Friday, 30 December 2011

Some Candy Talking

The wee Sugar Sheds inspired ghost story "Candy Bones" has been shortlised in The Woman In Black Ghost Story competition. If you haven't already, why not pop over to youtube and give it a watch.
It's a very short story, will only take up two minutes of your time, and if you like it, please give it a wee thumbs up on youtube. The prize if it wins is not fortune, but glory, as it would appear on "The Woman In Black" dvd as an's that for giving the Sugar Sheds a new audience. Well, a new audience of people that watch DVD extras...Sadly however, if successful, for reasons of international understanding, my voice would be replaced and the story read by someone called "Daniel Radcliffe".

And if that story isn't really for you...then don't worry...there's 9 others on there to choose from.

Check out The Woman In Black's youtube channel.


Friday, 16 December 2011

Candy Canes and Gingerbread Sheds

This week in Sugar Sheds related news...there's a further lifeline for Riverside Inverclyde; the piece here definetly suggests that some of that involves seeking lottery funding for future projects..something we have suggested around the Sugar Sheds from the very start.

Successful lottery funding requires significant and genuine local consultation, involvement and even partnership. There's a way yet to make this all start working for everyone, and lots of options to explore; there's Big Lottery's Growing Community Assets Fund; there's SCVO and Unity Trust Bank's 50million loan scheme for third sector / social enterprise business centres; and of course it's been a while since Inverclyde secured any major capital funding through Heritage Lottery Fund Scotland. Not to mention new funding available for events through Creative Scotland 2012 Year of Creativity. And those are just the top of the google search. All this of course is set against the publication of Scottish Governments new Regeneration Strategy, firmly placing local people at the heart of regeneration . Everything to play for.

So. Six months on, as the year ends, thanks very much to everyone who has helped out, kept in contact and stuck with us; a successful campaign is more than a facebook click, but from the initial flurry around that page, we've been able to get discussions with the people who can influence this situation and meet many people who've successfully fought for change elsewhere. Next year what we're after is some action. Here.

For now, festive fun...

Two of the bands who helped out with our Celebration Ode recordings have recorded Christmas tunes. I'm a sucker for Christmas tunes.

Ard Amas have "It's Christmas" and some other new tunes on their myspace.

Sneaky Pete have a new tune dropping this weekend as well.

And local band The Purple Doves have released a charity single for Christmas with all proceeds going to Ryan Ferguson's Leukaemia Fund. Buy it now on itunes.

Over on our heritage blog Tales of the Oak, we're curating our Ghost Stories For Christmas throughout December.

And on my own blog Stramashed, you can find out all about Santa's Little Werewolves.

See you all next year.
Here's a few wee sugary Christmas tunes...

Monday, 12 December 2011

The Regeneration Game - New Rules

The Scottish Government have released their new regeneration strategy. Well worth a read.

An initial scan reveals a number of areas which could impact on any future regeneration projects based around the Sheds (and of course everywhere else!).

First and foremost, we have a handy definition for what is actually considered "regeneration".

Regeneration is the holistic process of reversing the economic, physical and social decline of places where market forces alone won’t suffice. This holistic theme runs throughout this Strategy and forms the basis for the propositions and conclusions.

Good start. Holistic is good. Provided everyone's signed up to being holistic of course.
A number of key themes were identified in the initial discussion papers which informed the report.

- Clarification on the roles and responsibilities that different organisations have in delivering regeneration

- Recognition that a coordinated approach is needed at a local level and across public services to tackle area-based disadvantage

- The importance of community led regeneration

- Recognition of the constraints on public sector finances alongside a continued need for appropriate grant support and innovative funding solutions

- The importance of placemaking in supporting successful communities

- Support for town centres as a central part of community life

Hmmm. Liking where the community appear to be placed in this regeneration process. Mind you, we have all heard similar things before. The strategy recognises some of the ingredients for regeneration which has been measurably successful;

Our future regeneration activity must focus on outcomes and take account of lessons learned. The key success factors for designing and delivering regeneration interventions, are detailed below. Public, private and third sector partners should consider these key elements when delivering regeneration locally.

- puts communities first, effectively involving local residents in the regeneration process and empowering communities

- is holistic, making connections between the physical, social and economic dimensions

- adopts a long-term vision for a places and focuses the on the safety and quality of places
- takes account of the specific function of neighbourhoods and integrates regeneration initiatives into wider economic strategies
- makes tailored interventions to link economic opportunity and need to address worklessness and deliver sustainable quality employment

- is supported by simple and aligned funding streams and maximises the impact from mainstream resource by better integration with place-based interventions
- Has strong leadership with clear accountability and makes effective use of partnership working, involving the private sector, both in investment and in shaping ideas and development.

The really interesting stuff for me is from page 20 "Community Led Regeneration. Local People Delivering Local Change", which outlines exactly how communities will be able to influence regeneration processes and what resource will be made available from Government to assist. Here's a few highlights, then seriously, go read the report.


Community led regeneration is about local people identifying for themselves the issues and opportunities in their areas, deciding what to do about them, and being responsible for delivering the economic, social and environmental action that will make a difference. It is dependent on the energy and commitment of local people themselves and has a wide range of benefits.

