Students celebrate graduating from Canal College in Falkirk

Scotland’s next generation of heritage and conservation preservation specialists celebrated successfully graduating from environmental charity Keep Scotland Beautiful’s Canal College this summer.

Furthermore, a new intake of Summer School participants have already taken up the reigns, learning new skills in an eight-week course which began on 15 August and will run until October.

Run by Keep Scotland Beautiful since 2019, the Canal College programme is a heritage skills-focused employability project which helps people boost their life and work opportunities, while protecting the nation’s canal heritage. People of all ages and backgrounds take part, developing their confidence, skills and work experience to help them progress into employment and training.

Many of the projects support the work of Archaeology Scotland and Historic Environment Scotland, as well as Scottish Canals.

Setting the tone for a successful summer and autumn, students who successfully completed the previous 12-week Canal College programme gathered on 8 July at the Coach House in Camelon, Falkirk, to celebrate their achievements. Ten participants took part in outdoor, hands-on learning along the Forth & Clyde and Union Canals. They successfully completed a wide range of practical activities helping conserve and enhance the canals’ built, natural and cultural heritage. These included:


  • Worked with Innovate Rural to design and build an installation at the Falkirk Wheel from reclaimed wood, taken from the Bergen Pavilion, which was part of the Scottish Festival of Architecture in 2016 and was exhibited in Edinburgh.
  • Site, building, graveyard recording and excavations with Archaeology Scotland at the Antonine Wall, The Pineapple at the Dunmore Estate in Clackmannanshire, and Cathkin Park in Glasgow
  • As part of the Dandelion Festival, built floating gardens with Dandelion at Auchinstarry Marina
  • Undertook canal maintenance on the Forth and Clyde canal by Kirkintilloch Marina, with Scottish Canals staff
  • Completed Climate Emergency training with Keep Scotland Beautiful
  • Enjoyed a traditional signwriting workshop delivered by canal college graduate Jay in the coach house.

Candidates worked towards an SQA qualification in Cultural Heritage, which comprises six units. putting them on the pathway to careers in outdoor based jobs such as forestry, landscaping and even construction.  They also gained the John Muir Discovery award for conservation, the Saltire Award for volunteering and the Archaeology Scotland Heritage Heroes Silver Award.

Participants also learned traditional skills including signwriting, and their work was displayed in a John Muir themed exhibition revealed at the celebration on 8 July.

Graduates were joined by representatives of Canal College, Keep Scotland Beautiful, Scottish Canals, Archaeology Scotland, the Department of Work and Pensions, Innovate Rural, Graeme High School and Camelon Sensory Centre..

Barry Fisher, Chief Executive of Keep Scotland Beautiful, said: “Every single person graduating from Canal College has worked extremely hard to gain their qualifications. I am very proud of everyone and impressed by the commitment that they have demonstrated.

“The course is designed to provide practical hands-on experience whilst helping to build self-esteem. I hope that our graduates walk away with the confidence and skills to re-enter the workplace, working to protect Scotland’s cultural heritage.”

Brodie Bell attended Canal College and found it to be helpful in finding something he was passionate about.

The 17-year-old said: “Canal College gave me the opportunity to try out and learn new skills. I really enjoyed working outdoors helping to tidy up and redesign public spaces. I was inspired to apply to Oatridge College to study horticulture and landscaping.

“Everyone was very friendly, and I liked the relaxed environment. It helped build my confidence and self-belief.”

Annie, who worked with Keep Scotland Beautiful for six months in a support role, was a candidate at Canal College before becoming a mentor to another candidate who is registered blind.

Like Brodie, her experience at Canal College gave her the confidence to get back into work.

She said: “After a full time career I had redundancy and then a primary care giver role that left me doubtful of ever returning to the workplace.

“I completed online refresher courses, was given a support officer but it was only when the opportunity to join a 12 week programme with Canal College did I start to realise I still had good skills to offer an employer.

“The environment at Canal College is one of nurture and diversity which is a great leveller especially if you haven’t been able to work in a team for many years.

“One day you are cutting out brambles another you will be calling on your inner artist. Working alongside professional organisations and community groups I was able to regain that missing confidence and to know that “being out of the game for too long” didn’t matter.

“I cannot recommend it enough plus there are always biscuits.

To find out more about the Canal College visit: https://www.keepscotlandbeautiful.org/canals

17 October 2022

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