Queen of colleges launched

28th September 2007 at 01:00
Last Thursday was a celebration of the past, present and future at Clydebank College in West Dunbartonshire. As the "QE2" returned on its 40th anniversary farewell trip down the Clyde, the Cabinet Secretary for Education declared the new college building, on the site where the liner was built, open for business.

Taking part in the celebration were college board members from the past, such as George Kelly, former head of personnel at John Brown's Shipyards, and Ena Williamson, former lab technician at the college whose husband worked in the shipyards. All had tales to tell of what the docks were like in the days of Clydesider Jimmy Reid and how local businesses wanted the young students trained to help regenerate the area. This is a college firmly rooted in its past, but looking out to a future with links to Europe and beyond.

Clydebank College has been through difficult times financial problems, HMI criticisms, deteriorating accommodation in Kilbowie Road that "reached the end of its useful life" with two floors closed off. But with principal Matt Mochar at the helm, it has turned itself around. He is careful to pay tribute to the board of management, politicians, Scottish Government and its officers, local, national and European sponsors, staff and students.

"It is an investment that manifests itself in many communities across Scotland as colleges enjoy investment in their new estates," he said. Edinburgh's Telford College, John Wheatley College in Glas-gow's east end, South Lanarkshire College and West Lothian College in Livingston have benefited from new buildings, thanks largely to the Scottish Funding Council, and more are in the pipeline.

The scale of investment was highlighted by Janet Dawson, chair of the board of management. In 1965, the original Kilbowie campus cost pound;500,000, Pounds 210,000 was spent on equipment and fittings, and it had 1,100 students, she said. Forty years later, the new building cost pound;32 million, pound;2.7 million for equipment and fittings, and it had more than 10,000 students. But it was, said education secretary Fiona Hyslop, "a fantastic new building (that) brings a whole new opportunity not just to develop their potential, but to fulfil their potential".

Looking around, you could see what she meant. An elegant modern edifice, built on a river basin, it is bright and fresh with plenty of glass and light to cheer students and staff who can enjoy spectacular views of boats passing their windows. Terraces at ground level and refectory balconies encourage them to sit out in the middle of the working day.

The ground floor is a hive of activity welding rooms with the clanking sounds of factories, doors leading off a corridor to workshops for electrical installations, fabrication, gas safety, motor vehicle engineering, construction, domesticated plumbing, joinery, painting and wallpapering. The whole of industry is here. In the motor vehicle workshop, where 20 cars are being serviced, the Cabinet Secretary is on her hunkers being shown by a girl in overalls why the brake pads on her car wear unevenly.

In the teaching kitchen, 10 young chefs make chicken soup, tomato-peppered loaf and rolls, and chicken supreme in chasseur sauce.

Up the colour-coded staircases (for visually impaired students) to the first floor, there's the language lab, home economics and sewing, a computer-aided design room with 13 boys from BAe Systems learning drawing commands on their computers, linked to the lecturer's interactive whiteboard. "There's no comparison with Kilbowie Road," said lecturer Frank Burnicle. "This is luxury with its air conditioning. It is a lovely atmosphere to work in."

On the second floor, at the centre for media and technology, a young man is editing his film of a football match. Students can "energise" in a fitness suite, gym, games and dance halls, relax in the spa with treatment beds, whirlpool and steam room, or get a massage from the SVQ level 3 girls studying alternative therapies.

In the hairdressing salon, ladies are having their hair styled. "It's not that we didn't have all these services before and the floor area is actually less than the old building," said Nicola Tyrell, marketing manager, "but the building and workshops are fit for purpose. Everything has been specially designed."

There have been teething problems whiteboards that didn't work, classrooms that were smaller than some would have liked, and rooms that don't have PCs. John Redman, head of the education, care, and leisure centre, wants to see laptops in classrooms where there are no PCs, and the lecturers, who have been trained to use the whiteboards, need to integrate them into their teaching.

But there is an atmosphere of optimism and excitement around the building. A student had written about "Our new college" "the canteen with great staff", "the views of the river", "the great gym and changing rooms are spacious".

The recently launched Skills Strategy issued challenges and the college looked forward to giving "a robust response", said Mr Mochar. Its agenda was complex lifelong learning, citizenship, employability all of which needed significant investment to deliver it effectively: "We are here to celebrate that today."

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