Community led regeneration covers a spectrum of activity from committed volunteers coming together informally to campaign or act, to the work of enterprising local community anchor organisations like Development Trusts and community based housing associations.

Building on the success of the Wider Role fund and recognising the important role that Registered Social Landlords (RSLs) and other community groups like Development Trusts play in delivering change at a local level, we have developed the People and Communities Fund. This fund forms part of the overarching Regeneration Investment Fund.

The Scottish Government will provide £7.9m per annum from 2012 to 2015 to support the People and Communities Fund, specifically to promote and support community led regeneration. The details of this fund will be announced in 2012, however, activity will include:

- Building on the Wider Role fund, funding to support and strengthen local community anchor organisations across Scotland, including RSLs and Development Trusts. These will be organisations that deliver local support for community asset ownership through the Community Ownership Support Service. This service, provided through the Development Trusts Association Scotland (DTAS), provides help and advice to community organisations interested in asset ownership.  

- Investment in a new community capacity building programme. This will focus on areas where there are currently few local organisations, weak networks amongst local people and where local people's skills and confidence need to be nurtured. It will have a focus on helping people to decide how budgets in their areas are spent.

Lots more to read, and as ever, the devil isn't so much in the detail as in the reality of local delivery, but certainly this would seem to give a clear nod as to where regeneration initiatives will be steered from next year. Interesting times.

Friday, 2 December 2011

A Ghost Story for Christmas

I know its been a wee while since our last update, but there’s been a fairly major development in the ongoing Story of The Sugar Sheds.

If you follow our local press, you’ll maybe be aware that local regeneration company Riverside Inverclyde has had its funding dramatically reduced, making the outlook for them post 2012/13 very challenging indeed. At this early stage, there are obviously many questions still to be asked about all of this, and what projects RI are going to be able to focus on over the next 18 months. But clearly, whatever the outcome, developments and plans for the James Watt Dock / Sugar Sheds are likely to be affected.

So that’s that then eh? Let’s just leave it. Eh…nope. If anything, this kind of uncertainty over “what next” requires more attention. Next year, it’s our plan to keep the Sugar Sheds on the agenda, at the very least, we still think there’s some mileage in our outlined programme of events.  

In the meantime, with the nights drawing in and the nip in the air, here’s a short Sugar Sheds inspired Ghost Story For Christmas, “Candy Bones”. There’s a whole month of this sort of festive malarkey over on our Tales of The Oak blog.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Candy Skeletons

Here's our piece from todays Greenock Telegraph...

The darker side of The Sugar Sheds history was explored last week when psychic medium Joan Charles took a tour around the iconic buildings with local heritage enthusiasts.

Joan has spent the last few months exploring mysterious and unusual locations across the UK and she was really glad to get the opportunity to investigate in her own area.

“The minute I walked in, I felt the atmosphere was very oppressive, just a real feeling of being trapped, not just physically, but maybe..financially. The people who worked in here had a very hard life inside and out of the Sheds. A lot of illness and disease.”
Construction on The Sugar Sheds began in 1885, with the buildings being completed 125 years ago in 1886. Thousands of people have worked in and passed through The Sheds since then, including German and Irish workers, something which Joan picked up on immediately.
“There was a real sense of multiculturalism there, not just in terms of the ships docking, but the people working, the people stuck inside. I was getting real Dutch and Canadian connections as well.”
Joan was in no doubt about one thing,
“People have died there. I was getting a man who had died in a fire there, trapped inside. Not the recent fire, before that.”

Paul Bristow is part of the Keep Greenock Sugar Sheds a Community Space campaign, and as a member of Magic Torch, has been researching and writing about local heritage and folklore for over ten years.
“With old buildings, there’s always a strange feeling, a sort of absence, spaces which were once so full of people and life, now empty and silent. The Sheds are a tremendously atmospheric space, and I was really interested to see what someone a bit more sensitively tuned to that space than myself might be able to find out! We’ve worked with Joan a few times before in exploring local spaces with a bit of dark history.”
Paul was really interested in some of the areas Joan was talking about which he had not heard before.
“Joan was particularly interested in the remains of the lift shaft in Shed A, a site which anecdotally has been the location for a number of deaths within The Sheds over the years. There were a few things which we’ll have to check up on, a number of specific family names and related events, other instances of fire within the building, and also the possibility that there were ever coffins stored within the sheds. It’s good to have a few new lines of enquiry.”

Following the success of The Tall Ships in Greenock earlier this summer, The Sugar Sheds have been the focus of a local campaign to see more events hosted there.

Two multinationals and a number of community groups are discussing potential future uses for The Sugar Sheds with the buildings owners, James Watt Dock LLP. The LLP are currently accepting expressions of interest from Events Management Organisations looking at developing commercial events in this unique location.

One of the more popular suggestions for events within the space was a Halloween event with music, horror films and ghost hunting based on Joan’s initial experiences, there’s certainly plenty there to find!

Just to keep you's the theme tune from Clive Barker's horror film The Candyman...(the original short story was set in Liverpool, another "sugar town")

Saturday, 29 October 2011

Candy Apples

It was Greenock’s very own Abram Lyle who discovered Golden Syrup in 1883, back in the days when civic leaders and businessmen were also pioneering inventors, adventurers, philanthropists and general all rounders.

