Scotland’s first canal college is a success!

Young volunteer participants who have benefitted from the Scottish Waterways Trust’s canal college over the project’s two-year run gathered to celebrate their achievements at The Falkirk Wheel on Wednesday 13th May.

Canal college®, which is the Scottish Waterways Trust’s largest project to date, was designed to help tackle unemployment amongst young people aged between 16 and 25 years who are living in Edinburgh and Falkirk and who have suffered setbacks in their life.

Since opening in June 2013, 165 young people have taken part in canal college, which was funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, the European Union Interreg IVB North West Europe project ‘Green & Blue Futures’, Scottish Natural Heritage and Scottish Canals.

Of those taking part up to January this year, over 60% have already moved on to a job or training course, further education or a new volunteering role. The final intake completes their programme this month.

As many as 24 volunteer mentors have taken part regularly with more taking part in one off activities. The final figures exceed the original target of 144 young participants and six volunteer mentors.

Over the two years, the young volunteers contributed 14,712 hours towards work on the canals and the mentors contributed 4,856 hours.

The total figure of 19,568 volunteer hours equates to £978,400 worth of volunteer time (calculated using Big Lottery Fund guidance).

Ross Martin, Chair of Scottish Waterways Trust, commended the young people saying: “canal college has been a resounding success for so many reasons. It’s wonderful to see all the young people who have taken part celebrating their achievements here tonight. Boosted by new confidence, skills and self-esteem, many of them have already moved on to a brighter future.

“This innovative employability programme has really interested and engaged local communities along the canals too with so many mentor volunteers coming forward to motivate and support the young participants.

“Last but not least, our canal college volunteers and mentors have made a real difference to the historic waterways contributing nearly 20,000 volunteer hours worth almost £1million to enhancing the fantastic natural, cultural and built heritage.

“Together, they’ve transformed bare land into landscaped resting spots, painstakingly uncovered heritage structures giving them a new lease of life and made vital repairs to stonework on bridges and pathways amongst other improvements.

“We’re extremely grateful to our funders, the Heritage Lottery Fund, the European Union Interreg IVB North West Europe project ‘Green & Blue Futures’ and Scottish Natural Heritage and our funder and partner Scottish Canals for giving us the opportunity to establish canal college.

“With the wind in our sails, we’re now seeking new funding to establish canal college 2 and take this unique, dynamic and exciting canal-based skills training programme into North Glasgow and up to the Highlands. Exciting times lie ahead.”

Provost Pat Reid added: “I am very sorry to see the present funding come to an end and hope very much that alternative sources will be found as soon as possible.

“The benefits to the young people involved and their mentors have been considerable and show a high social return for a relatively small amount of investment. The increase in self-confidence and self-respect and skills has been remarkable and the leadership and development of team working shown by instructors has been exemplary. The local community has also benefited greatly through improved access to the environment and help for those less mobile. Altogether, this has been a great example of how our less advantaged young people can access training.”

Steve Dunlop, Chief Executive of Scottish Canals, said: “Scottish Canals is exceptionally proud to have played a role in canal college. I’d like to say a huge thank you to each of its graduates for their hard work caring for the incredible environments of the nation’s canals.

“Our staff, who helped train the students in everything from stonemasonry to archaeological surveying, were incredibly impressed by their dedication, commitment and willingness to learn. Indeed, some of the graduates have since moved into full-time roles within Scottish Canals.

“The work of canal college has helped to safeguard the rich, 200-year-old heritage of the nation’s canals and given new opportunities, skills and confidence to the students taking part. Every one of the graduates should be proud of all that they have achieved and I’d like to offer them the very best of luck for the future.”

With the wind in our sails, we're now seeking new funding to establish canal college 2 and take this unique, dynamic and exciting canal-based skills training programme into North Glasgow and up to the Highlands. Exciting times lie ahead.

Ross Martin, Chair of Scottish Waterways Trust

Chris Bailey, representing European Union Interreg IVB North West Europe project ‘Green & Blue Futures’ said: “I’m delighted to be here as lead partner for North West Europe’s Interreg IVB programme. Such funding enables great programmes like canal college which deliver tremendous positive outputs and outcomes.”

