A CONCRETE ghost haunts the woods near Cardross. St Peter’s Seminary, a giant structure, considered to be Scotland’s most significant post-war building has been derelict for decades now, in spite of the energetic and inspiring efforts of arts organisation NVA to bring it back to life. Plant-life grows between its cracks, graffiti tattoos its skin.
Built in the 1960s as a Roman Catholic seminary, under the influence of Le Corbusier, and designed by Glasgow architects Isi Metzstein and Andy MacMillan, its glory days are long gone. It has been part-consumed by nature – reduced, as Historic Environment Scotland (HES) once put it, “to a ruinous skeleton”.
In 2019, after the Catholic Church described it as “an albatross” around its neck, the Scottish Government declined to step in and save the building because of its costs. A HES report had estimated that just maintaining it and making it safe for public access would cost in excess of £13 million over 20 years.
This prompted Angus Farquhar who, as artistic director of NVA, had fought to create a future for the site to declare that Scotland had “turned its back on the 20th century”.
Farquhar and his team had led a bold drive to conserve and revive the site, creating the sell-out art event, Hinterland, cleaning up the building and creating community plots in the walled garden. But the loss of Creative Scotland core funding led not only to the closing down of NVA’s St Peter’s project, but of NVA itself.
But all is not entirely over for this brutalist treasure. Last year the Kilmahew Education Trust, headed by a husband and wife team, took over the site, for no cost, from the Archdiocese of Glasgow, with the intention of developing it as an asset for the local community.
Their plan is to develop it as a world heritage centre, with estimated visitor numbers of 375,000 and a turnover of £12.5 million a year. Their estimated costs to achieve this come in at more than £100 million.
Hope is not yet gone. The ghost may yet be brought back to life.
I would certainly visit, as I did in 2016, when NVA transformed the ruined structures with a spectacular, pulsating light show. Memories linger of the graffitied corners and the giant censer which swung across the glowing interior, to the sounds of Rory Boyle’s choral score. I would like to go back and see it in the daylight, restored.