Sweet dream for the community – the campaign to reclaim Greenock’s sugar sheds

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by Margaret Little

The success of the Tall Ships Race’s visit to the James Watt Dock in Greenock has shed some new ideas on the use of the old Tate & Lyle sugar warehouse there, known locally as the sugar sheds. 

The sugar sheds were used during the race visit as a space for entertainment from breakdancing to burlesque and punk to the pipes.  The ringing success of the sheds throughout the four day race festival has lead a creative group of local people to call for the sugar sheds to be returned to community use.

The success of the Tall Ships Race’s visit to the James Watt Dock in Greenock has shed some new ideas on the use of the old Tate & Lyle sugar warehouse there, known locally as the sugar sheds.

The sugar sheds were used during the race visit as a space for entertainment from breakdancing to burlesque and punk to the pipes.  The ringing success of the sheds throughout the four day race festival has lead a creative group of local people to call for the sugar sheds to be returned to community use.

The sugar sheds are an A-listed building that is recognised as a fine example of early industrial architecture.  It has an unusual feature of a colonnade of cast iron columns forming a sheltered unloading area next to the quayside.

It was included in the World Monuments Fund’s list of the 100 Most Endangered Sites in the World as it is Scotland’s largest cast iron and brick industrial building.  Fire swept through the building in 2006 and £3.7m was spent to make the building wind and water tight and make it ready for use again.

Currently, the sheds are owned by James Watt LLP and are earmarked as office space but with the recession, the campaign group ‘Sugar Sheds Greenock’ are hopefully that the company will look at alternative uses.

Paul Bristow from the Sugar Sheds group reflects on what the options are for the sheds:

“I think the Tall Ships event in Greenock a few weeks ago, helped people see the Sugar Sheds in a whole new light.  We saw it brought back to life with people, song, music, food and dance, and so we thought ‘Why can’t we keep it like this? This is the kind of space we deserve!’

“After showing people that possibility, why would we then want to take a massive step backwards towards creating more sterile office space in a financial climate which – let’s face it – will then see a building of that size empty for quite a few years yet.

“This building and the surrounding docks were ours, seen as the cornerstone of a new prosperity and vision for Greenock. 130 years later … they still can be, but only if we attempt to think more creatively about how to fill it and work collaboratively to make that happen.

“Otherwise we risk seeing it once again slide into silence.  The building and this community deserve better than that.”

The campaign by the group has been going for less than a month and has already had considerable success, gaining the attention of a cross party group of MSPs including the SNP’s local MSP Stuart McMillan and locally born Joan McAlpine along with Labour’s Duncan McNeill.

The local urban regeneration company, Riverside Inverclyde has also agreed to meet with campaign members to discuss further uses by the community.

Thousands of people have joined the group’s facebook page http://www.facebook.com/sugarsheds and the group along with another local group Magic Torch, are already showing their commitment to giving something back to the community themselves with their informative blog http://keepsugarsheds.blogspot.com/2011/08/sugaropolis.html written to commemorate the foundation the James Watt Dock 130 years ago this month.

Whilst the campaign is at an early stage, the current economic climate means public and private bodies are all looking at ways to utilise buildings.

Trusts such as the Maryhill Burghs Hall Trust are finding ways of using local buildings for community use along with providing income through commercial lets of part of the building and a model such as this might be one that satisfies both the needs of the company and the local campaigners in Greenock.