CASTING a spell on a down-at-heel town to turn its fortunes around sounds more like a tale for Hallowe'en.

And if Liz Gardiner has her way, a witch's brew of events will help to put Paisley back on the map.

The organiser of the Renfrewshire Witch Hunt 1697 project, created last summer to recount the story of the seven so-called witches burned at the stake in Paisley more than 300 years ago, is staging a one-day event on Saturday.

In a rather unusual bid to attract visitors, hundreds are expected to watch a parade through the town and see a re-enactment of the trial scene at 3pm at Paisley Abbey, with many getting dressed up in period costume.

It is the culmination of a project that has visited schools and community groups to share the town's forgotten heritage.

In 1697, four women and three men were hanged and their bodies burned on a bonfire.

Afterwards, their remains were buried at Maxwellton Cross at a site marked by a horseshoe and a circle of cobbled stones.

They had been found guilty of putting a spell on 11-year-old Christian Shaw, the daughter of the laird of Bargarran.

Christian would likely have been diagnosed today with the attention-seeking Munchausen's Syndrome.

The men and women denied the allegations but the court, made up of local ministers, wealthy landowners and government officials, found them guilty and sentenced them to death.

The story of the witch trials bears many similarities to events in Salem, Massachusetts, a few years earlier.

"It was one of the last great witch hunts in Europe," says Liz, with an eye to turning the past into a more prosperous future for the town.

"Paisley's days as a retail shopping centre are gone. There are various initiatives to look at the heritage resources of the town, the buildings and Abbey and the wonderful Coats Memorial Church.

"There's a growing recognition that we've also got this incredible heritage in our stories."

The best tale is the Renfrewshire witch hunt because the young accuser and her mother toured Europe and discovered the Spinning Jenny, smuggling parts of it back to Paisley under their skirts and starting the industry on which Paisley's fortunes were based.

However, the witches' mass grave was sealed with a horseshoe. And according to legend, Paisley would suffer if it was ever disturbed.

"Of course in the 1960s, during road works, the horseshoe was lifted," says Liz. "Now, we know it was coincidence, but from that point on Paisley's fortunes did decline."

She says after last year's event to replace the horseshoe the town's fortunes are turning.

"We're starting to recognise the role of heritage in regenerating the town and the Witches Festival will become one of those engines of regeneration."

In another quirky twist of fate, Liz says many accused in the witch hunt were Gaelic-speaking islanders forced by famine to come south for work.

The finger of blame was pointed at them for no other reason than the fact they were different and spoke a foreign language.

"This year we are doing the festival the week before the Mod takes place in Paisley," says Liz.

"We've got all these Highlanders accused of being witches and then we've got the Mod coming to rescue them and rehabilitate them."

A chance to rewrite a grim chapter of history and boost the coffers of the town ? If Liz can pull it off, the magic spell might just work.