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Publication of new Connections Report based on book launch conversations



Please click on the pdf to read the Connections Report.

Connections – summary report 2017

On 31 October 2017, MELA launched its book called Connections: 12 Approaches to relationship-based placemaking. Three major themes ran through the chapters which were explored in more depth at the Connections book launch with guests.

The first theme was building trust – the critical ingredient for people to engage with each other to shape a shared future, and for professionals to support community-led placemaking initiatives that will be much more sustainable long term.

The second theme was designing in places with complex and diverse identities – in a globalised world with large scale immigration, places are no longer homogeneous. Places have become complex with competing identities which make a place interesting, but at the same time can exclude some groups from feeling they belong. Placemakers, whether they are professionals or local communities require the awareness to make places feel like everyone belongs when they design those spaces of encounter and meeting.

The third theme was bridging communities – a new desired outcome for those placemakers that engage with communities in diverse areas. Bridging communities marks a shift from consultation and engagement with those with the confidence, education and capacity to express their views, to another model in which the placemaker is the facilitator of community-building across societal divides to reach a more equitable and inclusive place.

In exploring the above themes, the concept of ‘placemaker’ is fluid – it is not only professional or institutional placemakers who have been educated and trained to plan, design and manage places, but it includes all those who use a place, whose daily behaviours make the place what it is, and whose presence (whether transient or permanent) change the place continually.

The Connections Summary Report identifies a number of recommendations.

To build trust:

  • Trust has to be enabled, either through policy, an institutional ethos, or a neighbourhood initiative
  • We need greater transparency and dialogue about our different values and where is our common ground
  • Institutional Placemakers need to engage with leaders of communities
  • Creativity is a builder of trust but should not be a one-off intervention at the start of the project but should be maintained throughout the lifespan of urban development.
  • Professional education requires new skills sets for a diverse and complex world starting with empathy, listening, respect, and sensitive engagement.
  • There is a role for social media in community-building, but nothing can replace face-to-face meetings and encounters


To design for complex and diverse place identities:

  • Placemakers would benefit from non-rational approaches to understanding places even though they may not be measurable, they do have value
  • Non-western traditions (that reflect the diverse and complex makeup of cities and societies) can offer placemakers new ways of designing harmonious and balanced places
  • More room for experimentation, creativity and curiosity through temporary uses, meanwhile spaces, and pop-up spaces can provide sense of ownership and testable inclusive designs
  • Use of online platforms to make radically transparent the many voices about place to counter mainstream narratives about place
  • Local Authorities to promote community-led financing of neighbourhood-based initiatives
  • Arts organisations are an important part of the social infrastructure of a place and can be an advocate and facilitator for urban and social development and regeneration.

To bridge between communities:

  • Maintaining a balanced place requires making a place affordable through mechanisms such as lower business rates and genuinely affordable rents
  • Charrettes, Learning Journeys, and participatory mapping are some ways of building a shared language between institutional placemakers and young people through face-to-face encounters
  • Every place needs a community heart to bring people together
  • Community centres and high streets are critical bits of social infrastructure to build relationships and intergenerational activities



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MELA Gala Connections on 31 Oct 2017 a huge success

On 31 October 2017, 17 MELAssociates hosted 85 people at a MELA Gala Event to celebrate the launch of their book, Connections: 12 Approaches to Relationship based placemaking. The guests came from the public, private, cultural, academic and community sectors in a mix of conversations and new connections. The highlight of the evening was the Speed Dating the Author activity in which guests were divided in to 3 themes to speed date 3 authors in that theme. The themes were Building Trust; Bridging Communities; and Designing for Diverse Place identities. During the event, a slide show of MELA’s most recent projects was screened which you can see here.


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MELA Goes To Odessa to deliver a Bridging Cultures Workshop

The Council of Europe’s Intercultural Cities Network has 6 active Ukrainian cities. MELA was invited to run a bridging cultures workshop on ‘social enterprise for intercultural tourism’: tourism that enhances intercultural understanding and supports minorities in benefitting from the tourist economy.

