Monday 5 September 2011

Ushaw Newsletter

Many people are concerned about the future of the buildings of Ushaw College, near Durham, which has closed as a seminary for the training of priests.  The Trustees of the College are considering what to do with the College, and we know that they have invited Durham University to make proposals about the future. But the Ushaw College Heritage Group has also put forward a proposal for consideration and they have produced the following Newsletter.

The Ushaw Catholic Heritage Group

August 2011

In December 2010, a petition was launched on the internet calling on Most Rev. Patrick Kelly, Archbishop of Liverpool, and the trustees of Ushaw College to forestall the closure of Ushaw College until such time as:-
            1.         a study had been made of possible future uses for the buildings and
            2.         there had been the opportunity for public debate on the matter.
The petition can be viewed at:     
Nearly 1500 people have signed the petition, mostly Catholics from the north of England, but including many others who have been connected with Ushaw College in one way or another.  From the comments, it is clear that there is a great depth of feeling that every effort should be made to safeguard the future of the college and to find suitable uses for the buildings. 

History of Ushaw College

Since its opening in 1809, Ushaw College has been the principal seminary in the north of England for the training of Catholic priests.  It replaced temporary and inadequate premises at Prudhoe and Crook Hall, which had been hastily pressed into use following the French Revolution and the enforced evacuation of the English College at Douai.

There was a steady programme of expansion at Ushaw during the nineteenth century with new buildings put up to cater for the ever-expanding number of clerical and secular students.   The Junior House, designed by the distinguished architect, Peter Paul Pugin, was added in 1859.  The present St Cuthbert’s Chapel, designed by Dunn and Hansom, was opened in 1884, replacing an earlier one by A W Pugin, which the seminary had outgrown.   The final development came in the early 1960s with the opening of a new East wing, providing additional classrooms and single bedrooms for 75 students.

Since then, the number of young men offering themselves for the priesthood has declined, and some bishops have chosen to use other seminaries for their students.  The Junior House closed in 1970, its younger students being transferred to Upholland in Lancashire.  In October 2010 the trustees announced that Ushaw College would close altogether as a seminary in the summer of 2011, and that the remaining students would be transferred elsewhere.  This has now happened.

For at least a decade, some of the spare capacity at Ushaw has been used to provide conference facilities, and these have been patronised by a range of secular and religious organisations.  In recent years, the hosting of conferences and other related businesses have made a significant contribution to the running costs of the Ushaw estate. Most reports speak very favourably of the conference facilities and of the services provided.  Many people were surprised that the trustees decided to close down the conference activities, and thus extinguish a healthy revenue stream, in December 2010, a full six months before the seminary was due to close.

Our Proposal

The Ushaw Catholic Heritage Group was formed shortly after the announcement of the closure of Ushaw College, with a view to saving the buildings and ensuring that they continued to be used in the service of the Catholic Church.  The members of the group are:-

                Paul Waddington B Sc
                Leo Darroch
                Pat Glass MP
                Michael Hill
                John Bailey
                Professor Paul Younger      DL, C Eng,
                        C Sci, C Geol, FGS, FIChemE,  FICE
                Rev Wilfrid Elkin
                Rev Michael Brown BA, JCL, PhD
                Deirdre Waddington B Arch, RIBA
President, International Federation, Una Voce Member of Parliament for NW Durham
Property Advisor                                                 
Journalist and former editor of the Northern Cross
Director, Newcastle Institute for research  on            Sustainability, Newcastle University
Parish Priest, Church of St Mary, Barnard Castle
Parish Priest, St Mary of the Rosary, Forest Hall Architect

Although the founders of the group have some funds at their disposal, their prime task was to devise a scheme that would generate the income needed to maintain and run a very extensive complex of buildings. 

It was decided that this would best be done by re-establishing and developing the conference and related businesses that had served the college well for many years.  Such an enterprise would occupy much, but probably not all, of the existing range of buildings.  In order to generate sufficient revenue, it would be necessary to double the volume of business that these enterprises achieved in 2009.   The Group believes that with proper marketing, and with some investment in improved facilities, this level of expansion could be achieved within a few years.  The extent of the buildings, their quality, and the attractiveness of the location provide ample scope for this amount of growth.  Inevitably, most of this business would be of a secular nature, although the group would seek to retain as much as possible of the ethos of the college by attracting the conferences of religious organisations.  It would also encourage the holding of retreats.

More specifically Catholic uses for some parts of the complex would be sought, once the revenue from the commercial activities had been built up to an economic level.  It is hoped that eventually there would be sufficient funds to begin the restoration of the Junior House and other derelict parts of the complex.

In February 2011, encouraged by the response to the petition, the Ushaw Catholic Heritage Group submitted a proposal to the trustees of Ushaw College along these lines.  We were advised that it would be considered, along with other proposals, by a Steering Committee under the chairmanship of Bishop Mark Davies of Shrewsbury. 

Subsequent Events

On 11th June 2011, a joint press release was issued by Ushaw College and Durham University.  It stated that the trustees of Ushaw College had decided to commission a detailed feasibility study to identify appropriate future uses for the College and its associated estate. It further stated that, as part of the feasibility study, a proposal for the University of Durham to create a centre for Catholic scholarship at Ushaw College would be explored.  No mention was made of the proposal submitted by this group.

From reports that have appeared in the press and elsewhere, it would seem that the university is primarily interested in the library and the valuable collection of books and manuscripts that it contains.  It is also interested in St Cuthbert’s Chapel, and perhaps the range of adjacent buildings which form the imposing southern frontage of the college.  So far as we can ascertain, the university’s interest, at the moment, is limited to these areas.  If the feasibility study endorses the viability of the university’s proposal, and the trustees adopt its findings, the greater part of the complex would remain available for development by other parties.  Presumably, this would include the proposals of the Ushaw Catholic Heritage Group.  We believe that our proposals could sit comfortably alongside those of Durham University.

The Future

The group has been assured that its proposal will be considered, along with others, as part of the feasibility study.  Apart from the University of Durham, the group is not aware of the identity of any other organisation that has put forward a serious proposal.  No timetable has been announced for the feasibility study, and recent correspondence has indicated that it has not yet begun.  This would suggest that it may be some time before the trustees finally decide on the future of the Ushaw estate.  The Ushaw Catholic Heritage Group, will continue to monitor developments. 

The group would welcome offers of help, comments and suggestions from anyone who supports its objectives, and especially from people who have expertise in finance, property management, tourism, or the running a conference centre.  Paul Waddington can be contacted at:  

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