News, stories and reports from Forestry Commission Scotland and the National Forest Estate

Beyond Hinterland: restoration and community woodland at St. Peter's Seminary

Concrete and semi-ancient woodland aren't often in the same space. The unforgiving material of inner-city high rises is the last thing you'd expect to find in a forest. This is what makes Kilmahew St. Peter’s – Scotland’s most significant modernist ruin – so intriguing.

From dense greenery, grey slabs erupt from the soft earth. Cylinders tower over ancient trees. Nature's scale is outdone by man. In this conflict, you are transposed – out of time, out of place, out of reality.

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2016: Year of innovation, architecture and design

The seminary at St. Peter's, built in the 60s to house young priests has been abandoned for over thirty years. It lies gutted by decades of vandalism, fire, and the elements. At first look, it’s hard see through the decay.

On 18 March, St. Peter's hosts the launch of Scotland’s Year of Innovation, Architecture and Design. Over nine days, Hinterland will resurrect the site through light and sound. Visitors will explore a building reclaimed by nature, standing on ground with five centuries of history.

St. Peter's is under restoration, led by environmental arts charity, NVA, and will soon close to the public once more. This event is the last chance to see the building in ruin. In 2017, St. Peter’s will once more open to visitors – fifty years after the first laid stone – remerging as a public art mecca.

 

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Connection through conservation

The restoration is about both land and structure. Rather than return the buildings to their past, they'll be stabilised, capturing the enchantment of their dereliction. In future, the journey through the landscape will be an essential part of the experience.

Abandonment has seen the woodland ravaged by invasive Rhododendron. The Scottish Rural Development Programme granted funding to tackle the clearance operation. Taking this vital environmental step will restore biodiversity, making the vital landscape element of the project possible.

Beyond bringing the site into management, St. Peter's will have a strong productive focus. Community growing spaces, camping facilities, and woodland cabins will encourage short stays on site. The seminary will unite people and place, establishing a lasting relationship between both.

 

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Strengthening communities

Volunteers have already given over 2,300 hours to prepare the woodland for Hinterland and beyond. This community connection has been invaluable so far, and will be vital in the years ahead.

The project's aims mirror Forestry Commission Scotland's Woodlands in and around Towns initiative, creating quality green space close to where people live. Through community involvement, the woodland will become a treasured place central to local healthier lifestyles locally. Especially important, as the site lies within a four-mile radius of some of the country's most deprived areas.

Fiona Hyslop, Cabinet Secretary for Culture and External Affairs, has praised the restoration for enhancing both the buildings and the landscape, for the benefit of all.

 

Legacy

St. Peter’s never realised its destiny, in operation for just sixteen years.Too big for the declining priesthood and with only single-glazing to fend off Scottish winters, it became a victim of its own ambition. Through restoration, it will become a space that houses art, and inspires it. It's purpose in constant flux, evolving through its visitors.

Perhaps, then, St. Peter’s story is not hemmed to the past. It's hoped it will find new purpose, as an unlikely bridge between community and land.

 

Hinterland runs from Friday 18 to Sunday 27 March. For more information visit hinterland.org

For updates on the project’s restoration, visit NVA.