Unlocking Potential: canal college

It’s easy to boil the recession down to headlines and horrifying statistics, but it’s the human faces behind the numbers that need our help.

More than 1 in 5 of our young people are now unemployed at the time of their lives that should be filled with opportunity and potential. And, as anyone who has faced a life without work knows, unemployment can leave you feeling useless, isolated, unwanted and trapped. With canal college, we’re doing what we can to help – offering skills, training and helping to build the confidence of those who need it most.

Our largest and most ambitious project to date, canal college supports young people aged between 16 and 25 who are not in education, employment or training and helps them gain a wide range of heritage and environmental skills and certificates by undertaking innovative projects on and along Scotland’s waterways and at The Falkirk Wheel over a 14-week course. Scheduled to run until June 2015, the programme will help almost 150 young people gain new experience, skills and confidence as they get on the route to work.

“It unlocks your full and true potential.” – Councillor Gordon Munro, Canal Champion for Edinburgh

Undertaking everything from archiving and field surveying to vegetation management and wildlife habitat creation, with the help of a dedicated group of volunteer mentors, industry experts and our own canal college team, the students have already unearthed a long-lost lock flight that once filled the role of The Falkirk Wheel; helped safeguard an historic stable building that once housed the horses that powered the Forth & Clyde Canal in its heyday; started work to create an iconic, landscaped gateway to link the Calders area in Edinburgh with the green space of the Union Canal, and much, much more.

I was actually really good at stonemasonry, woodcarving – stuff I had no idea I would be good at. You can try your hands at lots of different things and surprise yourself.” – Ashleigh, canal college student

But, more than just skills, experience and certificates, canal college helps young people build the confidence they need to get into work, unlock their potential and live the lives they want to lead. From the camaraderie of working as part of a team to the influence of our incredible volunteer mentors, the course helps students to overcome the issues that unemployment can bring.

“Canal college really has let me become more confident in myself and gave me more social skills… It’s totally changed me.” – Zach, canal college student

But none of this would be possible without the help of our volunteer mentors. Advising, assisting, supporting and motivating, mentors help our students to unlock their potential, develop the skills for work, and improve their chances of a brighter future. While many of our volunteer mentors are able to pass on practical skills in everything from stonemasonry and carpentry to wildlife conservation and engineering, the only ability we ask for is being able to listen.

Acting as a guide for our students, our volunteer mentors help them recognise life choices, think about things differently and make difficult decisions. They’re teachers, confidantes, friends and sounding boards with an ever-ready, understanding ear and fair, honest and constructive feedback. No matter their background, each one of them plays a vital role in our students’ lives.

“We see a change within a matter of weeks with some of the students, who are shy and a little drawn into themselves. When you get them to participate in things, friendships develop and they come out of their shells.” –  Tommy, canal college volunteer mentor

It’s a rewarding experience for our mentors, too. Aside from the satisfaction of helping young people move on with their lives, they learn new skills, meet new people, enjoy the incredible environments of the waterways and boost their CV with some valuable volunteering and conservation awards including the Saltire Award and John Muir Award.

“It gives you a chance to be a part of something a bit bigger. You’re doing things you never thought you’d ever do, like working on listed buildings. I’d always walk past them and wonder who carried out that sort of work. Well, that’s us!” – Naomi, canal college volunteer mentor

If you think you could help get a young person on the path to work as a volunteer mentor, or want to support the work we do, find out more about volunteering or donating today and help us create a brighter future for the young people of Scotland.