WORK starts this week to turn an abandoned brutalist architectural wonder in the wilds of Argyll into a world-class arts complex.

St Peter’s seminary in Kilmahew has lain abandoned for nearly 30 years. The building has been exposed to neglect, nature, graffiti and low-level vandalism.

Earlier this year it was announced that arts organisation NVA were set to transform the building into a space for cultural events.

Some £7.5 million will be given to the arts organisation by the Heritage Lottery Fund, Historic Scotland and Creative Scotland to bring the space into being. Over the weekend media suggested that concerts, plays, operas, exhibitions and festivals would all be staged at the site.

NVA is hopeful St Peters will be open to the public in time for the building’s 50th anniversary. Plans are already under way for a massive event next spring, with 10,000 people expected to attend.

Angus Farquhar from NVA said: “The best way to describe what we plan to do with St Peter’s is to look back at the impact that the Tramway arts centre had when it opened in Glasgow in 1990, with the late 20th-century use of an old industrial space.

“It allowed a lot of large-scale work, both national and international, to happen for the first time. I think St Peter’s will take its place. You will see some of the seminal shows in Britain taking place here in the next 20 to 30 years. We will be inviting some of the best companies in the UK and the world to respond to the building.

“It’s not about getting a touring show and ramming it into an awkward-shaped space. The aim is that it will actually inspire well-established and world-class artists.

“The main high-profile programme will be a four- or five-month summer season. But we will also be using it in the winter months for emerging artists and companies to have space to develop their work in a supported environment. It will have a double function.

“What we’re doing with the building is very unusual as we’re taking it back from full ruination to something in between. The building will have a strange skeletal structure gradually going back to how it looked in the 1960s. The north end of the site will remain consolidated, almost like castle battlements, while the south end, where the seminary chapel was, will be fully restored and will have the main, 600-capacity covered auditorium.”

It is fair to say that the building, with its concrete, modernist style, is not universally loved. Locals have not always been keen on the people attracted to the site, with reports of raves and parties attracting hundreds.

Designed by Glasgow architects Isi Metzstein and Andy MacMillan from Gillespie, Kidd and Coia, the building was unwanted almost before it was finished. Fewer young men wanted to enter the priesthood, and the Vatican was encouraging priests to train in the communities they would serve rather than in a remote, cosseted building. The architect’s affection for a particular type of hard-to-come-by Danish lightbulb caused particular problems for seminarians.

The 144-acre site also includes a 15th-century castle and a Victorian walled garden.