Students team up with trustees of historic steamer

She was the largest Clyde pleasure steamer ever built who ferried thousands of holidaymakers ‘doon the watter’ to the west coast of Scotland.

But by the time the 85-year-old TS Queen Mary was rescued rusting from an Essex dock yard and returned to the river where she was built for a multi-million pounds restoration in 2016, her glory days were long behind her.

The Friends of TS Queen Mary charity, formed in 2012 to safeguard the future of the steamer, is now creating an onboard, world-class  heritage centre. The ship has a new, permanent berth next to the Millennium Bridge at Glasgow Science Centre. 

Students at the University of Strathclyde are playing a pivotal role in transforming the world’s last remaining turbine steamer.

Chairman of the charity, Iain Sim, which has Princess Anne as its Royal Patron, is also a part time law lecturer at Strathclyde, and through him, students from three different faculties have become involved in the restoration project as educational partners.

Strathclyde Business School Masters students have developed a business plan which sets out how the ship will be commercially viable once re-activated. As an arts and culture centre, it will welcome schools and visitors interested in the Clyde's shipbuilding and engineering history, as well as acting as a corporate events venue.

Law graduates on the Diploma in Professional Legal Practice also use the iconic ship as a case study for commercial law, while students from the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering have helped design a shoreside infrastructure.

Educational value

Iain Sim said: “A core ethos of the charity is to be of educational value and for our offering to be based on real life experience.

“It struck me I was an academic working on a real life project which encapsulated all the basic concepts needed to teach the Law diploma students and which could be of huge educational benefit to students.

“I was also aware a lot of law firms were saying to law schools that they need their trainees to be more commercially aware and ideally with some knowledge of the project management world.

“It made perfect sense to me to use the Queen Mary since it involved pretty much every aspect of project management, tendering and contract that you could ever imagine.”

Iain Sim resized Queen Mary

The students look at issues such as risk management and Iain added: “When you’re restoring an 85-year-old ship some of your financial estimates aren’t going to be correct, so we can teach them how to deal with issues like that in a real life scenario.

“They can take the concepts and apply them to a real life project and the joy is I can give them feedback on what worked – as well as what went badly – and they learn much more from that.”

The business plan is analysed by their Law counterparts as part of their group work assessment.

Iain added: “I ask them, probably for the first time ever, to trust their gut instincts in terms of what looks too good to be true on a business plan and what could be better.”

Blank canvas

One student spotted that a proposed daily yoga class on deck would be logistically problematic due to the limited head space available on deck and instead the group came up with the idea of staging cream teas.

Iain Sim added: “The input can be beneficial to the trustees but the point is they get a blank canvas to come up with whatever they like, which is ultimately how you learn best.

We will keep going with it until the last bit of paint has been applied and the Queen Mary is open around the end of 2020.”

The charity estimates that of the £350,000 of value from working with higher education institutions so far, £85,000 is from Strathclyde alone.

MSc Business and Management student Claire Griffin from Strathclyde Business School, said: “It was a very positive experience and I have been able to push myself out of my comfort zone.

“Presenting is an area that I have previously felt very nervous and uncomfortable doing, but since doing this on the Queen Mary project, the client has contacted me and asked me to assist him in presenting to local businesses.”

Student Rebekah Caunt, who was in the first year of her Law Diploma when she studied the project, said: “Having the Queen Mary as a real life business case study instead of a formulated scenario made the course relatable.

“The opportunity to go aboard and see the ship was invaluable, with the result that subsequent ideas for the business plan were much more realistic.

“Being able to speak to those involved in the restoration meant that we could ask questions about how and why certain things had been done or not done, which made the whole project and the principles of business planning much simpler to understand.”

Valuable experience

Senior Teaching Fellow Frances Murray said: “Working on a project as complex and interesting as the Queen Mary has been valuable and enlightening for students and has proved a fantastic way of applying their learning in the real world.”

Dr Aylin Ates, Senior Lecturer, at Strathclyde Buisness School, said: “We are delighted to be playing a part in the Queen Mary project as an educational partner and it was a very valuable experience for our students to be able to work on a real life project where they could apply their knowledge gained throughout their MSc course."

Dr Douglas Bertram, Senior Knowledge Exchange Fellow from Civil and Environmental Engineering, said: “The TS Queen Mary provided our students with a fantastic challenge and opportunity to apply their civil engineering knowledge and skills, as well as gain extremely valuable real world experience on a historic project. 

“We are delighted we could play our part in bringing her back to life in Glasgow."

 Restoration work on the vessel has included painstakingly lifting 630 square metres of a concrete composite from the deck and making 54 brand new windows by hand.

Any remaining original features have been preserved, and after two years of work, the ship, which was built at the William Denny yard in Dumbarton in 1933, is now ready for what the charity calls its ‘rebirth’.

When reopened, she will be kitted out as she would have looked in her art deco heyday. The ship has had a chequered past, and with the outbreak of World War Two, served a lifeline for Scotland's island communities.  While other vessels were commandeered to sweep for mines or to protect Scotland's skies from German bombers, she was painted grey for camouflage and helped maintain a vital passenger and freight service between mainland Scotland and the islands.

TS Queen Mary - historic

With the advent of cheap package holidays to the Continent, the popularity of west coasts resorts waned and she was eventually retired in 1977.

She spent several years as a floating restaurant on the Thames and in 2008 was sold to a French businessman, whose plans to use her as a hotel came to nothing. The vessel was saved from being scrapped in 2011 by another businessman, Ranjan Chowdhury, but again, plans for the ship failed to come to fruition.

Long journey

The charity, who had long been campaigning to buy her and bring her back home, were finally able to buy her for £20,000 after the vessel was arrested by Forth Ports for non- payment of berthing fees and put up for sale.

Iain Sim added: “It’s been a long journey to get to this point and it’s been vitally important for us to have young people involved in the project from the start.

“As well as being a valuable part of our maritime and social history, the Queen Mary has an important part to play in our future.”


Picture captions:

Strathclyde Law diploma student Rebekah Caunt at the Queen Mary

Chairman of the TS Queen Mary Board of Trustees Iain Sim

Retoration work is ongoing

The turbine steamer was built on the Clyde in 1933 and took holidaymakers from Glasgow to west coast resorts like Rothesay