Golden Syrup is beloved by many, and at this time of year, is an absolutely critical ingredient in right good Candy Apples for Halloween. (It’s also very useful for making Gingerbread Sheds..but more of that nearer Christmas..)

30 apples
5 cups of white sugar
½ cup Golden Syrup
1 ½ cups water
2 tsp blackcurrant syrup

Place lollipop sticks or wooden craft sticks into each apple at the stem end. Set aside.

In a heavy saucepan, mix together the sugar, golden syrup and water. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium and continue to cook until the mixture reaches 300 to 310 degrees F (149 to 154 degrees C), or until a small amount of syrup dropped into cold water forms hard, brittle threads. This will take a good 45 minutes!

Remove the sugar mixture from the heat and stir in the black currant syrup. Quickly dip all of the apples, holding them by the stick. You can let them cool by inserting the other end of the stick into a thick sheet of foam board. If that is not available, set the coated apples onto waxed paper or aluminum foil. Make sure they don't touch each other.

Nomm. Nomm. Nomm.
If yer after a more traditional recipe, or don’t actually want to make 30 Candy Apples at one go…try here.

And don’t forget that before giving any visiting Galoshans Candy Apples, they must perform The Galoshans Play.

The Galoshans Play

Friday, 28 October 2011

"Heritage + Development = ?"

Yesterday we were fortunate enough to attend the Scottish Civic Trust's conference on heritage, regeneration and development, a great opportunity to hear from the people leading the field in placemaking and civic pride.

We heard social, cultural and crucially, economic arguments for use and redevelopment of older buildings; historic building restoration uses fewer resources and creates more employment than new builds. It was incredibly refreshing to hear architects and government agencies commenting very clearly on the measurable benefits of involving the community in development of projects and programmes, beyond the superficial and passive notions of simply commenting on plans which have already been drawn.

There is a renewed emphasis too on energy efficiency in historic building adapatation, with grants currently available for buildings like The Sugar Sheds to explore the feasibility of sustainable energy use as part of any redevelopment.

From the Chord Projects just over the water in Helensburgh, through to Govan's redevelopments and the Govan Folk University and on to Maryhill Burgh Halls Trust...none of these are projects and processes a million miles away..all of these wonderful places and ideas are within half an hours drive. Those communities, agencies and architects have worked collaboratively to realise their shared vision. Surely we're not talking such a massive cultural leap to make similar things happen down here. Though obviously, what was clear from all involved was the time effort and energy that has been invested by all partners in making these ideas a reality. Here are projects which have developed with imagination, vitality and risk, daring to push beyond the minimum expected standard, and creating something all the more special as a result. The question we should ask ourselves and our civic leaders is not "why not here?" but "when do we start?".

More than anything, we came away convinced that such regeneration and development is possible when all parties involved are able to sit down respectfully and work together to be greater than the sum of their parts. It can happen, it can be done. Even here. And wouldn't it be great, if in the future, Inverclyde's regeneration of The Sugar Sheds was able to be recognised as an example of innovation and best practice in the same way that these projects and programmes are now.

Next, we're off to visit Out of the Blue through in Edinburgh, a former Drill Hall, now the centre of a thriving cultural community...

If you are feeling like getting inspired by bold new building designs in old spaces, you can read a great new document from Historic Scotland and Archticture and Design Scotland, "New Design in Historic Settings" which was launched at the conference.

An inspiring day, thank you very much to the Scottish Civic Trust.

Monday, 24 October 2011

Event Management Opportunity?!

Check it out! James Watt Dock LLP are offering Event Management organisations the opportunity to propose events and programmes within The Sugar Sheds. Could this be the beginning of The Sheds being utilised longer term as an events venue? This is what many, many people who had signed up to the campaign wanted to see.

Certainly, following the success of the venue at The Tall Ships, we're really glad to see the recognition of the space in this way. Hats off to RI for taking the time to explore other opportunities. I also don't think it is at all unfair or unreasonable to say that without so many peoples suggestions, interest and efforts and the subsequent national coverage of the Sugar Sheds campaign, the market might not have been getting tested in this way at all.

A lot of events management teams and promoters, local and national, got in contact with us in the weeks following the start of the campaign. I really hope some of them take the opportunity to explore their suggestions for The Sugar Sheds further. We'd certainly be interested in helping that happen in any way we can.

Critically though, we would continue to hope that there is also room for local investment, involvement and employment in the ongoing development of The Sugar Sheds...after all, the local community will be the lynchpin in the sustainability of the space in the longer term.

Recently, I had a "robust debate", with someone who was not convined by the notion of The Sugar Sheds as "a community space". His feeling was that we had enough community centres and "places for junkies and old folk to go to". As someone who has managed a community centre in my day job, I take a wee bit of exception to that...but I think I understand what he was piledriving at. Our notion was never that the sheds be turned into a big giant subsidised community centre, that isn't how we would define a community space; art galleries are community space, swimming pools, theatres, museums, playparks...and this is the sort of space we hope the Sugar Sheds will become, a place where people feel they can go safely to enjoy themselves, and that also provides a direct benefit to our community, whether that is through jobs or the activity that happens there.

We sent some outline suggestions to Riverside Inverclyde a few weeks ago around the community opportunities available (none of which would clash with the above development opportunity), and we are assured of a response soon.

