Monday, 3 September 2012

Sweet Dreams...

In June this year, the Identity project run by Inverclyde Community Development Trust, worked with Riverside Inverclyde, James Watt Dock LLP and Inverclyde Council to secure the use of the Sugar Sheds for a one day performance of a locally produced drama. The script was written with pupils from St Columbas High School with the assistance of scriptwriter Danny McCahon (Casualty, Waterloo Road, Emmerdale). The drama retold the stories of local migrants who have passed through the area over the years and was produced as part of a project supported by Heritage Lottery Fund Scotland. I am lucky enough to be involved with this project, and the whole day was an exceptional experience, certainly amplified by the atmospherics of the Sheds. The performance will be available online and on DVD later in the year, but for now, here's a taste of the show...

Having been involved in the organisation of the Identity production, I better understand many of the difficulties of staging any event in the building - power, toilets, security, safe walking surfaces - all that doesn't magically appear; the space has none of these basic services - and none of it is cheap to hire in. But it can still be done. Likewise, the health and safety considerations of moving people in and out of the building are...challenging, with approval required from the Police and Fire services. But it can still be done. For us, it certainly helped the process that our one day event did not feature a bar - but equally, I know from talking to people over the last year, that's always one of the things most folk would like to see in there alongside live music.

A year on from the initial flurry and interest of the campaign, the marina continues to be busy, with hopes for new business development and local jobs there and The Sugar Sheds and the James Watt Dock continue to be a focus and inspiration for arts and cultural activity; Cardboard Bay based on the Russian social arts project Cardboardia, has been funded to happen in the Sheds in the near future. The life and work of sculptor George Wylie will be celebrated across the West of Scotland by The Whysman project, there's an exhibition at RIG Arts Gallery and the project culminates in a massive steel question mark being suspended from the Titan Crane at the dock. Local music, one of the things people wanted to continue to see in the Sheds most of all, is being promoted by a new website which takes it's name from the buildings; The Sugar Sheds, provides free listings to all local musicians, tutors, studios and events and is fast becoming one of the most well used local websites. And at least one other major arts project involving the Sheds is currently in development. As a space, it continues to inspire me personally - I wrote a few wee haiku the other week for my own blog Stramashed while I was walking down there and I've another wee ghost story on the go as well. For a real taste of how that inspiration can produce wonderful creative pieces, check out Alistair Cook's filmpoem The God of Sugar.

And now? In the short term, it would be nice to see more cultural opportunities down at the Sheds; with funding, time, genuine partnership working and resources, the Identity drama has shown that it can be done - in one small part of the Sugar Sheds, for one day. But what else can be done beyond these enjoyable, opportunistic events - is a long term plan for sustainability even possible now? The landscape locally and nationally for "regeneration" has changed dramatically, even in the last year. Any solution for the buildings lies, as it always did, in people, communities, agencies and organisations putting aside personal agendas, ideaologies and maybe even short term profit in favour of actually sitting down together to make things happen. That ship has yet to sail.

For now, while we wait, a shameless plug for another local project I'm involved with, The Dutch Gable House, which will be opening up on Doors Open Day on Saturday 8 / 9 September - you'll be able to get free copies of our Heritage Lottery Fund supported Graphic Novel on the day - which includes a few wee Sugar Sheds pages. Come one, come all.

And Magic Torch, the originators of the Sugar Sheds campaign have a new storytelling project starting later in September as well.


Monday, 9 January 2012


Kinga Shinnen! As we now proper get into gear for the New Year, seems like a good opportunity to have a look at where we are at, how we got here and what we feel are important next steps. (some of this text is from our document "Sugar Sheds Discussion Paper", sent to Riverside Inverclyde in October of 2011)

Following the success of the Tall Ships event in summer, Magic Torch launched a campaign to urge that local politicians and the regeneration agency consider other opportunities for redeveloping the space.

After discussion with Riverside Inverclyde, it was agreed that we would provide a brief breakdown of the potential programme that we would like to see in The Sugar Sheds, and that RI would consider leasing out parts of the Sheds to allow this to happen - dependent on what was being suggested. Theoretically, this would leave all responsibility for liability and insurance with the agency organising the events.

