New canal Portal is the gateway for a new partnership

An exciting new partnership between Dudley Canal Trust (Trips) and Dudley College was made formal when the two organisations recently signed an agreement to support joint working at the new 'Portal' visitor facility due to open by Autumn 2014.

The new £3.3m facility will be sited alongside the canal and impressive limestone caverns and tunnels in Dudley. It is a bespoke development designed to enhance the world-famous tourist and canal-enthusiast attraction by providing a visitors' welcome facility, exhibition area and restaurant to more than 80,000 people who enjoy the attraction each year.

The partnership has great potential for joint working and is to include the college contributing towards the cost of installing a commercial training kitchen and restaurant where catering students will cook for visitors, corporate clients and even wedding parties, as the Trust has a licence for marriages to take place in the caverns.

The involvement of students at the Portal will extend to travel and tourism students gaining valuable experience of dealing with the public in the visitors' welcome and exhibition facility, and engineering and media students helping with special restoration and promotional projects.

"Many of our students will benefit from this unique partnership so we are really excited about the opportunities working with Dudley Canal Trust (Trips) can offer," explained Lowell Williams, Principal at Dudley College. "The key to our students' success is giving them the 'hands-on' skills that employers are looking for. We will now be able to provide catering and customer care experiences in a real local tourist attraction as well as developing an understanding of how a heritage site operates.

"Developing joint ventures with local organisations such as Dudley Canal Trust (Trips) enables the college to offer new and innovative courses and career progression routes. It also supports the regeneration improvements taking place in Dudley."

The planning of the Portal, which takes its name from the entrance to a canal tunnel, has been three years in development, and applications for funding the building are well advanced; provided funding is confirmed, work is due to commence this winter.

"We are thrilled that our new Portal is giving us the splendid opportunity to form a long term partnership with Dudley College that will enable young people in our area to train in a real life environment for worthwhile careers and, at the same time, give our customers great quality and value", said Jeff Luesley, Chairman, Dudley Canal Trust (Trips) Ltd.

The two storey building is expected to be a welcome addition for visitors who will be able to enjoy a full dining experience in the restaurant which overlooks the canal. There will also be heritage interpretation and activities where interesting, interactive educational exhibits will help to make the attraction come to life, as well as a shop and conferencing facilities. The grounds around the centre will be landscaped and offer parking and access to the new 'leisure route' which will connect the canal Portal to Dudley Zoo and Black Country Living Museum.