The 6 cities produced an Action Plan to start promoting social enterprises in their cities that would make a significant social impact on their minority communities. Ukrainian cities have over 1 million Internally Displaced People (IDPs) caused by the conflict on their Eastern borders as well as 130 nationalities living in their cities. How can these communities and nationalities be integrated in to the tourist economy?






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Connections: Please join MELA’s crowdfunding campaign

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As a friend of MELA Social Enterprise’s mission to bridge cultures through the creative design and use of public spaces, we are inviting you to help us crowdfund for our latest book Connections: 12 approaches to relationship-based placemaking here.

We are raising £3500 to make sure we further our mission by getting our book Connections in to more hands. Hear from our Founding Director, Dr Noha Nasser, how the book aims to make a difference here.

In the book, we explore different ways we can get people talking, re-build trust, dispel prejudices, and form new creative relationships. Twelve MELA Associates have come together to co-write the book and to share our knowledge, experience, methods, projects and approaches to cultural diversity, social cohesion and placemaking.

At our book launch on 31 October we are putting our methods to the test. We are inviting you and people from the community, cultural, academic, public and private sectors to generate new connections and outlooks along common themes. This will be the start of new cross-sectoral relationships and creative collaborative working to build new Connections across cities.

Your donation, no matter how big or small, will help MELA further its reach and impact.
And here are some amazing perks for supporting us:

£5 = A HUGE thank you from us by email
£20 = A mention in our programme on the day and on our website
£50 = A copy of our e-book and mention in our programme and website
£100 = A signed hard copy of our book and a mention in our programme/website
£150 = A signed hardcopy of our book, a mention in programme and website, a free 1 hour consultation with our MELA Associates to support similar ideas you may have
£500+ = all the above and a free half day webinar/workshop with MELA Associates to support similar ideas you want to develop


Upcoming MELA Gala Book Launch
Please come along to our evening of fun, food, networking and book launch on 31 October, 6.30-9.00pm in Alan Baxter Gallery, 75 Cowcross Street EC1M 6EL. You can register your place here.

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Noha, MELA’s Founder, is walking 273km along Camino in support of refugees

In September 2017, Noha is walking 273km over a period of 2 weeks to raise money in support of the mental health of unaccompanied young refugees in Dunkirk, France.

Noha has worked alongside two charities in Calais who have provided exceptional emotional support to young refugees who have experience arduous journeys alone without their families in search of a better life in the West.

The two charities are now working in Dunkirk. Noha will be walking along the Camino de Frances route in northern Spain to raise money for the two charities, Art Refuge and Refugee Resilience Collective.

If you support this cause please do donate here.

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MELA holds its first Creative workshop for the Big Heart Balsall Heath Project

MELA Social Enterprise’s Big Heart Balsall Heath project aims to bring the Moseley Road to life on Sunday October 8th. We are bringing the diverse people of Balsall Heath together to enjoy the delights and colour of their very own intercultural market. Artists are working with local organisations to ensure the event is a day to remember. We ran our first creative workshop where emerging and diverse artists mingled and exchanged ideas with the Moseley Road organisations. Each organisation will put on its own display representing its identity and that of its users. Interspersed amongst those displays will be artistic works responsive to the unique socially diverse context of Balsall Heath.

We are grateful to the funders, Arts Council England and Heritage Lottery.


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MELA Commissioning Emerging and Diverse Artists

Mela Social Enterprise


Commissions for emerging and/or diverse artists

To be presented at

Big Heart Balsall Heath

intercultural community event on 8th October 2017 along the Moseley Road

Eight Commissions for Emerging and/or diverse artists

Commission £1000

Funded by Arts Council England

Deadline for Applications 25 August 2017


We want artists to propose artistic activity that gets the diverse community of Balsall Heath talking to one another and understanding difference, on a day involving over 12 community organisations.

  • We invite artists to experiment, do something different, collaborate and take risks with their practice.
  • To propose an intervention at a diverse community event


To support artists to understand the context and improve access to the proposal making process, we have organised a gathering for artists and community organisations on Monday August 14 2017 at 4pm – 7 pm at Moseley School of Art, 496 Moseley Road, Birmingham, B12 9AH.