So...still worth sticking in there for now on all fronts...


Sunday, 16 October 2011

Mr Cube's Roots

"Mr Cube's Roots - The Story of Sugar" was passed to us recently; it's a booklet produced in 1962 by Tate and Lyle. While the book is interesting from a time capsule perspective, the real story is that of Mr Cube himself.

Mr Cube was the personification of the British Sugar Industry, among his many other claims to fame, he headed Tate and Lyle's campaign to avert the nationalisation of the sugar industry in Britain. He first appeared in July 1949 in a period of post-war rationing and austerity. Friendly little chap isnt he? Kind of like a proto Sponge Bob. Except that his popular appeal almost helped lose Clement Atlee's government the 1950 election just after they had founded the National Health Service, the Welfare State and nationalised a whole range of other industries. Cheers Mr Cube.

The booklet is a wee bit vague on the trades links with slavery, Mr Cube apparently had nothing to do with that. But it does explain how sugar is crystallised in great detail.

In other news, you may be aware of a new Artist in Residence Project being organised by Alec Galloway and delivered in the Sugar Sheds over the next few months. Alec blogged about his vision for the project back in July and has permission from Riverside Inverclyde to proceed We're all looking forward to seeing how it develops.

Check out the facebook page here.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

National Poetry Day - Ballad In Blank Verse

To celebrate National Poetry Day, we are publishing poems across all our blogs.

John Davidson was a poet who spent much of his life in Greenock, working as a teacher at the Highlanders Academy, a school which he himself attended. 

This poem has recently been quoted and reprinted on the panels surrounding the statue of Ginger The Horse in Dalrymple Street

Davidson, and later WS Graham evoke a proud, working Greenock, when the Sugar Sheds and shipyards were not simply part of daily life, but an intergal part of the landscape...

from A Ballad in Blank Verse

All summer and all Autumn: this grey town
That pipes the morning up before the lark
With shrieking steam, and from a hundred stalks
Lacquers the sooty sky: where hammers clang
On Iron hulls, and cranes and harbours creak
Rattle and wing, whole cargoes on their necks;
Where men sweat gold that others hoard or spend,
This old grey town, this firth, the further strand
Spangled with hamlets, and wooded steeps,
Whose rocky tops behind each other press,
Fantastically carved like antique helms
High flung in heaven’s cloudy armoury,
Is world enough for me.

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Guest Blogger - Innes Carmichael

Innes Carmichael shares a recent cultural exchange experience with us, showing how another brick built warehouse has been converted for community use in a way that combines heritage, art and live music...

Estonia's Traditional Music Center
Recently, I visited Estonia through a cultural exchange with ArchNetwork Scotland funded through the Leonardo programme.

I was part of the exchange through my work as a trainer of textile techniques (spinning and natural dyes) and through my membership of Sgioba Luaidh Inbhircluaidh and the connection to Gaelic culture and song, our work at Auchindrain especially. (read more about the work of Sgioba Luaidh Inbhircluaidh – Inverclyde Waulking Group – here)

It was a fabulous experience and I learned a lot, saw amazing things-but the visit to the Estonian Traditional Music Center in Viljandi just fit so well with the sugar sheds I thought it only right to let you all know about it.

What really impressed me was the echoes with the situation in Greenock-and the speed, elegance and “can do” attitude with which the Estonians got this project off the drawing board and into reality- in 2 years!

There seems to be far less of the “100 reasons why we cannae dae this” attitude in Estonia, we could really learn from that. They are a wee country of just one and a half million people and have been independent for 25 years after singing the Soviets out of their country. They make full use of European funding resources – a lot of funding through LEADER for instance, which usually focuses on rural funding. Best of all, they used almost exclusively Estonian architects, acoustic engineers and craftspeople. The old vodka warehouse is a listed building but they worked around this with elegant simplicity.

Here is an extract from my report for Arch Network on my return.

“Housed in an imaginatively restored former vodka storehouse the Centre has transformed what was a seedy part of town into a vibrant hub of music and performance art. Using mainly Estonian architects and technicians it serves as a beacon to other countries in the speed and efficiency of the restoration and the elegant simplicity of the design and function.

All the fittings and textiles are made by local blacksmiths, woodworkers and students from the Culture academy.

Our guide and Events Manager at the Centre, Silja Soo told us of the Famous Viljandi Folk Festival hosted by the Centre, an event in the last weekend of July that pulls around 20,000 visitors into Viljandi. We also visited the Library of International Folk Music in the basement and I left two cd’s of Scottish folk music to add to the collection.”

Here is an extract from the report a fellow exchange member did charting the development of the project.

“This 18th century storehouse belonging originally to a mansion had been used to store potatoes, wheat and vodka but was in a dilapidated state in the 1980s.

A four day music festival was started by Ando Kiviberg and some other students of the folk music course at the Cultural Academy in 1993. This grew to a major folk festival from 1995 onwards. They began to develop the idea of restoring the old storehouse to make a folk music centre. They gathered funding from various sources, including the EU and the local council with donations and a loan to finance a superb folk music centre with a small (80 seat) performing space and a large (400 seat) concert hall at a total cost of over 5M Euros. The building opened in 2008. The acoustics have been particularly well developed. Decoration of much of the dressing rooms etc has been done with traditionally inspired patterns by students of the Cultural Academy.