Magic Torch, through the campaign blog, facebook page and local events, have undertaken substantial community engagement in order to listen to what interested people felt was most effective within the Sheds, and what people would like to see there again - if anything. We have also visited a number of community led regeneration projects and spoken to national organisations such as The Scottish Civic Trust to look for successful models of historic building use. The programme and suggestions outlined below are based on that listening exercise.

In short though, it can happen; without even having to leave Scotland you can visit a number of successful projects housed within historic buildings providing community benefit, effectively housing and incubating social enterprises, creating employment and directly involving the local community in their management and development. You just canʼt visit one in Inverclyde. Yet.

Maybe in the cold dark of 2012, ideas like these are less likely to happen. We are told daily now how little money there is, how hard life is going to be this year, how there are tough times ahead. Fair enough. And yes, it's entirely possible, that the James Watt Dock LLP will be less likely to invest in the James Watt Dock site following a cut to Riverside Inverclyde's funding. Also, art and culture related programmes or big obvious events can be a hard sell in a cold climate - just look at how some people reacted to the Tall Ships itself last year, or think about how you feel about much the Olympics is costing this year, or the Commonwealth Games in 2014.  We are all more savvy now, more suspicious, and talk of the income generated by such events, or the legacies they create are no longer accepted without question. And in a world where disgruntled public opinion can now instantly blossom into national outrage and scandal, maybe everyone is more wary of commitment and decision without being clear "what happens next?". Okay. So, let's at least try and establish whether there's any mileage in ANY of this, sharpish. Funding for any of this programme would have to be secured fairly quickly now anyway...

What we outline below is a draft for a potential programme to run from Spring through to Autumn 2012. It is reliant on
- Relevant permissions/leases from RI 
- The financial implications of covering the H&S at the site (though nothing here suggested would be on the same scale as the Tall Ships) 
- Partnership working with other Inverclyde groups, agencies, employers and volunteers who have all offered to help since the outset of the campaign 
- Securing funding for some of the events (others form parts of already funded projects and programmes, we are just providing a focal point for them at The Sugar Sheds)

So, easy peasy.This pilot programme will be a mixture of funded community events and ticketed shows / performances. The ticketed events will test the financial viability of running a regular programme. Therefore some of the non-funded events may be undertaken with an element of financial risk to the organisers.

Suggested Model
A local voluntary organisation, separate from Riverside Inverclyde, apply for and source the funding for various elements of the programme. Any local voluntary organisation will also be able to access funding for employees to support the project, either in management, or delivery through either the Inverclyde Future Jobs programme, Graduate Opportunities Programme, or SCVOs Community Jobs programme. We will potentially help create some local employment opportunities from the outset.

At the moment, the suggested model for moving forward with the management of the events is that RI would potentially lease space to an organisation, and that they would manage the liabilities etc. It may be more effective and realistic to undertake this collaboratively.

RI already have an understanding of what the H&S issues are with the site and of the costs of making the area safe and secure, so would be best placed to advise on this. For example, is it possible to use the rear doors of the Sheds to entry to events, thus minimising the need for fencing along the dockside / disruption to the marina.

Equally, it would help any funding bids tremendously, if RI were able to provide “in-kind” contributions through some of the lets of the space, or solutions to the H&S / liability issues, which are likely to be the most complex part of using the space effectively.

Initially RI have offered Shed A for usage, however it would certainly be more effective in some circumstances to be able to also use Shed B.

Potential Programme : April - September 2012

The most popularly discussed use for the space is clearly as a music venue. We have had no shortage of music promoters / bands offer to organise events or perform in The Sheds. Here, the most sensible model would be to use Shed B for performance, and retain Shed A for bar use. Potential events could include
- Launch Night : scottish band showcase 
- Inverclyde Schools Choir - Battle of the School Bands (linked to a funded schools music programme) 
- Battle of the Local Bands (with bands selected during a series of heats in local venues prior to a final in The Sugar Sheds)

Inverclyde Community Development Trust are currently running Identity, a Heritage Lottery Funded Project. The £155,000 project will continue throughout 2012, focussing on collecting local family histories and exploring emmigration over the last 200 years. There are a number of project outputs which could be directly linked to The Sugar Sheds.
- Graphic Novel launch / comic art exhibition. The project is producing 5000 copies of a graphic novel, with stories and pages created by every local school in the area. These are to be distributed for free. 
- Dramatic performance of some of the emmigration stories collected. This is to be a public performance. 
- Social history exhibition focussing on the German and Irish migrant workers who were the main workforce in the areas sugar developing sugar industry in the 19th Century.

