A COLLEGE with vast historical importance due to close imminently has been thrown the lifeline hundreds of campaigners have longed for.
While Ushaw College, home to St Cuthbert’s Seminary, will definitely shut its doors to training priests there is renewed hope the 380-acre site boasting Grade I and II-listed buildings and historical collections will be given a new lease of life.
The ancient seminary on the outskirts of Durham city centre, alongside the college’s conference centre which has already ceased to operate, will close later this month due to declining numbers and financial difficulties.
But a new proposal could see the college reborn as the newest addition to Durham University’s existing Centre of Catholic Studies which would be renamed as a centre of Catholic scholarship and cultural heritage.
Prof Paul Murray, director of the university’s Centre for Catholic Studies, said the move could open up the estate’s collections, with largely unknown significance, to international attention. He added: “Ushaw is now set to become a beacon of possibility, of light, life and learning.
“We look forward to working with the Catholic community and other key partners to realise this vision and potential for the good of all.”
At a meeting last week the Trustees of Ushaw College, the Bishops of the Northern Province and Shrewsbury Diocese, agreed to commission a feasibility study to identify future uses for the college.
As part of the study they have entered into a Memorandum of Understanding with the university to explore its proposal to use the site in its plans for the new Catholic scholarship and cultural heritage centre.
The announcement, coming just weeks before the closure of the college’s seminary, could be the news campaigners have been hoping for.
When the closure plans were first announced last October hundreds of people within the County Durham and wider Catholic community lodged their objections in an online petition.
Claiming there had been a lack of consultation prior to the decision there were calls for a study of all possible options to enable the college to continue serving the North East.
Concerns were also raised by English Heritage about the valuable haul of 44,000 books and manuscripts housed at the college and the state of the buildings if left boarded up and empty.
The Right Rev Mark Davies, Bishop of Shrewsbury, said: “We are looking forward to working in partnership in this way with Durham University and with the other public bodies towards securing a new future for Ushaw.
“The college can no longer provide for the training of priests, but true to its inheritance across more than 200 years on this site can continue to be a centre for Catholic scholarship and be accessible to the wider community.”
Although the plan is still in the early stages it is envisaged the library, archives and other collections would remain at Ushaw and would be made available to the wider public.
It is not yet known when any final outcome from the feasibility study will be announced.