It’s an opportunity:

To visit spaces where you will propose work

  • To meet organisations, and find out what they are doing
  • To say a few words and present a sample of your work
  • It’s a safe space to inspire creative thinking about what you might do in a unique social context


If you wish to attend Big Heart Balsall Heath gathering please email:


Commissioning brief for applying emerging and/or diverse artists

Mela social enterprise want to research the role of ‘place’ in meeting the social and cultural needs of diverse communities and their identities. Following MELA’s successful intercultural community engagement events on the Moseley Road aimed at bringing the diverse communities of Balsall Heath together and making the Moseley Road a new meeting place for the neighbourhood. This project is open to all art forms and will involve established artists adept at working in a social context, and commission emerging diverse artists producing new work. Both emerging artists and established artists will inspire the local community of Balsall Heath to participate in a unique market day; that will transform the Moseley Road, in Birmingham and bring about lasting dialogue between cultures and facilitate collaboration between community organisations.

We are asking community organisations to express their market stall in a number of ways, Some ideas are:

Trading: an opportunity for local makers, producers and businesses to showcase their goods

Performing: an opportunity for the development of local cultural and creative talent across Balsall Heath working in spoken word, music, visual arts, dance, craft, decorative arts, mehndii etc.

Sharing: an opportunity to engage in conversations and learn about what’s going on in Balsall Heath

Learning: an opportunity to take part in a series of workshops to learn from those living and working in Balsall Heath

Eating: an opportunity to taste the various cultural cuisines of people living and working in Balsall Heath


When making their proposal, we ask emerging artists to consider this context of a community “happening” along the Moseley road where organisations have created their own stalls and participatory activity.


  • We will accept proposals from emerging artists based in Birmingham and surrounding areas.
  • On this project we are interested in working with artists that identify themselves as diverse and emerging.
  • We ask emerging artists to make proposals that engage audiences in a different way.
  • We anticipate thematic and topical proposal’s to get people talking.
  • We welcome, culturally diverse art forms, urban art, music, song writing, dance, heritage / site-specific themes, spoken word, digital interactive art, artist walks, visual art, installation, sensory art-work, live art, music, sound art.
  • We anticipate artists interventions, please provide an explanation of how you will involve visitors and audiences using Birmingham and Balsall Heath as a melting pot for diversity, and as the site and location of your work.
  • If you are a disabled artist or Deaf artist you can apply for an additional £500 to support you to manage your project.
  • Mela Social Enterprise research the role of ‘place’ in meeting the social and cultural needs of diverse communities and their identities. Mela are interested in new approaches to social cohesion, and seek to find ways to bridge communities and bring about intercultural activity in the public realm. We offer a social context for new work, and welcome interdisciplinary practice and collaboration.


Contact Mela Social Enterprise

Dr Noha Nasser:

Alan McLean email:

Alan McLean Mobile/text: 07982 237163


For your information here are the questions on the application form, if you wish to send your proposal by email


Mela Social Enterprise Proposal Form

Commissions for emerging diverse artist

Please answer all the following questions:

  1. Name
  2. Address
  3. Email
  4. Contact Number
  5. Proposal (Maximum 1000 words)
  6. Biography (Maximum 500 words)
  7. How do you define term emerging artist and your fit with this term?
  8. How do you define term diversity and your fit with this term?
  9. If you identify as a disabled artist or Deaf please tell us support you require to manage your project ?
  10. If you are using another format to make your proposal, eg video, please provide on line link ?
  11. Please provide your website or online profile, If any?
  12. Please tell us about arts organisations or projects, or individuals that have supported your work in the past?
  13. Any more information you wish to add?
  14. Please include images


Return form by Monday August 25th 2017


Application Form

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Noha Nasser gives a webinar on Community Dialogue Through Social Enterprise

on 2 August 2017, Noha was invited to give a webinar for GlobalNet21 – the leading forum in the UK for discussing the major issues in the 21st Century. They share a common concern for the sustainability of both our planet and the people on it. With almost 20,000 network members in the UK and abroad, they are making the debate, and democracy, more accessible by enlarging the Public Square and using social networks.

