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.

Monday, 1 August 2011

Guest Blogger - Saltire Sounds / Events Online Live

We've invited a number of people who are supporting or involved with the campaign to write pieces for the blog about their own ideas, experiences and suggestions. Far and away the most popular suggestion for the sheds is as a space for gigs, something that even a mixed use development could still do effectively, with event use throughout the week and performances at the weekend. Lorraine Smith from Saltire Sounds explain a little about their ethos and Events Live reminds us why the sheds are an excellent performance venue...

We set up Saltire Sounds to establish a platform for aspiring Scots musicians to promote their music and get heard , and seen. 20-25 years ago we had rich musical culture in Scotland with bands like Simple Minds, Hue & Cry . Fairground Attraction, Deacon Blue and list goes on. We have a real passion for music, especially homegrown and would like in some small way to be able to be instrumental (pardon pun) in helping to revive the richness that bubbles under Scottish Industrial surface and regain our cultural presence in UK , the World even. 

Scotland at the moment is renowned for its tourism but the world forgets how much its music has shaped the charts and beyond. We feel that the time is right, with the run up to the Commonwealth Games to regrow music platforms here and pump some well needed spirit , energy and economic growth back into our country. 

Music comes from the soul, and like water and air is free to use, but for what it costs to support, it rewards us back not just into the pockets with gigs, festivals and even a Brits style awards (Saltires?) but with the same unflinching sense of patriotic pride that has been stripped from Scotland with recession , downturn in Industry and the likes. 

We feel using the uniqueness of The Sugar Sheds could be an excellent way to help make this happen. At The Tall Ships some of Scotland’s best Unsigned Acts to showcased their impressive talent. Over the weekend, Events Live Online, ran live streaming of the performances in The Sugar Sheds, you can check them out below just to remind yourself what a top notch venue it is for music. Events Online stream all sorts of events, including weddings...another popular choice for the sheds!