New chapter begins! Legendary bookshop to be reborn as multi-use arts and cultural venue

The former home to legendary institution Hills Bookshop is to be revived to boost Sunderland’s arts and cultural scene.

The landmark building at Waterloo Place in the city centre is to be transformed into an independent arts and cultural venue by local entrepreneurs Mark Burns Cassell and Vincent Todd.

The duo are behind Sunderland-based Norfolk Street Arts, a community Interest company that supports the development of artists and curators through facilitating spaces and mentoring. Together, they are converting the 5600 sq ft former bookstore into a vibrant mixed-use facility, set to open inside 12 months.

Hills Bookshop first opened its doors on Christmas Eve 1852 and became famous for its vast range of books, arts and crafts.

The store closed in 2006, but is still remembered by many who fondly recall browsing the bookshelves for hours or sitting in its train filled with children’s books.

The Norfolk Street Arts team were assisted in the transaction by commercial property legal advice from Muckle LLP and financial support from NatWest, while advisers at Lofthouse and Partners structured the deal.

It means the new independent arts and cultural venue is on course to open on Christmas Eve 2021 – 169 years to the day that Hills Bookshop first opened its doors.

The new centre will host an independent café, bookshop and stationery supplies, provide exhibition and gallery space, as well as community workshop facilities with disabled access.

Plans include designated space for a number of open plan artists’ studios under a huge glass atrium, a mirrored dance, yoga and pilates performance area, an outdoor roof terrace, as well as low cost office space for small businesses.

Mark Burns Cassell, Norfolk Street Arts co-director, said: “We are thrilled to be taking over this fantastic and historic building to breathe new life into its walls once again.

“Hills Bookshop was home to so many fond memories and we’re aiming to build on this rich history by lovingly restoring and converting this disused space into an independent arts centre in the heart of the city.

“We have been overwhelmed by the support and interest in the project, which stands to boost our cultural economy by supporting artists and bringing increased vibrancy and creativity to our city’s arts scene.

“We hope that, in time, our new venture will become as treasured and well used as the wonderful former bookstore was in its prime.”

Giles McCourt, associate solicitor and real estate expert at Muckle LLP, said: “I have fond childhood memories of visiting Hills Bookshop with my family and it’s fantastic to see this exciting new venture get off the ground.

“Mark and Vincent have the perfect blend of passion, experience and expertise and we wish them every success with the project.”

“Arts and cultural activities are so important for our personal wellbeing and it will be great to see how this redevelopment enhances the North East’s already excellent reputation in this area.”

Mario Jaconelli, Lofthouse and Partners director, added: “We have managed this substantial property for almost 15 years and in that period, it’s had several occupiers.

“My clients felt the time was right to sell the freehold and we are encouraged that the new owners plan to invest in the building which will see the property once again fully occupied which can only be to the benefit of the city and its fast growing art and cultural sector.”

To find out more about Norfolk Street Arts and to enquire about taking space in the new arts and cultural venue visit

To find out about Muckle LLP visit


Read more posts

Non Executive Chairman appointed at…


Geoff Hodgson has been appointed as the Chairman of Nigel Wright Group. This follows the management buy-out in October by the Executive Directors. Geoff is an experienced Non Executive Director…

Read more

Investment enables innovative Durham AI…


Durham based has received another round of investment from funds managed by Northstar Ventures, the North East Innovation Fund supported by the European Regional Development Fund and the newly…

Read more

Join @Scotty_McMullan, @word_nerdy and @craigcampbell03 on 9th Dec for 'Planning for Digital Growth in 2021' meet up. Join us to share your problems and concerns for the year ahead & the opportunity to share best practices. Register here…

Join our
mailing list