A Partnership between Scottish Canals and GCU by Prof John Lennon

A Partnership between Scottish Canals and GCU

This on-going partnership between Glasgow Caledonian University (GCU) and Scottish Canals (SC) has benefitted both organisations over a period of some 10 years since 2005. The relationship has utilised expertise from ; Tourism, Engineering and Work Based Learning to help drive an organisation that emerged from British Waterways (Scotland) in 2012 as a stand-alone public body of the Scottish Government. The relationship is characterised by continuity of key personnel in both organisations and a mature, high trust relationship between GCU and SC. This has seen technical knowledge exchange, business development and tourism marketing as well as partnership in Knowledge Transfer Projects combining industry and academic expertise and increased cooperation around work based learning in the form of a Canal Academy.
The partnership works at the most senior levels of the organisation with the Chief Executive of Scottish Canals working to assist the Glasgow School of Business and Society in Glasgow Caledonian University to forge even better links with his organisation through membership of the School Advisory Board. This is the primary conduit to industry that strategically guides business provision in the form of undergraduate and postgraduate provision. Similarly strong relationships exist with the School of Engineering and the Built Environment where Scottish Canals were able to host Science without Borders funded Brazilian students working on practical engineering projects in the waterways and canals context.

Over the years both organisations have benefited from this partnership which has been key to supporting Scottish Canals transformation from an engineering based business to a dynamic tourism, regeneration organisation that uses these 250 year old waterways as important and relevant 21st Century assets.

Towards a KTP ; Building on foundations of cooperation

In 2005-6 British Waterways senior managers were introduced to Prof Lennon of the Moffat Centre and some initial analysis on the Falkirk Wheel and generic marketing appraisal was conducted. This led to a long term relationship in the tourism and leisure elements of BW and latter SC. This included work on the development and scoping study for the Helix Park development and Kelpies Sculptures near Falkirk. This project involved frequent site meetings, appraisal of business plans and development of detailed forecasts for all elements of the project. The nature of collaboration was cohesive with Professor Lennon joining senior staff of BW and Latter SC to understand organisation priorities and the transition the company was going through. The completion of forecasts and business planning was followed by an independent economic impact analysis of the opening event (as part of the Homecoming 2014 year long celebration). Emergent from this relationship was the proposal to progress a Knowledge Transfer Partnership between GCU and SC to focus on leisure and tourism development in four key sites; Glasgow, Edinburgh, Inverness and Falkirk. The project considers transition of urban, rural assets, brown field assets and growing revenue generation through tourism related development. The KTP project was successful at a value of £97,000 over a period of 18 months. It has allowed the SC team to employ a Tourism development focussed KTP research assistant who has worked directly on these projects mentored by Richard Millar SC Director of Heritage, Enterprise and Sustainability and will utilise this data and field experience towards a PhD in this area registered with GCU and supervised by Professor Lennon.

Supporting real business objectives through KTP

The performance of the tourism assets of the company has been extraordinarily successful with the redevelopment of the Falkirk former brown field site as the Helix Park hosting the world renowned Kelpie Sculptures achieving in excess of 1 million visitor since opening. Similarly other sites such as the Falkirk Wheel recently celebrating a decade of operation continues to outperform competitors ensuring it is one of Scotland’s top ten most visited attractions achieving some 514,170 visitors in 2014 up a staggering 26.5% on 2013 (406,683 visitors). In addition, the business and enterprise portfolio has seen significant growth with a range of revenue streams from Canal Cottage accommodation to retail development, activity and water sport hire all showing tangible growth and profitability. The increased revenue streams continue to support the maintenance and continual development of this important national asset. The organisation is set to continue with significant growth in revenues as new projects commence in the rural heartlands of Scotland in the form of visitor centres, retail outlets, activity hire and water sport development.

Academic Impacts achieved from this project

The partnership with the Moffat Centre has provided numerous returns most tangibly in the form of income to the centre which helps fund £1.6 million worth of scholarships for over 130 students studying to enter the tourism sector. This is the largest such scholarship programme in Europe and has enabled students with limited financial resources to gain undergraduate and postgraduate higher education. In addition the data generated from involvement in BW/SC project directly informs teaching and the construction of learning resources such as Case Studies. The recruitment of a KTP associate as part of the project enabled the research output to tangibly increase as both Professor Lennon and Andrew McKean (KTP Associate) were able to present development finding from the project to a UNESCO conference on water and heritage in 2015. This paper will form the basis of a chapter for an edited book collection in the subject and quantitative research on consumers is forming the basis of a further paper for a tourism journal. Scottish Canals in turn is to host the World Canals Conference in 2016 in Inverness. This is the largest such gathering in the sector and will offer a chance to showcase the best of SC technology, engineering and tourism and leisure development. It will bring significant economic impact to the highlands of Scotland and will see further partnership between GCU and SC in provision, operation and development of written outputs.

There is no doubt that the teaching and learning experience for students and staff of GCU has been significantly enhanced by this relationship and the realistic work environment and case problem approach adopted. The partnerships evidenced in problem solving, bring international experience and knowledge and driving quality learning has been invaluable.

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