A library and archive of CDs and sheet music has been begun in the basement . We were all very impressed by this project, by the vision, and the way it has come to fruition.”

You can view more photos from the exchange here and here.

Friday, 23 September 2011

Future-proofing Yesterday

Shed B - used during Tall Ships for performances

One word we have heard from everyone we have spoken to, is that any alternative plans for the Sugar Sheds need to be "sustainable". But what does that actually mean? Is that self sustaining? Environmentally sustainable? Sustainable through regular government subsidy? How do you measure that sustainability? In what way do you guarantee it? It is often a word we use indiscriminately without really thinking about what it means, more about what it implies. Certainly, last year it won the award for "most jargoniest jargon".

Maybe like with any good relationship, sustainability isn't something that happens, it's something you work at. The sheds are naturally separated, lending themselves to phased development. So the first year or two of a Sugar Sheds project could be much more about the refurbishment of parts of the building, undertaken as a local employment and training programme, resourced through local and government employability contracts, and potentially Heritage Lottery or Historic Scotland. These gradually refurbished parts of the sheds are the areas which could then be leased back to the community (at nice knockdown rates of course), to unlock funding resources from lottery and elsewhere, and subsequently used to run community based projects, exhibitions and programmes, or provide occasional performance space for local bands. Performance and recording space as well as a regular programme of gigs could be the basis of income generating activity for a social enterprise linked to the community organisations leasing the space...

But that's just off the top of my head of course. Needs a bit of thinking it sustainable enough? How do you do it? How do you turn the largest brick built shed in Europe into something that generates enough income to continue to resources the activities inside it? Can you do it at all?! Clearly if anyone genuinely knew the answer to that, we would have done it already. Therefore, we need to look elsewhere for our solutions. For us, a starting point this week was a very helpful chat with the Scottish Civic Trust, champions of Scotland's spaces and places.

The Civic Trust are running a conference on October 27th, "Heritage + Development = ?". The conference will feature examples of successful regeneration and redevelopment projects; examine government policy from heritage to planning and placemaking; and highlight the importance of community and civic engagement. Sounds ideal eh? We've booked a few places. We've also uploaded a few new documents to our resources page. Arm yourself.

There is no easy solution, and there is no straightforward guarantee that anything is "sustainable", our plan, for now is to start small with a range of activities and events next year, and for now to listen and to learn from others who have faced similar challenges and succeeded.

We took these photos a couple of weeks ago, but Scottish Screen have some much nicer new shiny ones on their Flickr account. Wonder what they were down scouting for?

Shed A - used as a bar during Tall Ships and the space RI are
happy to consider for short term community use

One final thing, slightly off topic, but indulge us. We genuinely believe that more innovative and experimental development of Sheds can create jobs and opportunities for the area. However, the building is safe and reasonably wind and watertight, they are not in any immediate danger right now; the Clyde Coastguard service is...and that service saves lives. So if you are in Greenock tomorrow, get yourself along to the march.

Public Protest March, Greenock, Sep 24th at 11am, Esplanade Cafe to Battery Park. Event here.

Banner Workshop at Fire Centre, Greenock 23rd 6-8pm. Event here.

You can read more details of this vital UK wide campaign on this blog.

Friday, 9 September 2011

Sweet Choons

Just a wee quick reminder to come see us tomorrow at Cathcart Square...have a chat with us about what you would like to see in the sheds, get a balloon, buy a book...go crazy.

To get you in the mood for the weekend, here's a wee sweet tooth playlist....

Thursday, 8 September 2011

There Will be Balloons

Members of the Sugar Sheds campaign group will be down at Cathcart Square in Greenock this weekend, with balloons, badges, books and bits of paper for you to sign. But more importantly, we would like to hear your views face to face about the sorts of things you would like to see happening if we attempt to fund an 18 month programme of events.

We were hoping to unveil our lovely new campaign mascot this weekend...but that can wait for now. Meantime, just come see us and say hello.

In fact, why not make a day of it..its Doors Open Day in Inverclyde, with lots of spaces open to the community, including the Custom House. Here's just two suggestions for you...but there are over 30 venues open across Inverclyde.

Saturday, 3 September 2011

Guest Blogger - Joanie@8pr/8digital

As the BBC shifts Waterloo Road to Scotland and looks to invest further in the future, as we hear rumours of location scouts scuttling around Greenock checking out the views and as the new regional TV channels programme prompts a facebook page championing InverclydeTV, Joanie from 8pr takes a look at the history of Greenock and The Sheds on screen...


2011 and Brad Pitt is filming a Zombie movie (World War Z) in a Glasgow currently doubling as Philadelphia.  The Disney/Pixar team have finished their fact finding visit from San Francisco to gather detail on the terrain for their up-coming animation ‘The Brave,’ set in Scotland and telling the story of a Scottish Princess.  This puts Scotland front and centre in the movie world for 2012.  It’s come a long way from Para Handy’s The Vital Spark filmed in and around The Marine Bar and their boat “The Maggie” moored at Victoria Dock.

