TALKS have begun which could see a historic former Catholic seminary reborn as a university college.

Bosses from Durham University and the Roman Catholic Church are in negotiations over the future of Ushaw College, a 200-year-old priests’ training school which counts among its alumni Cardinal Nicholas Wiseman, Bishop Hugh Lindsay and comedians Johnny Vegas and Alfie Joey.

The seminary, at Ushaw Moor, near Durham, closed in July 2011, amid falling rolls and worsening finances.

But days before the doors closed plans were announced to turn the Grade I and II-listed buildings into an extension of Durham University’s world-leading Centre for Catholic Studies, under the new name of The International Centre for Advanced Catholic Studies.

Today (Wednesday, December 18), the University and Church announced they were in talks which could see most of the college occupied and managed by the University, while still owned and overseen by the Church.

They also signed a so-called Heads of Terms agreement, cementing the partnership.

Professor Chris Higgins, vice-chancellor of Durham University, said: “The signing of the Heads of Terms marks a significant step in exploring the potential opportunities for this historically important site.

“We look forward to working with the Ushaw trustees and with the many communities that have an interest in supporting the future of the college to ensure that its collections are preserved intact in Durham and are made more widely available to the community as well as to educators and researchers from the University and around the world.”

Bishop Terence Drainey, Bishop of Middlesbrough and acting chair of the college’s trustees, said: “We are delighted that the work and efforts of the joint steering group for the Ushaw project have resulted in a proposal that could allow the heritage of Ushaw College, its collections and library, as well as its educational traditions, to continue and to secure a future for this very important estate within the Catholic community.”

Prof Paul Murray, dean and director of the University’s Centre for Catholic Studies, said the collaboration held real promise for the region, the national and international Catholic community and the international scholarly community and urged supporters to come forward to get involved.