Waterford: Glass Centre of Excellence
We were commissioned, along with Yellow Book by the Design and Craft Council of Ireland (DCCoI) in partnership with Waterford Local Enterprise Office (WLEO), Waterford City & County Council (WCCC) and Waterford Institute of Technology (WIT), to examine the feasibility of a proposal “to position Waterford as a centre of excellence in glass design and technology”.
Our report reviews previous studies commissioned by DCCoI. Following discussions with the client steering group, we showed how the Glass Centre of Excellence (GCoE) might build on earlier recommendations. The potential scope of the GCOE is reflected in the five pillars model which comprises:
- cultural and heritage tourism
- education, skills and training
- enterprise and business growth
- technology, innovation and research
- city development and placemaking
We described the national, regional and local policy context. Project Ireland 2040 confirms the critical role for Ireland’s cities, including Waterford, in driving economic growth. These aspirations are reflected in One Waterford, the City and County’s economic and community plan, and in the Waterford City Development Plan. The North Quays Strategic Development Zone opens the prospect of radical change in the city centre, and the report also describes proposals to create a cultural quarter in the O’Connell Street area.
The city centre experience:
The report discusses the Waterford city centre experience, starting with a description of its distinctive quarters and character areas. We analyse the relationship between the established quarters, the North Quays and the proposed cultural quarter, and the challenges of sustaining vitality on both sides of the river and encouraging people to move between the different activity nodes.
Waterford’s visitor economy:
Waterford’s visitor economy is based on two attractions, the House of Waterford Crystal (HWC) and the Viking Triangle. HWC is a long-established, high-quality attraction but culturally-curious visitors may expect a more engaging and immersive experience. Attendances at the Viking Triangle attractions have continued to increase, but the challenges are to encourage more linked trips and, in this way, to extend visitors’ average length of stay, with more overnight stays and increased expenditure.
The glass industry in Ireland:
We presented a cameo study of the glass industry in Ireland. Although glass is not a leading industry, there are several important companies as well as some innovative growth businesses and a community of around 200 designer-makers. Although Waterford Crystal is an internationally recognised brand, the scale of the glass sector in Waterford is very modest, with fewer than 200 jobs. Degree-level programmes for designer-makers are offered by two institutions in Ireland, and DCCoI is committed to establishing specialist facilities, possibly modelled on the Ceramics Centre of Excellence at Thomastown. WIT is committed to developing distinctive, high-quality research centres, such as SEAM, which has expertise in glass and related materials.
Best practice models:
There are several best practice models for the GCOE. These range from large capital schemes (World of Wedgwood, National Glass Centre, V&A Dundee and Corning Museum of Glass) to bespoke facilities of more modest scale such as CIAV (France) and Boda Glasbruk (Sweden). These case studies reflect a range of approaches from major tourist attractions to centres for education, training, enterprise and innovation.
Options appraisal process:
Using “Waterford City of Glass” as our working title, we set out long-term strategic objectives for the initiative corresponding to the five pillars model. The report identifies four broad options:
Option 1: Waterford Glass House – the “full service” option, with exhibition space, a hot glass studio and other facilities, a research lab and business support staff under one roof. This would require a building of around 6,500 m², costing around €20M.
Option 2: Glass Centre of Excellence – a pared back, lower cost facility with the focus on skills and research, and smaller gallery spaces, costing in the order of €10M.
Option 3: The Glass Academy – closely related to DCCoI’s Ceramics Centre of Excellence, this option would focus primarily on degree and postgraduate level training, and adult learning. Conversion and fit-out costs would be around €5M.
Option 4: Glass Gallery – a public facing gallery showcasing contemporary work and Waterford’s glass heritage. Estimated cost €8M.
Option 4 was eliminated during the strategic fit appraisal because it would not address skills, enterprise and research. The deliverability appraisal concluded that Option 1, though attractive, would be prohibitively expensive, although we note that some elements might be delivered via future investment in the House of Waterford Crystal. The report indicates that the remaining options (2 and 3) are variations on a theme, with the potential for Option 3 to evolve over time into Option 2 but our conclusion is that:
“…the Glass Centre of Excellence (Option 2) is the best way forward. It represents the best balance between strategic impact and deliverability, and between ambition and realism. It can also be implemented incrementally, and the foundations could be laid without the need for a major building project”.