Meet an Ayrshire Miner

Last year, during the new Kilmarnock Campus Community Open Day on Saturday 19 November 2016, we met a lovely couple who told us all about their working lives in Ayrshire. Mr Findlay agreed to come and visit us again to tell us about life as an Ayrshire Miner.


Jim Findlay

When we were moving into our new campus in Kilmarnock we rediscovered a few treasures. A box of old prospectuses ranging from 1925 onwards found by the Learning Resource Centre (LRC) Team. These prospectuses were created by the Ayrshire Education Authority and the Ayr County Council (Education Committee).

So how much has college really changed since then?

Flicking through the old prospectuses a few courses that we offer here at Ayrshire College could certainly be found: engineering, plumbing, art, joinery, baking, and painting and decorating to name a few.

However, there are quite a few courses that we definitely don’t offer: mining, salesmanship, pattern-making, and perhaps the most significantly different – domestic science – a course just for women to learn millinery, dressmaking, sewing, household maths and laundry skills.

As luck would have it we met a gentleman during the new Kilmarnock Campus Community Open Day who had actually studied mining surveying at Ayr Technical College (now our Ayr Campus) in 1955. Jim and Joan Findlay agreed to visit us again, and Jim told us about college life and working in the mining industry in Ayrshire.

Why did you decide to go to college?

It was part of the terms of my apprenticeship with the National Coal Board that I went to college once a week. I had no working hours in my contract, I worked when I was asked by the Board. I started my Mining Surveying course at Ayr Technical College and finished it at the Royal College of Science and Technology – now Strathclyde University.

What do you remember about the course?

There was 4 main subjects in the course: mathematics, mining surveying, mining technology and geology. I still have one of the textbooks I used.

What age were you when you started the course?

I think about 18 years old. That’s what age you had to be to work underground in the mines.

Was it all men that studied mining?

Women were not allowed underground, so no women could take the course. It was against the law for women and children to work underground.

What did a mining surveyor do?

I used a theodolite or mining dial to make sure the roads (tunnels) were going in the direction indicated on the development plan. We surveyed the workings every three months and updated the colliery plans.

Was there a yellow canary underground or is this a myth?

Yes, there really was a yellow canary underground. The bird would normally be kept in a cage in one of the surface buildings and taken underground if and when required. If the canary passed out it would mean that the levels of toxic gas was getting higher. It would be revived though.

What jobs have you had since your apprenticeship with the National Coal Board?

I was employed by the National Coal Board from 1955 to 1967 based at Lugar, near Cumnock. Around then the coal industry was declining so I decided to move job. From 1967 to 1974 I worked with the Scottish Special Housing Association, I also went back to college and studied Civil Engineering 3 nights a week. From 1974 to 1996 I worked with Ayrshire and Bute Water Board and Strathclyde Water Services.

What made you come to our new Kilmarnock Campus Community Open Day?

Joan and I went to the old campus for the local history group lectures. The group now uses the new campus so we saw that it was advertised and decided to go.

What do you think of the new campus?

It’s very impressive, the sheer space and brightness throughout the building. The number of computers is amazing as well, this was unheard of when I went to college. The seats designed by Cumnock Academy are also great. The difference from when I was at college is huge; we didn’t have a café, outdoor sports facilities and even the number of courses we could take was limited.

If you were to go to college now what would you study?

Civil Engineering I think. I enjoyed being an engineer.

We really enjoyed having Jim and Joan visit us at Ayrshire College and tell us all about college in the 1950s. We look forward to welcoming them and the History Group that meets in the Open Space every Tuesday evening.

Moving further into the 21st century the only mining Ayrshire will be seeing is data mining.

Guest post – John Rainey on the Ayrshire College Foundation

John Rainey has 50 years of experience in Finance, HR, Project Management, and System Development and Implementation. He has held senior positions in Manufacturing, Logistics and Distribution, Sales and Services, Management Consulting and Pharmaceuticals in the UK, Geneva and in the USA. Most recently, he set up his own consultancy company focusing on Change Management.

John served on the Board of Management of the former Ayr College for eight years and was a member of the Ayrshire Partnership Board which managed the merger leading to the creation of Ayrshire College. He is now Chair of the Ayrshire College Foundation. We spoke to John about the Foundation.

Why did you get involved with the project?

I was happy to get involved in the setting up of Ayrshire College Foundation as I’m all for making sure that these kind of projects are given help to get off the ground.

Why was the Ayrshire College foundation set up?

The main reason was to invest in education projects. We want to advance education by providing financial support for projects and activities carried out and supported by Ayrshire College.

What types of project have you funded?

The Foundation made a grant of approximately £3 million to Ayrshire College in 2015 to support the upgrade of Student Services facilities on the Ayr and Kilwinning campuses.

Who can apply for funding?

Anyone can apply as long as they want to promote an educational project within Ayrshire. We will consider any application as long as it is in line with the objectives of the Ayrshire College Foundation.

What kind of projects would be likely to be approved?

There’s a very broad spectrum of projects that could be funded by the Foundation.

A project that we recently approved is Mission Discovery, where school and college students will work with astronaut trainers, rocket scientists and NASA leaders for a week. Mission Discovery is proven to enhance students’ scientific and technological skillsets, while developing innovation and team work. The three Ayrshire local authorities are working with Ayrshire College on this project.

Applications for funding need to fit the criteria of being in Ayrshire and supporting education and training.

If someone has a great idea what process should they follow?