As a film location, Greenock has had it’s fair share of movie madness; the dock cranes in the background, like giant monolithic effigies to the bustling industrial feel of the town in the late 70’s and early 80’s.  ‘Just a Boy’s Game’ burst onto our TV screens in 1979.  It starred a gravel voiced Frankie Miller as Jake McQuillen, grandson of Greenock hardest man (Hector Nicol), who is losing his last fight for life.  The movies and plays through the years meshed folklore with real life to create characters still remembered today. 

An everlasting movie scene in my head is the wee shipyard worker who thought he was a gunfighter, pretending to shoot his colleague against a backdrop of the spectacular Greenock Sugarsheds and blowing the imaginary smoke away from his fingers before holstering.  Its just one of many scenes shot against the fine backdrop of Greenock’s industrial past.  The movie ‘Down Where the Buffalo Go’ (1988) was written by Greenock’s own Peter McDougall and starred the Hollywood ‘Pulp Fiction’ star Harvey Keitel as a US Navy Shore Patrol Officer stationed at the Holy Loch.  The Wild West of Scotland twinned with the Wild West of the US in gunslinger style is not an unusual likening.  

Elephants Graveyard – another Peter McDougall masterpiece - stars Billy Connolly as Jody, out of work and wandering the hills behind Greenock where he meets Bunny, who is pretending to his wife he’s a postman and is wandering the same hills aimlessly.  Jody’s happy-go-lucky philosophy against a backdrop of hopelessness runs through this Play for Today, and as always, in the background are the Sugarsheds and the all too familiar cranes.

Each movie and play shot through with negative and positive. Words like, gritty can be replaced by stoic; drama and struggle by real-life; with added touches of warmth and plenty of humour. Coming back into the present, I remember the screening of Sweet Sixteen in London.  I caught sight of my mother’s house on the big screen in a scene involving the Battery Park.  I leapt up and announced to amused cinemagoers “there’s my mum’s house!”  before slinking back into my chair like a crazy lady in the back row.  And let’s not forget the lovely, tender Dear Frankie with heartthrob Gerard Butler as the romantic lead.  You are in no doubt that the prime location is Greenock, with some exterior and interior shots in Glasgow.

No question that Inverclyde can offer a spectacular backdrop and that the Sugarsheds have played their part in movie history!  Are we ready to expand on that movie heritage?

You can find Joanie on facebook and twitter, or follow her blog right here.

Folk have sent us a few links and clips featuring the docks and The Sheds. We'll put them all up on the blog next week, if you've any you would like to share, or if you fancy a bit of guest blogging, drop us a line

Meantime...quite frankly any excuse for a wee clip of Elephants Graveyard...

Saturday, 20 August 2011

Culture Jacking Sugar Shed Style

Just for a laugh, a few of the posters our design guru was having fun with before he settled on our Uncle Sam / Irn Bru collection. I'm getting the Obama one made into a teeshirt...

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Opportunity Knocks...

Last week, as a direct result of the interest generated by the campaign and all your support, we got the opportunity to sit down and have a conversation with a our two local MSPs and senior staff at Riverside Inverclyde...though, not all at the same time. Those conversations were very positive for initial discussions, and really signal where we need to be going next...

First up, we met with George Hunter, Operations Manager from Riverside Inverclyde. George is also on the board of the James Watt Dock LLP, he has been following the Sheds facebook page and blog. In principle, he was very clear that he sees no issue with the aims and objectives which we have laid out. He was keen that there be community activity and varied events at the sheds, and would most certainly consider temporary lets of some of the space to allow that to happen. Clearly though, the public liability / health and safety responsibilities for the use of the space would transfer to the leaseholder.  Hmm. Tricky. Also, Shed B, (which is the one where all the gigs happened) still has issues with water ingress. The suggestion was initially that we look at Shed A for some events (this was the bar). We're going down there to have a look round shortly.

So...okay..RI happy for us to come back to them. What we're thinking is an 18 month programme of activities and events, specifically based around the ideas and suggestions put up on the page.

What about our local politicians? Well, so far we have met with Stuart McMillan MSP and Duncan McNeill MSP, both of whom expressed a broad support for positive use of the sheds, provided there was some notion of sustainability. Stuart McMillan was interested to see that any activity down there, from refurbishment work to events directly created local jobs. Both will continue to discuss the situation with Riverside Inverclyde.

So, we're pushing at an open door, which is a good thing, but we don't just want to tumble through that door and land flat on our faces. I may have over-extended that metaphor there. You get the idea.

Anything that we want to put in the sheds needs to be well organised and varied to appeal to Inverclyders and other audiences, that's what will prove the case. In order to do that effectively, we'll need a more formal structure for the group, to fundraise both through grant opportunities, crowdsourcing and more traditional methods, and we'll also need to get all of you who have kindly offered to help, from promoters and community groups through to artists and stage crew to pitch in pulling this together. Having looked at some of the health and safety implications etc and with summer almost gone...we're now thinking events for next year are more likely.

While we're planning all that, we'll still be looking more formally at an alternative business plan for the building. More on that to follow.

So...victory! Sort of. Maybe. Thank you all for helping get us to this point. Now's when the hard work starts if we are serious about using the sheds as a community space in the future. If you haven't already offered your skills and support to us, and think you can help, contact us on Likewise, keep signing and sharing (and if you still want to be part of our Celebration Ode collection, singing)

We're intending to have a stall at one of the Cathcart Square events over the next few weekends, if you see us, come say hello and help support another local event attempting to use a historical space creatively.


