Scottish Arts Council funding to see transformation of Kilmahew Woodlands

A Scottish Arts Council award has kicked off restoration work at Kilmahew Woodlands near Glasgow.

Glasgow-based environmental arts charity NVA has received an award from the Scottish Arts Council's National Lottery — Public Art Fund to proceed with the development of a commission plan for the creation of significant temporary and permanent artworks at St Peter's Seminary and Kilmahew Woodlands, Cardross.

The development transforming the former Kilmahew estate includes 45ha of mature woodland and St Peter's Seminary, a structure that was recently added to the '100 Most Endangered Sites' list of the World Monuments Fund.

Angus Farquhar, director of NVA, said: "The support from the Scottish Arts Council to create a strong commission plan is the best possible start to creating a world-class creative landscape within St Peter's and Kilmahew woodlands.

"The site carries a remarkable 500-year history of human intervention, from the mediaeval foundations of Cardross Castle, the survival of natural woodlands and a stunning Victorian designed estate, to the powerful imposition of the 20th century seminary buildings.

"A creative landscape is driven not by a single focus or perspective on its heritage, conservation, environmental or leisure value, but by an inspired reading of the layers of history that underpin it, that define its complex character and the visionary artistic responses that can expand this narrative into a new century. The plan will allow us to look at temporary and permanent ways to take these ideas forward."

The NVA has been working closely with property developer Urban Splash over the last year to explore a variety of opportunities for the transformation of the buildings and 48.5ha of semi-ancient woodlands, following vital initial capital support from Dunard Fund.

Woodland, ecology and landscape character assessments have already been funded by The Gulbenkian Foundation, Forestry Commission Scotland and Scottish Natural Heritage to ensure a dynamic and sensitive approach is taken to any future interventions. The work has been undertaken by ESS ltd and ERZ landscape architects.

Detailed discussions have also taken place with local residents in Cardross and Renton to develop a mix of possible strategies to achieve open public realm access, build training facilities for young people in the areas and expand resource management. 

This has led to the formation of the Kilmahew Woodland Restoration Group to take forward these community aspirations.  Catriona Macaulay, a resident of Cardross and group member said:  "It will be an amazing place if we can have the woodlands back and restore the special atmosphere and simply unique qualities of the location."

Archie Thompson, a Kilmahew Woodland Restoration Group member from Renton, said: "The good thing and the great challenge of the new Kilmahew / St Peter's proposals, is linking local people of this generation to the land that surrounds them. There is a rich cultural history that has been shared by many but particularly the villages of Renton and Cardross. We hope to reactivate a sense of pride and ownership for future generations to enjoy."

Urban Splash, a leading UK development company that regenerates decaying industrial warehouses, mills, Victorian terraced houses and other buildings, into modern housing, apartments and penthouses, as well as constructing new build developments, has been working closely with the Archdiocese of Glasgow, Historic Scotland, Gareth Hoskins architects and NVA to explore the options for the reuse of the derelict seminary buildings and wider estate. 

Patrick Sheridan, project director for Urban Splash said: "The site has a remarkable history and we think it can have a bright and interesting future while securing the future of one of Scotland's most important listed buildings. The NVA has delivered exciting projects over the last 17 years and we look forward to continue working with them on developing options for the wider site strategy."

Commenting on the NVA project senior Lottery officer Karen Ward Boyd said: 'Our vision for public art in Scotland is ambitious; developing this area will take time as we want to explore the many exciting possibilities that public art can bring to communities throughout Scotland.

"The NVA project at Kilmahew Woodlands will contribute to the creative transformation of this historical and culturally significant space and create a vibrant place for the people of Scotland."

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