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Renewed hope for Cardross seminary after church finds new owner

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A new owner has been found for Gillespie Kidd & Coia’s derelict 1967 St Peter’s Seminary in Cardross, near Helensburgh

Last week the Archdiocese of Glasgow transferred the ownership of the rotting Brutalist gem – once described by the church as an ’albatross around [its] neck’ which it could not give away – to a new charitable trust.

The Kilmahew Education Trust said it had assembled an ‘internationally renowned team’ to take forward its plans for the Category A-listed building.

Founded by Bath-based financial consultant Stuart Cotton, the trust said it was developing ‘a viable vision, with education at its core’ and wished to create a ’very exciting and vibrant future [which] also respected its outstanding heritage’.

The trust, as the site’s legal owners, will hope to have more success than a string of other developers and architects, who have failed to breathe new life into the former training college for priests since its closure in the 1980s.

Last year the Scottish government refused to take the building off the Catholic Church and into state care. Instead it agreed with recommendations from Historic Environment Scotland that it should be subject to ‘curated decay’ – managing the deterioration of the seminary while providing a degree of public access.

The Kilmahew Education Trust, which was bequeathed the estate and buildings free of charge, acknowledged ’the many challenges’ of the site and its ’significant historical importance to the Scottish public’.

Cotton said: ’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, [we have] been busy putting together an internationally renowned team to assist us. We are currently fine-tuning our plans to enhance Kilmahew and these will be made public in due course.

’We look forward to sharing our initial masterplan in due course and welcoming the public to share our experiences along the way.’

Commenting on the the transfer, Archbishop Philip Tartaglia, the Archbishop of Glasgow, said: ’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 life span.

‘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.’

The Archbishop of Glasgow commissioned St Peter’s Seminary in 1958. Influenced by the architecture of Le Corbusier, the building, designed by Isi Metzstein and Andy MacMillan, won the RIBA Architecture award in 1967 and was listed in 1992. It fell into disrepair following its closure in 1980.

Since then, none of the suggestions for the future of the site have progressed. In 2011, developer Urban Splash walked away from a Gareth Hoskins-designed proposal.

In late 2017, the Glasgow-based arts charity NVA decided not to proceed with a project, overseen by Avanti Architects and McGinlay Bell, to stabilise parts of the structure and restore some of the interior for arts and educational use.

Following the closure of NVA in June 2018, the Archdiocese of Glasgow took back formal management of the site.

In February 2019, Scottish laird John Bute pledged to commit funds from his charitable trust to save the building if the government would also step in. However, the plans never moved off the drawing board.

Architect Alan Dunlop, who said Bute’s proposed intervention had seemed in line with his own ideas to transform it into a Bauhaus-inspired centre., told the AJ: ’While little is known about the company, the statement issued by the Kilmahew Education Trust appears positive and seems to chime with that of John Bute, particularly a recognition that St Peter’s is of significant historical importance.

’Their idea for the building apparently has ’education at its core’, so, I wish them luck.’

He added: ’However, given the failure of previous attempts to bring the building back to life and the apparent reluctance for the Scottish Government to get involved I will remain sceptical until I see their proposals and their ‘expert team’.’

Architecture in Ruin, St Peter's seminary. Sketch by Alan Dunlop

Architecture in Ruin, St Peter’s seminary. Sketch by Alan Dunlop

Architecture in Ruin, St Peter’s seminary. Sketch by Alan Dunlop

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