Monday, 8 August 2011

Celebration Ode 2011

A few weeks ago, we asked bands and performers to reinterpret Celebration Ode, the poem composed to mark the occasion of the inauguration of the James Watt Dock. Its been great fun receiving these and listening to how everyone has made it their own.

The poem itself is out of copyright, but for all these reinterpretations and recordings, the copyright remains with the artists involved.

First up, we have a version from Sneaky Pete. recorded and mixed on Thursday.
Sneaky Pete's Analogue EP is out now on iTunes
Sneaky Pete - A Celebration Ode by Sugar Sheds

Singer songwriter Yvonne Lyon has been described variously as "stunning", "life affirming" and "the bees knees". Listen to (and buy!) her critically acclaimed Ashes and Gold album here. This is her version of Celebration Ode. Music written by Gareth Davies-Jones and Yvonne Lyon and performed by Gareth Davies-Jones, Yvonne Lyon, Bronwyn Davies- Jones and Steph MacLeod.
  Yvonne Lyon - Watt Song (Celebration Ode 2011) by Sugar Sheds

Life On Standby are a 4 piece female fronted electronica infused alternative rock outfit from Inverclyde, recently hitting the Glasgow live scene and working towards recording their first EP come October. 
Life on Standby - Ode To Celebration (Celebration Ode 2011) by Sugar Sheds

Inverclyde's premier pirate folk band Shinbone Al provided this rip roaring foot stomping shanty version.
Shinbone Al - Celebration Ode (2011) by Sugar Sheds

Martin Jones, a singer songwriter wanted to give the tune a bluesy, soulful feel, here's his interpretation.
Martin Jones - A Celebration Ode (2011) by Sugar Sheds

Greenock based folk rock outfit Ard-Amas made their live debut at The Sugar Sheds during the Tall well as releasing their debut album there, so they are very much committed to the campaign!
Check out their myspace page for a preview.
Ard-Amas - Celebration Ode (2011) by Sugar Sheds

A big big thank you to everyone who took the time to be involved. Since putting them up on Saturday, we've been promised many more from other bands and performers. We'll keep posting and sharing whatever we're sent. Please check out more music from all the artists involved and support their work.

The variety and enthusiasm makes me think there's probably mileage in a whole Sugar Sheds album, we've got loads of different old folk songs, broadside ballads and poems just crying out to be reinterpreted and re-recorded. Hmmm. Watch this space.

Saturday, 6 August 2011


Today we celebrate the foundation of the James Watt Dock 130 years ago on 6 August 1881 with a look at how the dock, the sheds and the sugar industry all played a part in the history, heritage and development of our town.

At around the same time as the shipbuilding industry was developing along the firth of the Clyde, another commercial development was beginning which would have an equally significant impact; sugar refining.  Trade began between Greenock and the sugar exporting colonies of the West Indies around the early 1730's, but very little of what was imported stayed within the area. Glasgow had been refining sugar since the 1660's, and so much of what was brought ashore at Greenock and Port Glasgow was shipped up river by cart. It is possible that there were a number of small refining industries operating in the area at this time. However, the first comercial refinery was not established in Greenock until 1765, at the foor of Sugar House Lane, close to where the Oak mall now stands. It was built by Mr Mark Kuhl, and employed just a handful of men. But other refineries quickly followed by the 1820's there were at least 8 operating in the area. By the 1870s, there were 14 or 15 large refineries in operation, producing a quarter of a million tons annually and employing thousands. At this time, there was no town in the Empire, outside of London, carrying out the trade so extensively and Greenock rightfully earned the title of Sugaropolis, the sugar capital of Scotland.

Such were the opportunities for work that many immigrants arrived in Greenock in search of employment. The area’s Irish population began to grow but so too did a small German community. The Germans had been considered as masters of the sugar trade for some time and many came to Britain from rural North Germany in search of work. Immigrants from Hanover tended to sail into Hull or London before making their way to the centres of the refining industry such as Liverpool and Greenock, often working in the sugar trade until finding something less arduous. Census data shows that in 1881 there were fewer than two dozen Germans in the Inverclyde area yet, by 1891, this figure had grown to nearer 1,000. While the hard and often dangerous work was carried out by native Scots, and immigrant Irish and Germans, the refineries tended to be owned by wealthy local merchants.

One of the major players in the industry was Abram Lyle II. Having bought into the Glebe Sugar Company as part of a partnership of local merchants in 1865, Lyle was to go on to make his fame and fortune from sugar. As provost of Greenock, Lyle presided over the development of several important schemes, including the James Watt Dock, the municipal buildings, and the construction of the road to the Lyle Hill. Lyle, who also donated the fountain that bears his name and still stands in Cathcart Square today, can be considered as one of the most influential figures in the area’s development.

In 1921 some 30 years after Lyle’s death, the Tate and Lyle sugar companies merged in London to become the largest sugar company in the world. Yet Lyle was not the only son of Greenock to make an impact on the sugar industry in other locations. Indeed, many members of Greenock families, having helped establish the industry in their native town, sought fortune in London, Liverpool and beyond. The abolition of duties on sugar in 1874 had a great impact on the Greenock refineries seeing an increase in output to meet the growing national consumption. It was at this time that plans were drawn up for a facility that would ensure the town’s prolonged success in the industry.

