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See inside the historic building that’s aiming to enrich the cultural life of Sunderland

New Community Arts Hub created by Mark Burns Cassell in Norfolk Street, Sunderland.
New Community Arts Hub created by Mark Burns Cassell in Norfolk Street, Sunderland.
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A pottery artist has set the wheels in motion for the transformation of a historic city centre building into a community arts and culture hub.

Such is Mark Burns Cassell’s passion for bringing more arts provision to the heart of Sunderland he’s re-mortgaged his house to pay for the renovation works needed at his new venture called 31 Norfolk Street.

Dating back to the 1840s, the listed building has played a colourful role in the city’s history. It originated as a base for building societies in the then town and was built in a neo-classical style with grand arches and hand-painted sandstone plaster to look Roman-esque. In the last century it became a house of temperance in the 1940s and its basement was even used to film the video for The Toy Dolls’ hit track Nellie the Elephant.

In 2000 it became the base for Team Wearside before Mark bought it in March this year and set about the extensive renovations needed to transform it into a studio for his own ceramics, which are sold across the world, as well as providing studio space for other arts groups and offering free workshops to members of the public in ceramics, batik and life drawing.

He said: “The building was incredibly dated when I first had a look around, but I saw the vast potential in it.”

Around £60,000 has already been spent on the renovation of the building, which is due to be completed in eight weeks, but the community interest company is already offering adult and family workshops.

The basement where The Toy Dolls made the video for Nellie the Elephant

The basement where The Toy Dolls made the video for Nellie the Elephant

As well as selling his work, Mark is often commissioned to make community sculptures and some of his mining-inspired work can be seen at various locations in the coalfields area of the city.

“I very much see this as a culture hub for all. My heart is in enriching the cultural life of the city and giving people the chance to engage with the arts,” explained the artist.

31 Norfolk Street is the latest new arrival in the area, which has also recently welcomed Frederick Street Gallery and the new Pop Recs at the bottom of High Street West. Mark said: “There has been a surge in cultural activity across the city, it’s palpable, and I think a lot of that has come off the back of the City of Culture bid. Now is the time to be an artist and practitioner in Sunderland.

“What’s great about Sunderland, and what attracted me here, is that it’s accessible as the price of property is lower, which makes studio space more affordable.”

One of the kilns at 31 Norfolk Street

One of the kilns at 31 Norfolk Street

*For more on free courses at 31 Norfolk Street and for information on renting space and artist opportunities search MBC Ceramics and Arts Wellbeing CIC on Facebook.

New Community Arts Hub created by Mark Burns in Norfolk Street, Sunderland.

New Community Arts Hub created by Mark Burns in Norfolk Street, Sunderland.

Mark's studio at the site

Mark's studio at the site

Some of Mark's work being fired on site

Some of Mark's work being fired on site

Original features in the historic building

Original features in the historic building

New Community Arts Hub created by Mark Burns in Norfolk Street, Sunderland.

New Community Arts Hub created by Mark Burns in Norfolk Street, Sunderland.

Views of the East End from the attic

Views of the East End from the attic

Office space

Office space