Dozens of social enterprise organizations have settled in Sunderland since it was awarded ‘Social Enterprise City’ status by Social Enterprise UK in 2014, spurred by a substantial investment program to restore some of its most expensive properties.
Nearly a dozen historic buildings in the city’s former trading center around West Sunniside and High Street have been brought back to life in recent years.
The redevelopment of 172-175 High St West is an example. The properties date back to the late 18th century when Old Sunderland, which had started in the East End, began to expand westward.
After a £1million restoration, the former Binns store has been transformed into a music venue, record store, café, gallery and kitchen where young people can learn restaurant skills after being taken over by Pop Recs.
Director Dan Shannon said, “It’s a huge privilege to operate from these buildings. which have such cultural and historical importance in the city.
“We are helping to create renewed activity and footfall in this end of town which we hope will encourage more like-minded businesses to locate here.”
As a social enterprise, Pop Recs operates like a business, but reinvests a large portion of its profits into solving community or environmental issues, rather than creating dividends for its owners.
Her success has since led two other social enterprises to join her in High St West, with Sunshine Co-operative CIC, a one-stop-shop for local and sustainable food and drink, and Global Teacher, a non-profit company that seeks to helping millions of children in some of the world’s most marginalized communities access education, also moving in. supported by the Historic High Streets Heritage Action Zone (HAZ) project supported by Sunderland City Council, which has also provided funding for the Elephant Tea Rooms and Mackie’s Coin.
Another project hoping to spur social economic growth in the city is the redevelopment of the Norfolk Hotel, which played a central role in the formation of Sunderland AFC and is supported by the City Council.
Plans approved last month will see the site transformed into an arts and community center led by social entrepreneurs Mark Burns-Cassell and Vincent Todd who, over the past five years, have together become one of the largest providers of spaces creative workplaces in the city, restoring 10 unique and historic properties that are now home to many social enterprises, including the former Hills Bookshop at Waterloo Place, a former townhouse at 35 West Sunniside and 29 and 31 Norfolk Street .
“We can see all around us the positive changes in our city, driven by the ambition, drive, vision and belief of social entrepreneurs and local businesses and
businesses and we see real potential for business growth and local economy growth in Sunderland,” said Mark.
“There is currently a feeling of support in the city, with many people coming together on the same page to reach a common vision for the future of Sunderland.
“It’s a really exciting time for the city and we’re delighted to be so involved and playing our part.”
With the regeneration of Sunderland’s historic heart having already seen dozens of social enterprises invest in the city center over the last few years, and with many more set to follow, City Council is working to put in place the support to help them thrive.
This includes the Innovate for Good programme, funded by the Council and implemented by the North East Business and Innovation Center (BIC).
Since its launch in 2019, it has helped hundreds of aspiring social entrepreneurs settle in the city with its support and expert guidance.
Kevin Marquis is BIC’s Social Enterprise Expert and has spent over 36 years supporting social entrepreneurs in the North East.
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Pop Recs, Sunshine-Co-operative and Global Teacher have all been helped by the initiative and Kevin is excited to see how the continued investment to support the city’s social entrepreneurs will further strengthen its social economy.
“Over the past three decades, I have worked with hundreds of social entrepreneurs who have created real environmental and social change, both at home and around the world. So I know how important it is to develop an ecosystem that removes barriers to the growth of social entrepreneurs,” he said.
“It means providing the space, as well as the support to help bring their ideas to life, which is why initiatives like the HAZ project are so essential to the growth of our social economy.
“One only has to look at the success of the restoration of High Street West to see the impact it can have, and I look forward to seeing what the future holds as further developments come to fruition.”
Leader of the City Council, Coun Cllr Graeme Miller, said: ‘The people of Sunderland are renowned for being caring and friendly people, which is why we have naturally developed such a strong social economy and why projects such as HAZ and Innovate for Good are so important in ensuring we do everything we can to encourage social entrepreneurs.
“And, by putting in place measures to restore some of our most treasured buildings and ensuring that they continue to serve our community, we are not only preserving our history, but also ensuring that they continue to shape our future as Sunderland continues to evolve into a 21st century city.