During the latter half of the 19th century it was becoming increasingly apparent that Greenock’s harbour accommodation was too small. The growth of overseas trade and the sugar industry forced the Harbour Trust to make plans to expand the area’s harbour facilities. In 1850, the Victoria Harbour was completed and within 20 years the Albert Harbour was also in operation. Yet even as these docks were being constructed, plans were being made for a grand scheme that would make Greenock the finest seaport in Britain. In 1868 a competition offering prizes of £300 and £100 was set up to find the best proposed scheme for the new development at Garvel Park. The winner was an amateur called Mr Fiddler of London. As he couldn’t guarantee he had the necessary expertise to carry out his development, the second prize-winner, renowned architect and engineer, Walter R. Kinipple was commissioned  for the development. The first stage of the project, the Garvel Graving Dock, was started in 1870 and completed some four years later. In 1871, however, it had been decided to add a wet dock to the scheme, so the Harbour Trust set about raising the necessary funds and public support for the new development. Eventually, on 1 August, 1878, Provost Lyle ceremonially cut the first sod of what was by now called the James Watt Dock, suggesting “there had never in the history of Greenock been a more momentous time involving greater interests or a greater outlay of money.”

On 6 August 1881 a double celebration for the town of Greenock took place when Provost Campbell laid the foundation stones of both the municipal buildings and the James Watt Dock and finally on the 5 August 1886, almost 20 years after the project was first started, the dock was officially opened. The lavishness of the opening ceremony reflected the importance of the project to the people of Greenock. A train was laid on to bring a large party of guests from Glasgow, a fleet of boats sailed from the Albert Harbour with the Provost’s craft officially opening the dock by breaking a ribbon stretched across the sea entrance. Thereafter banquets, back-slapping and speech-making were the order of the day. It was truly an event of national significance with reporters and sketch artists coming from as far away as London and from illustrious publication’s such as The North British Daily Mail, The Illustrated London News, The Scotsman and The Glasgow Herald. Yet the event was best summarised by the Greenock Telegraph which stated: “ After having experienced many years of corporate and administrative travail, after having seen Glasgow go dangerously ahead in the matter of steamship trade, Greenock yesterday, for the first time in her history stood forth as one of the greatest and best equipped of British seaports.”

James Watt Dock and its warehouses made possible the expansion of Greenock’s trade connections and in particular allowed for the growth of the sugar industry as it entered its heyday in the early 1900s. Perhaps this venture more than any other gave Greenock its image as a ‘ships and sugar town’.

Over the course of the 20th century, the decline of Greenock’s sugar industry was marked, until finally in the late 1990s the last refinery closed and the ships no longer came. James Watt Dock is a legacy of the area’s past, a monument to industry. Today it represents the most complete 19th century wet dock in Scotland while the Titan cantilever crane dates from 1907 and is the oldest in existence. The Sugar Sheds themselves are the largest surviving brick and cast iron warehouse in Scotland.

The dock’s dilapidated state is symbolic of the decline of the local shipping and sugar industries, yet the scheme itself is hailed by architectural critics as a rare early example of a warehouse designed as part of an overall dock plan. Such is the historical and architectural value of the building that it has featured on the World Monument Funds list of the 100 most threatened monuments alongside The Valley of The Kings and The Great Wall of China. James Watt Dock: Inverclyde’s very own wonder of the world!

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

What are you all about?

In the last few weeks, thanks to the support of local people, this campaign has attracted lots of attention and opinion. In turn, our local MSPs have been talking to RI about the possibilities for the future of the sheds, representing the views and comments the community have made. This week, the Chief Executive and Operations Manager of Riverside Inverclyde have also agreed to talk to members of the group about the suggestions that have been made and the possibility of further community use of the space. We were also really pleased this week to read this piece in The Scotsman, from Joan McAlpine MSP.

Brilliant. And thank you.

As things have continued to move on, we felt it was important to be clear about what we hope to achieve with this campaign. What we might all hope to achieve with the building itself is really the next step...

To explore an alternative development strategy for regeneration of the Sugar Sheds in order to provide the maximum community benefit for the people of Inverclyde.

1. To work collaboratively with Riverside Inverclyde and all key stakeholders- including the local community- to explore alternative uses for the Sugar Sheds beyond the current outline planning permission.

2. To establish a genuinely representative and meaningful way for the local community to be involved in the discussions and planning of the buildings future use – not simply the opportunity to comment on drawings and plans.

3. To secure permission  for a number of community events to be undertaken within the sheds over the medium term to help test the case for longer term community use and also to build on the Tall Ships momentum to continue to positively market the buildings potential.

4. To work collaboratively to prepare an alternative business case for sustainable community use of the building

5. To explore different funding and ownership models for regenerating the Sugar Sheds in the longer term in order to provide the maximum community benefit for the people of Inverclyde,

Naturally, we would hope to see a genuine commitment to exploring these objectives from Riverside Inverclyde, James Watt Dock LLP and our locally elected representatives, particularly those directly involved with RI.

So, thank you very much for your support, interest and suggestions so far, please keep sharing the facebook page and signing the petition. This will be a long haul. I hope you'll stick with us. There's plenty more to come.