Jill Buchanan’s article in last week’s Falkirk Herald was a walk down memory lane for me and for quite a few others who spent many years of their working life in Falkirk College.
I joined the staff in 1976 more than a decade after the college opened but many of my new colleagues remembered a time before Grangemouth Road when their classrooms and workshops were dotted all over the town and district.
The courses they pioneered in these trade training centres laid the foundations for the new college and they deserve to be remembered as a vital part of the story.
In the years between the wars most craft apprentices were trained on the job with little formal educational input.
However, in the 1930s, high unemployment among young people in our area brought a new initiative to provide daytime facilities for school leavers.
A Junior Instruction Centre was established in what had once been the Grammar School of Falkirk in Park Street (now the Community Education Centre) and the local authority began negotiations with foundry employers on a new day release scheme.
The war interrupted the plans but the idea was not lost and, long before hostilities came to an end, plans to aid post-war reconstruction were already well advanced.
The building trades were the first to receive attention.
In early 1944 the authority purchased the former Poors’ House in High Station Road for £5000 and converted it into the County Trades School offering training to school leavers in bricklaying, plumbing, plastering, painting and joinery as a prelude to taking up apprenticeships.
Later that same year 69 boys started work and the further education revolution was underway. New courses in motor vehicle mechanics, wood machining and even baking were added to the building trades and soon there were over 400 day release students attending each week.
Three years after the County Trades School opened the mining industry, still a major part of the local economy, had its own training centre named the County Mining Institute located in the old Park Street school already mentioned.
Within a few years the building was also providing classes in electrical and mechanical engineering, draughtsmanship and machine shop practice and, before the move to the new college in 1962, there were over 600 day release students in attendance.
The third centre opened in 1950. It was housed in the old Blackbraes School and offered a variety of courses not usually associated with apprenticeships like shop work, shorthand and typing and later, radio and television repairs. Local policemen were offered assistance with their examinations and the girls from the Nobel Explosive factory were offered English and Craft classes.
Surprisingly, the last of the four centres to open serviced the foundry industry, then by far the most important source of employment in the district. The former Burnbank Foundry in Bainsford opened in 1953 and within a few years over 500 trainees were attending each week despite the reluctance of many employers who were not too keen on losing their boys for a day!
By the time Burnbank opened there were already moves to bring all the centres together in one new building with added facilities for the growing chemical industry and the new world of management and business studies.
The result was Falkirk Technical College. During 1962 the four centres closed and staff and students moved to their spanking new facilities including some of the leading educators who went on to play a major part in the early life of the new college.
Unforgettable characters like Andrew Robertson, Andrew Peebles and Nick Curry were the foundation on which much of the success that followed was built.