Rescue of St Peter's Seminary wins £3.8m lottery boost

A £10 million bid to turn one of Scotland's most neglected buildings into a thriving international arts centre has been given the green light after winning the final backing of the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Hinterland at St Peter's Seminary. Picture: John Devlin.
Hinterland at St Peter's Seminary. Picture: John Devlin.

Work on the transformation of the run-down St Peter’s Seminary, a former training centre for priests, at Cardross, near Helensburgh, will begin within months after the award of £3.8 million from the HLF.

National arts agency Creative Scotland has also agreed to plough £400,000 into the project, which has been in development for almost a decade by the Glasgow-based arts group NVA.

St Peter’s, which was created in an ancient Argyll woodland half a century ago, is considered one of the finest modernist buildings in Europe by experts.

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    The building, which was last used as a seminary in 1980, is currently playing host to a sell-out sound and light show which has opened the country’s first Festival of Architecture.

    NVA plans to “rescue, restore and reclaim” the building as an outstanding example of 20th century architecture by turning it into a multi-purpose arts complex, with a 600-capacity venue in the former sanctuary as its centrepiece.

    Visual arts shows, theatrical performnances and live music events are all envisaged for the new-look St Peter’s, which will include an exhibition charting the history of the site, an outdoor courtyard space for events and a cafe.

    The plans for St Peter’s will involve partial restoration and conservation of various elements of listed buildings on the site, making safe remaining structures as consolidated ruins, while some “carefully considered” new elements will be added to the site.

    Capital works worth £7 million are now in place for the project, along with £3 million to help pay for running costs for the first five years.

    It has taken around 10 months to remove hazardous materials and unsafe structures from the site to allow around 7000 people to visit St Peter’s for NVA’s Hinterland event.

    Angus Farquhar, creative director of NVA, said: “This is a historic moment in the life of St Peter’s Seminary.

    “We are now able to start work on its permanent transformation into an international cultural centre that will speak to the creative life of Europe.

    “After the overwhelming response to Hinterland, our first major animation of the site, we have real hope that our vision for progressive, socially-focussed art will connect strongly with people and together we will forge a new place for public art and its significance in the world.

    “We thank Heritage Lottery Fund and Creative Scotland for joining us in the vision and ambition for the site and investing in its future.”

    Lucy Casot, head of the Heritage Lottery Fund in Scotland, said: “After 25 years of decline, this ground-breaking project has the potential to save an internationally significant building, exploiting its commanding presence to produce an exceptional arts venue.

    Its appeal will attract new audiences from near and far.

    “Its transformed estate will become a natural haven for the local community to explore, enjoy and be proud of.

    “Highly regarded across the world, it is a unique record of its time which is in very real danger of being lost.”

    John Allan, a director of Avanti Architects, who are working on the St Peter’s revamp, said: “The Hinterland event is already revealing the power and poetry of this extraordinary place to an international audience.

    “Now we can embark on the task of making St Peter’s a permanent and inspirational venue for creativity, learning and debate.

    “It will surely be the outstanding heritage rescue project of our time.”