Landmark Norfolk Hotel where SAFC was formed to enter new chapter after major £500,000 investment
and live on Freeview channel 276
Dating back to the mid 1800s, with a new entrance created in 1900, the building, in Norfolk Street, Sunniside, has a long and colourful history in the city, from the building where SAFC was created at a meeting in 1879, to its time as a grand hotel, the site of many weddings, and, in more recent years, as a hostel.
Although many of its original features remain, the site had been seriously neglected and fallen into a state of disrepair, becoming something of a white elephant in the city centre.
Social entrepreneurs Mark Burns Cassell and Vincent Todd have had great success giving new life to forgotten city centre buildings, including creating Hills Arts Centre in the old bookstore in Waterloo Place, which now houses a coffee shop and 17 independents and arts practitioners.
In the Sunniside area alone, they have created a hive of creative activity, with MBC Arts and Wellbeing studios and workshop space at No 29 and 31; Broadside Creatives artist studios at No 20 and 21, as well as taking over the former Creative Cohesion in Nile Street, upper floors at The Place in Sunniside and a former brewery in back Norfolk Street.
The 16,000sqft Norfolk Hotel and its 45 bedrooms will be their most ambitious project to date, but they say they’re excited to be bringing a part of the city’s history back to life in a major boost to the area.
Mark Burns Cassell, social entrepreneur and executive director at MBC Arts Wellbeing, said: “We’ve come a very long way in a very short space of time.
"The last five years have felt turbo-charged, taking us from having one relatively small building in Sunniside Park, to now being one of the biggest creative workspace providers in the city across nine unique and historic properties, each with its own individual character and personality that our sympathetic refits have helped to bring to life and up to modern standards.
"The speed of our growth just serves to demonstrate the demand for the service we provide, which is more than just commercial workspace.
"We’re working hard to develop a supportive, growth-driven creative ecology – connecting tenants with different skills to promote partnerships and innovative growth, and supporting with coaching, business mentoring and advice on grants and funding opportunities for our third sector tenants.”
Units fill up fast for the pair’s projects and they say they have already received many enquiries about The Norfolk Hotel, which will be called The Norfolk when it reopens its doors.
Members of the public are also keen to see something done with the site.
Mark said: “There’s not a single time we’ve been down to the site where we haven’t been stopped in the street by someone asking if we’re finally going to do something with this building.
"People recognise it as a real white elephant.
"They love the building, but it has a very chequered history and people see it as an eyesore now.
"It’s been quite neglected over the years and it’s a real privilege to be the guys who are taking this on and to have the drive and determination to see it through and turn this into what it deserves to be, which is a fantastic site and a real asset to the city.”
The work will be undertaken in three phases and is expected to take around three years, with the first phase predicted to open in around 15 months.
As well as studios and creative businesses space, it will feature a cafe on the ground floor, which will be multi-use, as well as bringing the outdoor space at the former hotel into use.
A blue plaque honours the fact that the red brick building was once home to the British Day School, playing host to a meeting of local school teachers in 1879 which would lead to the formation of Sunderland AFC, originally known as Sunderland and District Teachers’ Association.
After years of neglect under private ownership as a hostel, it was purchased by Sunderland City Council in 2019 to ensure it would be protected and preserved for future generations.