See inside transformed Sunderland city centre property as it enters new chapter
A once empty Grade II-listed Sunniside property has been transformed as part of a wave of investment in the area.
Social entrepreneurs Mark Burns-Cassell and Vincent Todd have had great success in 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.
Now, an old townhouse in 35 West Sunniside has been given some much-needed investment, taking the number of units they’ve created to more than 100.
The pair have ploughed around £45,000 into completely refurbishing the building, whilst retaining its period character, to create a series of units for artists and creative industries.
Eight months after renovations began, all but one of the 9 units has been taken with the building set to open its doors soon, housing creatives such as photographers, reiki practitioner and a community creative company.
As well as preserving an historic building, which dates back to the 1830s, the renovation is bringing new people into the city centre in a boost to the economy.
Mark acquired his first Sunniside property in 2017 and it’s long been his vision to bring the area to life through creative industries.
"The city centre economy is a lot more experiential than it once was,” he said. “It’s long been my vision to create a cultural quarter in Sunniside and that’s happening because it’s been driven from the inside out. People are starting to understand its potential and are paying attention. We have such big ambitions for Sunderland and we have some very exciting acquisitions coming up.”
He added: "We’ve uncovered a niche area in developing buildings to support creative tenancies. It’s not just a landlord and space, we’ve formed a community and offer business support and coaching, we talk them through their business structure, point them in the direction of funders and encourage collaborative working.”
Vincent said: “You can see that the Sunderland economy is growing. After the pandemic, people became more confident in themselves and were more prepared to take risks to develop their own businesses and practices. We’ve noticed that a lot of people from other areas are coming to Sunderland to open their businesses, because a lot of the creative spaces in Newcastle are being knocked down and the rents are more expensive.”
The Sunniside area is seeing a number of new openings, with The Rainbow Hub cafe already opened in the old Thai Bay site and Rio steakhouse to open in the old Frankie & Benny’s unit this autumn.
Further towards the East End, Pop Recs cafe and venue is proving popular at its new home at the bottom of High Street West and work has started on the restoration of the neighbouring 18th century buildings on the corner of Villiers Street and High Street West.