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Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Sugar Sheds are key to Greenock's future

And now for something completely local!

Fellow blogger and SNP MSP Joan McAlpine has used her Scotsman column to write in support of the campaign to reclaim Greenock’s Sugar Sheds for community use. The Greenock Telegraph has reported on this local campaign in recent weeks but as far as I am aware this is the first time it has caught the attention of the national media.

I fully support her stance and the campaign, which has a facebook page and a surprisingly well-researched blog (Keep Greenock’s Sugar Sheds a Community Space). People who either live in or know Greenock will recognise how important the Sugar Sheds are to the town’s identity. They are not only an important landmark, but a link to our industrial past; a reminder of the town’s role in the “triangular trade” and slavery as well as Greenock’s influence and importance as a trade centre. As Joan McAlpine neatly summarises, the Sugar Sheds are “cathedrals of industry”.

The Sugar Sheds are, however, much more than simply reminders of our industrial heritage. They are not merely memorial stones to an almost-forgotten past, but have the potential to shape Greenock’s future. They can and should be a focal point via which the town can be regenerated and revitalised. And this potential was realised by local people at the recent Tall Ships race, when the Sheds were temporarily converted into theatres and stages for all kinds of artistes and bands. It is this, rather than backward-looking sentimentality, that has motivated campaigners to call for the derelict Sheds to be put to community use.

It is perhaps fitting that it should be the Tall Ships Race that served as the trigger for the local community to consider new uses for the Sugar Sheds. A town that owed its past to shipping now may owe its future to the way in which its inhabitants have so easily connected with its shipbuilding heritage. As Joan MacAlpine observes, the Tall Ships race energised local people “in an extraordinary way”. In some respects, this was an inevitable by-product of Inverclyde’s history. In other respects, it represents a positive collective aspiration for a better future.

McAlpine, considering Greenock’s future, prescribes imagination and innovation: “a little imagination can go a long way in allowing beauty to shine through dereliction.” That much is true. However, while the Sheds were saved in 2006 following a fire, until now very little imagination had been committed to determining what the Sugar Sheds’ future should be. Yes, the buildings should be preserved - that much was agreed. But during the last five years no-one had any more useful suggestion to offer than conversion into offices.

Now, of course, local people have been empowered to put forward an idea that is not only innovative and positive but also practical. That is not only a good thing, but in the present economic climate quite miraculous. The campaign group have found a way of connecting Greenock’s heritage and history with tomorrow’s opportunity. The campaign, in turn, has inspired local people to get behind the proposals while MSP Stuart McMillan has been making the right noises and, I believe, is to meet with Riverside Inverclyde to explore the various possibilities.

So often, what is termed “people power” expresses itself through protest or expressions of anger. In some respects that is inevitable. But it is refreshing when communities organise themselves and promote something so positive, so different, so far-reaching and yet so simple. And, unlike some other campaigns to “save” historic buildings or monuments, this is not an exercise in nostalgia by those who prefer to live in the past, but a dynamic vision for improving the town and the community. I am genuinely uplifted by this “people power” and I am in complete support of its aims.

I hope our MP, MSP and councillors share the campaigners’ appreciation for what the Sugar Sheds represent both in terms of Greenock’s past and its future. I strongly feel that a great deal can be achieved if there is the political will to do so. There is so much that can be done creatively with the available space that the very least should be a public consultation on more specific options for “community use” which will benefit the people of Inverclyde.

The local campaigners behind this proposal have not only caught the imagination, but perhaps done something even more improbable. They have allowed many local people to feel positive about the future of their town in a way that no MP, MSP, councillor or political activist has been able to. That for me is something worthy of enormous praise.

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