  • Linlithgow Union Canal Society, West Lothian – Hosted heritage trail guide research and a visit to the Society’s museum
  • Polwarth Parish Church, Edinburgh – Has contributed in-kind use of the church garden area as a training ground and also internal space for end of Programme celebration events
  • Referees - These include Jobcentre Plus Edinburgh, Falkirk & Grangemouth; Skills Development Scotland; Capital Skills; City of Edinburgh Council; Leaving Care Falkirk; Central Advocacy Partners; Social Work departments; Real Jobs Falkirk; Falkirk Council; the Shaw Trust; family members. (Participants are also referred through the Scottish Waterways Trust’s Green Action entry level employability programme)
  • Re-Union Canal Boats – Provides canal boats as floating classrooms and welfare facilities. Re-Union volunteers have also led heritage research
  • Ronnie Rusack MBE, Edinburgh / Seagull Trust – Provides boats as welfare facilities for Edinburgh and Falkirk groups
  • South East Edinburgh Amenity Group Transport – Provides minibus hire services for the Edinburgh groups
  • SRUC, Oatridge – SRUC is currently delivering an NVQ two days a week for Falkirk participants. During Programme 1 in Edinburgh, SRUC delivered an 18 week pilot programme offering two SQA units for participants
  • Stan Reeves, Edinburgh – Boatbuilder and community education tutor, Stan has co-led a cultural heritage workshop
  • Tammy Chong – A graphic artist, Tammy is currently assisting with the production of the heritage trail guide
  • Wester Hailes Health Agency – Has contributed in-kind use of their community garden as a training ground
  • Wren & Greyhound – Project Evaluation Consultant


Design Delivery & Strategy

canal college is a direct, exciting and innovative response to the identified need for more opportunities for heritage skills training and direct learning, participation and engagement with our built, natural and cultural heritage.

By helping directly deliver a rich mix of physical and interpretation projects which themselves will have a life and legacy well beyond the term of canal college, the participants of canal college are amassing new skills, learning, confidence and an understanding of the variety of employment and volunteer opportunities available within the heritage and environment sectors.


canal college is delivered by Scottish Waterways Trust with support from Scottish Canals and a wide range of partner organisations and social enterprises.

Day to day delivery is led by a Scottish Waterways Trust team of three – the canal college Project Manager, the canal college co-ordinator Edinburgh and the canal college co-ordinator Falkirk with support from the wider in-house team.

canal college is delivered through on the ground training largely on the canal-side in Edinburgh and Falkirk and at The Falkirk Wheel with additional classroom training given on classroom boats, at The Falkirk Wheel, at Edinburgh College and Forth Valley College and, with specific programmes, at the Scottish Rural College campus at Broxburn near Edinburgh. Participants also benefit from additional educational visits and outings across the Central Belt.


Risks & Opportunities (additional to Green & Blue Futures outputs)

Managing Green Infrastructure

The canal college project is successfully delivering management of the blue and green space around the Lowland Canal network in Falkirk and Edinburgh on a small-scale.  

The project is delivered and managed by the third sector in partnership with other third sector organisations and social enterprises [social economy]. Green Infrastructure improvement projects include the creation of an improved gateway to the canal in Edinburgh – one of the most socially deprived areas in Scotland. Some small-scale canal infrastructure interventions are also being managed by the canal college project including the removal of vegetation on weirs and culverts so the canal water system will work more effectively and efficiently and the aesthetics of those weirs and culverts is enhanced.     

This project is very replicable and could be up-scaled. Indeed, the Waterways College Project, Belfast, and canal college co-hosted reciprocal learning visits in 2014.

Two young canal college participants also visited the Canal Connections Project in Leeds in September 2014 sharing their canal college experience. Two French students, Alban & Alexandre from the Lycée Agricole de Neuvic in Corrèze, also spent two weeks with canal college in October 2014.

Developing Canal-side Employability Training

canal college builds on the success of Scottish Waterways Trust’s entry level Green Action employability programme which has been running in Falkirk and North Lanarkshire for the past five years. canal college contributes to Scottish Waterways Trust and Scottish Canals’ joint aspirations to develop a wider skills and employment pathway on the canals beginning with entry level programmes through to graduate placements and internships.

Developing Volunteering

canal college also supports Scottish Waterways Trust’s on-going work to develop a wide range of exciting and rewarding volunteering opportunities on Scotland’s canals and within the surrounding greenspace.

Each young person and mentor is sign posted to other volunteering opportunities in their locality with a wide range of partner organisations.  If the canal college beneficiaries wish to continue volunteering the team support them through this process.

11 young people and mentors to date have moved to a new volunteering activity after completing canal college.


Legacy / Future Cost Implications / Maintenance Requirements

canal college is a vital springboard for the creation of a trailblazing Scottish canals wide skills, learning and employability pathway which in turn is benefitting the heritage and environment sector.

The learnings from Green Action and then canal college will be used to create framework of accessible, inclusive and meaningful learning, skills and qualification opportunities capable of reaching and helping people with a wide range of skills, interests and abilities from young people not in employment, education or training through to graduate trainees. It will be, we believe, the first of its kind in the sector and a huge legacy for canal college.

Each programme features a number of projects based around the three categories of built, natural and cultural heritage. Each has been devised to deliver learning for the participants and leave a lasting legacy behind when canal college concludes in 2015.

This legacy will be physical, on the ground, and include interpretative materials which will enhance the experiences of both community and tourists visiting the canals. It will be cultural legacy within the community and one we hope engenders local civic pride. It will be a social legacy for the individual participants and volunteer mentors as they graduate with new skills, confidence, learning, certificates and friends and are ultimately on the path to employability.

The results of each individual activity will also make a positive impact or leave a lasting legacy for the built, natural and cultural heritage of the Scottish canals and encourage more people to take ownership and help care for our waterways.

The maintenance of some of the physical aspects of canal college will be managed by Scottish Canals as the Land Owner and co-applicant under HLF.  This levies a 10 year maintenance contract to Scottish Canals.  Scottish Waterways Trust will endeavour to assist with the maintenance through retaining a bank of volunteers and partner organisations.