BUILDING work has started on a historic Oxford building which is to be transformed into a restaurant.

The Grade II listed Northgate Hall, formerly a drop-in centre for the homeless, will open as a Bill’s restaurant and cafe in April.

It follows a major revamp of the Oxford City Council-owned property which had fallen into disrepair in recent years.

It becomes the latest site for the rapidly-expanding Bill’s chain which also has restaurants in 15 locations including Bath, Cambridge and London’s Covent Garden. Recruitment has started for 40 staff.

Operations director Roberto Moretti said: “We are spending about £800,000 on the building. We target sites which can generate a certain footfall and bring them back to life.

“The contractors we have are very skilled and used to working on listed buildings.”

Northgate Hall was built in 1871 and was originally a chapel and schoolroom for the United Methodist Free Church. The site has been vacant since 2011.

It was last used as the Gatehouse Cafe for the homeless, earlier forming part of the Oxford Lesbian and Gay Centre from 1991 to 2005.

The move follows the renovation of neighbouring property into the Vanburgh House Hotel which opened last November following a £1.5m restoration by Sojourn Hotels.

Ed Turner, deputy leader of Oxford City Council, said: “We believe these lettings will act as a catalyst to bring a new lease of life to St Michael's Street.

“Northgate Hall, with its prominent city centre position and wealth of period features, is a fantastic opportunity for a restaurant operator.”

Bill’s will occupy 3,815 sq ft of space across three floors. It can accommodate up to 120 diners.