Magic Torch would also apply for funding to allow local people to create their own social history exhibitions alongside displays on areas of less well known heritage. (Seventies Childhood, Red Clydeside, Woman in Industry, local music scene 50s - 80s) All of these would have short stays within Shed A.

Local Artist Alec Galloway is piloting an artist in residence scheme, and we have discussed how to expand and further develop this project throughout next year, involving artists and local people to create a body of work for exhibition within the sheds.

Gourock based artist George Wylie celebrates his 90th birthday this year. A campaign to see his work more widely celebrated has been very successful so far, with a new "Whys Man" festival to celebrate his work planned. Perhaps we could see a symposium of his work hosted at the Sheds?

On one weekend of each month, make reasonably priced pitches in Shed B available to Farmers Market / European Fayre / Arts Fayre / Vintage Clothing / secondhand books.

As part of the process, at some point during this pilot, and to underline the potential of community involvement in further development of The Sheds, it would be helpful to run a consultation event / listening exercise around meaningful local placemaking and development such as Renaissance Town initiative or Total Place. This would be in line with Scottish Government's new guidance on placing local people at the heart of the regeneration process.

Other Potential Opportunities
All events will culminate on Doors Open Day Weekend 2012. Our new arts centre, The Beacon formally opens in September 2012 (after the completion of this programme) and there would almost certainly be a way to link the two in a way which benefits both audiences and local people.

We have approached a number of touring “pod based” exhibitions which are too large for the McLean museum to house (Age of the Dinosaur, Ice Station Antarctica) these are generally booked many months in advance, so unlikely for inclusion next year, however it is helpful to know the costs for such events, which in themselves, provide potential draws to the area and income generation opportunities. Hosting such high profile national exhibitions directly builds on the notion of making Inverclyde a destination, one of the intended outcomes of the Tall Ships event.

There are also other local media opportunities to be explored such as - internet radio / podcasts linked to the Sugar Sheds (though not necessarily broadcast from there) - documentary dvd exploring both the history of the sheds and following the pilot project across the next year, including performances from bands / artists involved

One very popular suggestion for this year, was a Halloween event, involving a number of partners, exhibits and performances. This could be developed as a commercial opportunity for 2012 and include 
- ghost tours / storytelling
- Inverclyde House of Horrors 
- bands and disco 
- Horror Films projected by Greenock Waterfront Cinema 
Such events seem frivolous, but in fact prove popular all across the country, and could of course dovetail into Inverclyde Councilʼs “Myths and Legends” event. All of the above events will provide measurable local involvement, volunteering and employment.

Further Development
This suggested programme focusses solely on events which could happen within The Sugar Sheds over six months, it does not directly address the longer term potential of the space, which may yet be most effective by involving some element of community lease / ownership. 

We still firmly believe that further exploration of such alternative uses and models is a responsibility of politicians and the urban regeneration company, not just volunteer campaigners. Hopefully this next year will provide a chance to test and explore this potential.

However, there are a number of opportunities which are also worth considering in the short term, as a number of grants currently exist to help make them a reality.

Architectural Competition
The Sugar Sheds present many challenges, not least how to develop effectively inside a historically protected space. Make those challenges the focus of a brief, launched as a national competition. What is required is a scheme which can be created in a phased way inside each shed, does not significantly alter the existing fabric, provides a mix of “pod” style flexible space for businesses / community organisations, alongside actual building conversions, utilises sustainable energy and is affordable enough to be done a shed at a time. It also once again taps into the heritage and enterprise of the James Watt Dock itself, designed of course, by the winner of an architectural competition. Well, the runner up.

Sustainable Energy Community Energy Scotland have grants available for feasibility studies in effective development and use of renewable and sustainable energy. How can the Sugar Sheds be heated economically? Are there precedents for historic buildings generating energy through solar or hydro power? Could the sheds reduce potential future running costs and potentially generate income through energy efficiency? Surely worth exploring.

So, there we are. But big talk is easy. Doing things is hard. Let's see how we go shall we? And if this all looks like a waste of time, well...there's always the Custom House or the Tobacco Warehouse to be thinking about instead eh?