Social entrepreneurs develop their vision for creative Sunderland


June 29, 2021 at 9:15 am by Chloe Holmes

Two social entrepreneurs have taken another step towards realizing their vision of making Sunderland a place of cultural and creative excellence with an ambitious plan for a downtown landmark.

Mark Burns Cassell and Vince Todd have launched a number of projects across town that provide spaces for artists and creative types along with a full program of events and experiences.

And their latest project is to transform the former Hills Bookshop on Waterloo Place into a leading independent arts center with spaces for artists, a gallery, exhibition spaces, a consultation suite and a café.

The new company will stand alongside Mark and Vince’s other projects, including the Norfolk Street-based community interest company MBC Arts Wellbeing, which Mark started and where the studio space was virtually taken over from day one.

Mark, a former advertising director who became a ceramist, founded MBC Arts Wellbeing four years ago in search of his own studio space and came across the large building on Norfolk Street that would house not only his studios but other creators as well.

This led Vince to form Norfolk Street Arts before the two formed a third organization near Creative Cohesion on nearby Nile Street that was renamed Broadside Studios.

Both Mark and Vince are passionate about “increasing Sunderland’s cultural and creative capacity,” and their companies have brought millions of pounds in grants and investments to the city, creating more than 30 jobs, and all, from Photographers up to the blacksmith, given a place to work.

“As soon as we announce that we have new places they will be filled immediately,” said Mark.

“It’s fantastic to see so much interest and to be able to offer jobs to so many talented people.

“We have a really diverse range of creative companies operating on our premises, and even before it opens later in the year, the studios we have in the Hills location were bought out.

“Of the 30 that we had available, there are only seven left and that’s the same pattern as anywhere we’re open.

“We wanted to help transform Sunderland’s cultural landscape from the start, and hopefully we’ll do just that.”

Blacksmith Darren Witty founded The Witty Smith on Norfolk Street two years ago and said, “Without MBC Arts, I probably wouldn’t have lasted six months.”

“I was a blacksmith for about a decade, but they helped me turn my hobby into a business of community interest, and now not only do I have a growing customer base, but I hold regular workshops for the public,” he said.

“They were invaluable because they helped me find an audience for what I do, and now the smithy just keeps getting stronger.”

Sharon Appleby, CEO of Sunderland BID, said MBC was a big win for the city.

“The incredible demand that Mark and his team have created is incredible and has given so many creative people the opportunity to grow their business while accessing support and advice at the same time,” she said.

“You are doing a fantastic job.”

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