Innovation Exchange

Barrhead Water Works


Key activities

Benefits and impacts


Further Information

Water Works is about the transformation of a derelict sewage works into wild flower gardens through the vision and hard work of the local community.  This is a unique project that brings together people and nature as a means to regenerate a neighbourhood in Barrhead.  The project has created a vibrant new community space, boosted people’s skills and confidence and overturned negative perceptions.

Water Works was supported by East Renfrewshire Council and a range of partners, primarily:


  • Grow Wild, Young Enterprise Scotland
  • The Coach House Trust
  • Men’s Shed Barrhead,
  • The Richmond Fellowship
  • Dunterlie Youth Group
  • Barrhead & Thornliebank Resource Centre
  • Renfrewshire Association for Mental Health
  • Barrhead High School
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Theme: Housing and Regeneration and Partnership and Collaboration

Water Works is about transformation and local empowerment.  The site is located in Barrhead North, a neighbourhood with significant levels of social deprivation and health inequalities along with a disproportionately high area of vacant and derelict land.


Water Works is strongly underpinned by land planning policy and is an integral part of our Local Development Plan.  The Water Works project is actively widening the scope of regeneration to include meaningful community engagement and direct action alongside major public and private investment.  Over £1 million has been invested in the Barrhead North area. Water Work’s key outcomes include:

  • Physically transform and reclaim 2 hectares of derelict land;
  • Challenge negative perceptions of Barrhead North and create positive new ones;
  • Improve health and wellbeing by offering opportunities for gardening and recreation;
  • Create opportunities for intergenerational collaboration and project work;
  • Contribute to initiatives to attract new investment to the Barrhead North area.


The project is innovative in two significant ways.  Firstly, Water Works has been used as a catalyst project in the wider regeneration work in Barrhead North.  The project started in advance of the construction of commercial units, road realignment and brown field remediation work.  This ‘community first’ approach has given local people a personal stake in the regeneration initiative and provided confidence that things can happen quickly on the ground.  This has started to reverse negative perceptions of the area.  While community consultation is common practice when developing a regeneration masterplan (typically it would involve a charrette), Water Works takes the standard of consultation and engagement one step further and has allowed the community to lead the way with hands-on transformation of a space.  This approach recognises and delivers a holistic approach to regeneration which puts communities at the centre and considers how local cohesion, health and well-being, and environmental sustainability contribute to successful places.


The second innovation is a new and sustainable approach to derelict land.   Rather than demolish and remove the structures associated with the sewage works these have been reused and reinvented as central features of the wild flower garden.  Discarded stone and materials found on site have been recycled to make new paths and landscaping while the huge concrete tanks have been reinvented as giant flower pots.  Soil used to backfill the concrete tanks was salvaged from a nearby re-laid football pitch.  This recycling has made the project both environmentally sustainable and extremely cost effective.  Salvaging stone saved over £5000 while salvaging soil saved a further £15,000.  With a small budget of £45,000 for construction this represented substantial savings.

The documentation process includes a short film, which captures the participants’ personal stories, made over 4 months from project inception through to summer 2014.


This has been followed up with an evaluation which involved both group discussions and individual interviews with people involved. Representatives from 8 of the 9 partners were interviewed, along with many of the client users from the charities represented.  The client users included people with a range of physical and learning disabilities, young people aged 8 to 14 years and people over 65.  In addition to client users and their organisations, members of the public visiting Water Works were able to drop-in and give their own thoughts direct to camera. Quantifiable results so far are:


  • 2 hectares of derelict land reclaimed;
  • 180 S1 pupils at Barrhead High School awarded the John Muir Award;
  • Intergenerational project between Men’s Shed and Dunterlie Youth Group;
  • 2 spin off projects inspired: community beekeeping and a community orchard;
  • £90,000 levered for additional community greenspace projects;
  • 6 modern apprentices trained in plant care and maintenance.


The following testimonies are from Water Works participants:

“The best part of the project for me was at the start of the summer going to the garden for a BBQ where we could really see the difference we had made.  The flowers were starting to bloom and it was actually beginning to look like a garden.  I had a great sense of accomplishment.  I thought to myself, ‘I helped make this happen, I was a part of this change and I can make a difference’.  It was a great feeling.“ - Ailidh Hamilton, S2 Barrhead High School


"Whether it was cold or hot weather it would always smell bad, now it smells beautiful" - Local resident.

Water Works is the Scottish flagship site for Grow Wild and has been widely publicised with the lessons learned from the project being disseminated through social media channels.  The project features as a case study on Greenspace Scotland’s website.  In the past six months two presentations on Water Works have been given at national conferences.   Video conferencing has been used to connect with groups in England and Northern Ireland who are interested in attempting similar projects.

Contact details:

To find out more about this case study, please contact:


Mark Brand

Outdoor Access Officer

East Renfrewshire Council

0141 570 7360

Case study added to site: June 2016

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