New hope for old seminary

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THE former St Peter's Seminary in Cardross has been handed over to a new educational trust — sparking renewed hope of a positive future for the internationally-famous ruin.

The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Glasgow announced on July 24 that it had concluded the transfer of legal ownership of the derelict building and its surrounding estate to a newly-established charity, the Kilmahew Education Trust.

They aim to develop it as an asset for the local community, while respecting the unique archaeological status of the iconic structure, regarded as a world-leading example of modernist architecture in the Brutalist style.

The Archdiocese said that no money had changed hands, with both the buildings and the surrounding estate bequeathed to the Trust free of charge, and that the Trust's intentions represented the first "suitable long-term and viable solution" for the property in 40 years.

Archbishop Philip Tartaglia, the Archbishop of Glasgow, said: “This is a good day for the Archdiocese, for the local area, and, I hope, for the wider Scottish community.

“Times were very different when St Peter’s Seminary was opened in the late 1960s to wide architectural acclaim. Changing requirements in priestly education, a drop in the number of seminarians and difficulties in maintaining the fabric of the building mean that the seminary had a relatively short lifespan.

“For four decades the Archdiocese has sought a new owner for the site, and finally a solution has been found. I wish the new owners every success as they develop the site and move forward to a new chapter in the history of the seminary and its estate.”

Plans to turn the property, which ceased to operate as a seminary in 1980, into a major arts and cultural venue collapsed in June 2018 when arts organisation NVA, which had been spearheading attempts to save the building, announced that it was closing down.

The prospects of the building being preserved for any future use receded further a year later when the Scottish Government turned down a request from the Catholic Church to take the building into state care, saying that it could not justify the costs and risks to the public purse.

A report from Historic Environment Scotland, which helped persuade the government to reject the Church's request, suggested the only option for the structure was 'curated decay' – though that in itself was a course of action estimated to cost around £6 million.

Stuart Cotton from the Kilmahew Educational Trust said: “The Trust is delighted to take up the many challenges that exist on the Kilmahew Estate and is grateful to the Archdiocese of Glasgow for its outstanding support over the last year in facilitating the transfer of ownership and for trusting us with the honour of becoming the next custodians of this outstanding and unique heritage asset.

"There is no doubting the beauty of the Kilmahew landscape nor the atmospheric presence that surrounds the seminary complex of St Peter’s. We simply need to develop a viable vision, with education at its core, and execute the plans that develop from that to the best of our abilities.

"In the build up to the acquisition, our Education Trust has been busy putting together an internationally-renowned team to assist us."

The new owners trustees are understood to have been searching for ten years for a site in the UK at which to base educational programmes aimed at young children and their families.

The building was completed in 1966, just as the number of candidates seeking to train for the priesthood began to decline. It was well known for strategically placed buckets catching drips, and never reached its full capacity of around 100 students.

Following its closure as a seminary in February 1980, a drug rehabilitation unit was based in Kilmahew House, but this too closed within a few years.

Though official public access has only been permitted on a few specially-organised occasions, including the Hinterland sound and light festival staged by NVA in March 2016, the site has long been popular with 'urban explorers'.

Mr Cotton said: "We are currently fine-tuning our plans to enhance Kilmahew and these will be made public in due course.

"It goes without saying that the Kilmahew Estate and St Peter’s Seminary are of significant historical importance to the Scottish public and we are acutely aware of just how many diverse groups are stakeholders, including the local Cardross community, Historic Environment Scotland and the Scottish Government.

"The next few months will see us developing relationships with these and other stakeholders and presenting our vision for Kilmahew alongside our expert team.

"We believe our vision will provide Kilmahew with a very exciting and vibrant future whilst also respecting its outstanding heritage. We look forward to sharing our initial masterplan in due course and welcoming the public to share our experiences along the way."