Colin McLean, Head of the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) in Scotland, said: “We commend canal college for the inspirational work they have done with young people and local communities. The canals have provided powerful and memorable experiences making learning fun and equipping those taking part with skills which will carry them forward. Importantly, they have also sparked a passion for looking after our environment, a passion which is vital if our natural heritage is to be passed on in good order to future generations.”

Maureen Clements, mother of young volunteer participant Craig concluded: “Craig has mild learning difficulties and has required support in nursery, school, college and even now with employment.  Craig and his peers require life skills and it is only through courses such as canal college that these skills are taught and practised. Courses like canal college are invaluable and where investment should be for the future of our young people who have additional support needs, teaching them practical skills that are transferable.”

During the 14 week heritage skills training programme, the young people, and their volunteer mentors, have gained wide ranging practical experience whilst working on the historic Forth & Clyde and Union Canals and at The Falkirk Wheel.

Topics have included landscaping, tree planting and vegetation management, wildlife conservation, trail creation, canal engineering and maintenance.

Participants and volunteer mentors have also worked on two ‘signature projects’ leaving a legacy for the canal college project in Edinburgh and Falkirk.

In Edinburgh, the young people created a new landscaped waterside space beside the Union Canal at Calders. The new resting spot will be maintained by volunteers over the summer months thanks to a volunteer project grant of £2,000 awarded by the City of Edinburgh Council.

In Falkirk, the young people undertook the shallow excavation of three locks in the historic Falkirk Lock Flight, which had lain covered since the 1960s. The new heritage attraction will become part of the visitor experience at The Falkirk Wheel and be cared for by volunteers through Archaeology Scotland’s Adopt a Monument Scheme.

During the two day a week canal college programme, participants also worked towards a number of awards to boost their CV including Youth Achievement and Saltire awards and help was given help with job seeking and interview skills.

Issued on behalf of Scottish Waterways Trust

Notes to Editors

Scottish Waterways Trust (SWT)

  • SWT creates brighter futures for people, wildlife and communities along Scotland’s canals
  • By connecting people with the heritage, wildlife and green open spaces of the Scottish canals, SWT inspires people to get active, improve their health and mental well-being, employment prospects and community life.

Heritage Lottery Fund

  • From the archaeology under our feet to the historic parks and buildings we love, from precious memories and collections to rare wildlife, we use National Lottery players’ money to help people across the UK explore, enjoy and protect the heritage they care about.
  • Further HLF information Please contact Shiona Mackay on 01786 870638/ 07779 142890 ( or Jon Williams on 0207 591 6035 (

Green and Blue Futures

  • Green and Blue Futures aims to develop a strategic framework for managing Europe’s nature sites, parks, open space, woodlands & waterways in a more cost-effective way and that can be promoted throughout north west Europe. Such an approach involves local stakeholders as well as delivering social outcomes like employment for disadvantaged groups.

Scottish Natural Heritage

  • Scottish Natural Heritage is the government’s adviser on all aspects of nature and landscape across Scotland. Our role is to help people understand, value and enjoy Scotland’s nature now and in the future. For more information, visit our website at or follow us on Twitter at

Scottish Canals

  • Scottish Canals is responsible to the Scottish Government for the management and development of five Scottish canals as well as the surrounding estate and The Falkirk Wheel
  • The Forth & Clyde, Union and Monkland Canals in the Lowlands, the Crinan Canal in Argyll and the Caledonian Canal in the Highlands, together extend over 137 miles from coast to coast, across country and into the cities of Edinburgh, Glasgow and Inverness
  • Built two hundred years ago to fire the Industrial Revolution, today the canals contribute to the Scottish Government agenda of developing a Greener; Healthier; Smarter; Safer and Stronger; and Wealthier and Fairer Scotland by acting as a catalyst for sustainable economic development, regeneration and tourism; contributing to education, biodiversity, heritage and promoting active living and healthier lifestyles
  • The Forth & Clyde, Union, Monkland, Caledonian and Crinan Canals are recognised as Scheduled Monuments and attract 22million visitations per year.

Share this Story