It sounds like a cross between Scrapheap Challenge and Blue Peter, with the blessing of the Almighty and a huge heap of ingenuity.

And it's definitely not rubbish.

Old beer cans, car tyres, shipping containers, industrial pallets and straw bales are being used to build a new church, theatre and community centre in Glasgow with the help of local people.

The cans are being used to construct walls and furniture, the tyres to form foundations, the containers and pallets to create buildings and the straw bales to provide insulation. It's one of the most ambitious recycling projects in the country.

With the backing of grants from the Scottish Government, the lottery and Glasgow City Council, work is under way on the first phase of the project – an "energy hub" and community centre in Milton, north Glasgow.

After that, the plan is to build a church, a café, a theatre, a gallery and offices, set within a landscaped public park. Further grants of £2.2 million are being applied for with the aim of completion by April 2014.

"We are creating our new building ourselves – one can, one tyre, one straw bale at a time," said Reverend Christopher Rowe, minister of Colston Milton Parish Church.

"The people of Milton will be building out of material commonly regarded as rubbish, things that people throw away but which in reality could be given another life in all sorts of ways."

Recycling will create a "wonderful resource", as well as cutting pollution from landfill dumps, Rev Rowe argued. "Our aim is to create a building with as many recycled materials as possible to use less energy and create fewer emissions."

The project also has an important social aim, he said. It will be built by "people who are often regarded as rubbish by society, one of the poorest communities in Western Europe, in a culture which is quite good not just at throwing away physical or energy resources but human ones as well."

People love the idea that old beer cans can be used to make a church, Rowe maintained. "I think they find something ironic and rather amusing about it."

Hundreds of local people have so far collected more than two tonnes of used aluminium cans, and aim to gather a further two tonnes. Some will be used to construct walls and furniture, and some sold to raise money for the project.

The new community building will also make use of more than 500 worn car tyres, 300 timber pallets from local industrial estates, 12 shipping containers, old roofing tiles and disused scaffolding planks.

"We plan to transform the tyres into foundations, cans into walls and shipping containers into a sustainable community space," said Lee Ivett, the project's co-ordinator and architect. "In turn we are saving raw materials and money.

"It will demonstrate the value of recycling in a building project that will ultimately be a much-needed resource for the people of Milton.

"A hands-on approach is the most appropriate way of demonstrating the benefits of a sustainable lifestyle that has recycling and re-use as a key component. Our projects provide a means of empowering the community in a manner that is economic, resourceful, sustainable and enriching."

Environment Minister Richard Lochhead said: "This shows just what can be achieved. Scotland's households already recycle nearly 44% of waste, but there's still a lot more we could be doing and I encourage everyone to go that bit further and recycle more to make Scotland a true zero-waste society."