They should submit an application form. If successful, this will be followed up with a face to face interview and a presentation to Foundation trustees.

How long does the process normally take?

Trustees meet every quarter to consider new applications and review progress of funded projects. The process for receiving an application and reaching a decision normally takes between three to six months.

What does it involve?

It’s important that the application has been thoroughly prepared and researched, and includes details such as how much funding is required and the timescales involved. We recommend that applications are submitted at least four months prior to the planned project start date.

Once a project is approved how will it be monitored and evaluated?

During the twelve months after a project is approved, we will be looking for progress reports to let us know to what extent the project’s goals have been achieved and what lessons have been learned.

How do I find out more?

More details about the Ayrshire College Foundation and how to apply for funding are available on our website


Ayrshire College students create history!

Ayrshire College students talk about their recent visit to Bannockburn and how their experiences on the Prince’s Trust Team course has helped them move forward in their lives.

What was it like to meet the First Minister?

At first we weren’t sure what he would be like, but we are all in agreement that he is a very down to earth man and willing to listen to what we were saying. He spent a good deal of time with us sitting on the stairs in the College and we all got a group photo with him. It was extra special that he was willing to take the time to have selfies with whoever wanted one. He also arranged for us to go to Bannockburn to visit the new Bannockburn Experience.

Tell us about your experience at Bannockburn

We learned a lot on our visit to the Bannockburn Experience that we didn’t know before. We found it very interesting and are very glad we got to experience it. We found out about the history of this battle and learned about the people involved in the battle and the role they had in it, as well as the dates all of the events took place. We got a chance to put on the armour and hold the weapons. We also took part in a battle strategy game. It has been good to find out more about our history in a fun and enjoyable way.

In what ways has your course helped you in your life?

Before coming on this course, a lot of us had very low confidence and found it hard to talk to people and speak up, but now we are able to communicate with each other as well as people we don’t know very well. We are also speaking up more and putting out ideas, supporting each other and working better as a team. The group is learning new skills every day which they are learning to progress to help them in the future. In weeks 1 and 2 we did team building games to help build confidence and trust within the team to help us work better as a unit.

Tell us a little about your experience on the Prince’s Trust programme at Ayrshire College?

On the first week people were introduced to one another and getting to know them. We also did team building games to gain everyone’s trust. On the third week we went to a residential with one of the other teams for five days to do more team challenges and activities. We also got a chance to learn about people’s strengths and weakness, and took part in activities like canoeing, rock climbing, abseiling. We had a tree top challenge, BBQ and a talent show on the last day. Overall, it has been the best experience ever and we have gained a lot from this programme.

Any final comments?

Ayrshire College teams 131, 132 and 133 would like to thank Alex Salmond for the invitation, for the gifts and arranging for us to visit the exhibition, the staff for their help throughout the day and a big thank you to the staff in the café for the lunch!


There are photos of the visit to Bannockburn on the College’s flickr site

If you’re between 16 and 25, unemployed and looking for something new, the 12-week Team programme might be for you. You’d be joining a group of other young people to gain new skills, make new friends and improve your job prospects. For more information on Prince’s Trust courses at Ayrshire College, visit or call 0300 303 0303.


Historic week for Ayrshire College

A series of announcements in the week beginning 2 June 2014 will be remembered for a long time to come in Ayrshire.

Principal Heather Dunk explains.


Tuesday 3 June – Breaking new ground in North Ayrshire

On the same day that Sir Ian Wood’s report on developing Scotland’s young workforce was published, Ayrshire College and North Ayrshire Council announced an innovative shared campus development. The Skills Centre of Excellence – the first of its kind in Scotland – will be based at Irvine Royal Academy and will build a closer relationship between subjects taught at school, college courses and employability programmes.

From September 2014, the Centre will deliver sports and health and social care courses. Hospitality, construction and engineering courses will be introduced in 2015. This is a fantastic opportunity for the College and North Ayrshire Council to achieve the very first recommendation in Sir Ian’s report on delivering industry recognised courses to senior school pupils alongside existing qualifications.

Vocational courses offered by the Skills Centre of Excellence will be available to young people beyond Irvine Royal’s catchment area, contributing to achieving our vision of raising aspirations, inspiring achievement and increasing opportunities for all young people in North Ayrshire. The Skills Centre of Excellence is the start of an exciting new chapter for the College in North Ayrshire and I look forward to welcoming the first intake of students in September.

Wednesday 4 June – Building work on new campus begins

The College reached a major milestone in our £53 million new campus development project in Kilmarnock when Financial Close took place on 4 June, which meant that work could begin on the site.

This is the beginning of a 25 year contract with C3, a consortium consisting of 3i Infrastructure plc, McLaughlin & Harvey Ltd and SPIE FS Northern UK Ltd. As well as delivering state of the art learning facilities, the new build project will create more than 170 construction jobs, apprenticeship places and numerous work placements for students.

The Kilmarnock Campus will totally transform Hill Street and the surrounding area. The innovative campus building will offer world class facilities for students, as well as being an excellent resource for local people, businesses and the wider community in Ayrshire.

Ambitious for Ayrshire

This was a truly historic week for Ayrshire College which reinforced how committed we are to raising the aspirations of the people and communities of Ayrshire. The investment in our Ayr and Kilwinning campuses, our new Kilmarnock campus and our new Skills Centre of Excellence in Irvine means that we will increase opportunities for students across Ayrshire.

There has never been a more exciting time to study in Ayrshire.