Initially, Tim Smithies, Chairman at Cornwall Ferries, outlined the company’s ambition of building and investing in a new ‘green’ ferry, “which was very exciting, particularly when there was a possible funding source to help us” he explains.
At the time, the Truro Towns fund, a regeneration project that looks to create a “connected river city” and specifically highlights green transportation as an area of the town investment plan, was open for bids from businesses looking for funding in line with their aims.
“To help with the bid, ATI2 did some very good background research in the form of a literature review, in a way that we would never do. We would have had to get an outside consultant. Whereas they could immediately look at using the University databases.
“I had no idea that we would get the quality, speed and the commitment of Chris, Jenny and Andrew so quickly” says Tim.
Cornwall Ferries received intensive research, academic and business innovation support through the ATI2 programme. Their dedicated Business Innovation Advisor (Chris) and Innovation Champion (Jenny) assisted them in their bid to propel their green ferry project forward. “They’ve helped us through a bid process and with bid writing support”, which is something Cornwall Ferries had never done before, explains Tim.
In addition to this bold endeavour, the Directors of Cornwall Ferries also wanted to introduce a dynamic ‘smart’ ticketing system which would reward its regular users with cheaper tickets based upon use, rather than the ability to pay up front.
The advantages of implementing smart ticketing would not only create a more equitable reward scheme for local and loyal passengers, but improve safety aspects in light of Covid19 by enabling contactless ticketing. The new system would also integrate with other transport providers to enhance the customer journey and establish an interconnected travel framework within Cornwall.
ATI2 were able to assist with the costs of the system enhancement and Cornwall Ferries were awarded a grant of £19,500 from the ATI2 Innovation Fund in order to install the new technology.
“I didn’t realise when we first started the project that it was going to be so helpful to me personally, in getting me organised, and to us as an organisation as it provided us with more capacity on a particular project” says Tim, who believes the most valuable part of working with ATI2 was the addition of “three really first class brains thinking about our problem”.
“We wouldn’t have pursued this project without ATI2 and the University support. One reason is capacity. Because of the [Covid19] crisis we’ve had to make redundancies and management have been really focused on keeping the company afloat. So to do what we have done in a period of considerable uproar is really a major achievement” he reflects.
In addition to the new ticketing system, the companies’ bid through the Truro Town Fund was also successful; sadly, funding for a new ferry wasn’t awarded, however berthing, new docking and improved infrastructure for ferries is part of the positive outcome.
Regardless, Tim and his colleagues remain optimistic about continuing to pursue investment for a green ferry and consider this, their first attempt, as a valuable learning experience for the business:
“There was a lot of fast work done very quickly to a high standard … They [ATI2] did a great review of the literature which actually provided, and will provide with any bid in the future, a very good case for pushing our project forward.
“To even consider pursuing the environmental green agendas, that we are doing, is down to the real determination of my board to try and do it. Even though we are a tiny company we are trying to be leaders, not only in Cornwall but in the Country… we don’t have the capacity to engage in these huge funds which big companies and multinationals, with hordes of people, have and that is what we immediately gained with ATI2.”
Cornwall Ferries are now about to embark upon a Feasibility Study which will go further into scoping their ambitions to launch a Green Ferry on the Fal, in the hope that the project will become a realisation of the future.
“In the end, it’s going to be down to us to provide our own solutions and I am hoping we will pick up the important work we have done here and it won’t all be lost in the wake of what’s happened over the past year (due to the pandemic)” Tim concludes.
As a University of Plymouth led project, ATI2 were also able to connect Cornwall Ferries with academics and students studying leisure and tourism at the University. This resulted in Cornwall Ferries taking on a small team of student interns, who undertook a market research project as part of their learning. Tim said:
“It was useful from our perspective to get that analysis which we wouldn’t have otherwise done because we got far too busy with activity elsewhere”.
Reflecting on the overall success of the internship project, Tim highlights that the benefits of this type of research activity was about more than just the findings:
“From our point of view I think there is a PR element here. We wanted to reach out to that age group and engage them in the compromises businesses have to take when facing environmental issues” Tim Smithies, Chairman, Cornwall Ferries.
Innovation never stops and ATI2 continue to work with the business by support their ongoing journey. We look forward to witnessing how the partnership and ongoing projects continue to develop.
Image of Chris Hassall, ATI2 Business Innovation Advisor (left), speaking with Ryan Watts, Marketing Manager at Cornwall Ferries (right).