As well as a network of individuals GlobalNet21 have also set up a collaborative network of organisations to exchange good practice and transfer knowledge so that they can learn from each other. This network is cross boundary and includes local authorities, housing associations, universities, community groups and social enterprises. Their aim is through dialogue to celebrate diversity and develop community self-resilience and sustainability at a time of unprecedented social and environmental change.

Noha shared MELA’s story and how the social enterprise was set up. This is her talk’s summary:

In the past few months we have witnessed horrific incidents in London of terrorism and tragedies like the Grenfell Tower inferno. What these incidents represent is the growing tension within multicultural societies – a tension in ideology, in social inequality, and urban segregation. Diverse societies in global cities, like London, are experiencing the impact of these tensions on the relationships people have with each other. Mistrust, suspicion, bigotry, prejudice and discrimination are just some of the barriers to social cohesion that ultimately unfold into the horrific incidents we have recently witnessed.

So what can be done about this? My personal commitment and passion is to bridge cultures. In 2015 I set up my social enterprise, MELA, as a vehicle for bridging cultures through the creative use and design of public spaces . In the public buildings and spaces of the city, like parks, playgrounds, squares, libraries, and streets, diverse communities mingle and mix. MELA focuses on enhancing and optimising these social encounters so that they are deep and meaningful. We do this through community dialogue and building, we hold enjoyable events where diverse people get to experience each other differently, and we design city spaces that have greater opportunities for random encounters.

Setting up a social enterprise has many benefits that appealed to me. We trade flexibly like a company but we uphold high social values and prioritise social impact. We re-invest any profits we make into the business and therefore grow our social impact. In a world today where disruptive innovations are dismantling deep-seated systems and processes, social enterprise business models are proving the way forward. It is worth exploring.



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Moseley Road Street Iftar a huge success with over 1000 people fed and watered in a coming together of Balsall Heath

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Balsall Heath Street Iftar, Moseley Road, June 18 2017

MELA Social Enterprise, and partners along the Moseley Road, supported by an army of volunteers, brought communities together from all backgrounds, faiths and cultures in Balsall Heath Birmingham tonight. Over 1000 people were fed and watered! Organisations held Open Doors. Speeches from the Council and the Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Sikh and Muslim faiths agreed we are born without religion – our religion is humanity. We are one human family.

This is the speech by Sajeda Sajan of the Clifton Road Mosque that I thought is worth sharing. We have more in common than that which divides us:

Just to let you know, if I seem nervous and unprepared for this speech, it is because of the Pakistan India cricket match today that kept me on the edge of my seat the whole day.

I am here to briefly talk about the month of Ramadhan and what it means to us. Ramadhan is the ninth month of the Islamic Calendar and it is the month where Muslims all around the world celebrate this month by fasting from dawn to dusk. But fasting for Muslims is much more than abstaining from food and drink. Fasting is about self-discipline. It’s about waking up in the early hours of the day, eating, sleeping and waking up again for work and treating everyone you meet with kind words and gentle behaviour even though your mouth is dry and your stomach is like a forest filled with wild hungry animals. Ramadhan for those who are not fasting is also to bear with us sometimes when we come in to work with our eyes closed. Ramadhan for us Muslims is a month of families and communities, where you will find many mosques filled with people who break their fasts together sharing the love and sharing the unity. Ramadhan is also a month of food. I have seen people cook various different kinds of food, some which I never see outside the month of Ramadhan. Ramadhan is a month of charity because as we fast through the day, we realise the plight of those that are less fortunate than us who can sometimes only afford one meal a day, if that. And hence in the month of Ramadhan we are encouraged to give as much as we can. Ramadhan is a month of deep self reflection, where we ask ourselves difficult questions such as what can I do to make myself a better person? What can I do to make this community a better community? What have I done to help spread love over hate? Ramadhan is our MOT check, very appropriate considering we are in Kwikfit Car Park. It is our MOT check where we reflect upon our vices and pledge to work on them to make them better over the next twelve months

My dear brothers and sisters, this is the first time we have all got together as the community of Balsall Heath and the atmosphere here is filled with love and compassion for each other. Today we have opened our doors for all of you and you all have opened your doors for us. Today we have started our journey of celebrating the fact that we have more in common that that which divides us. Today we have taken our first step on this long journey of building a strong community of love, unity, peace and prosperity because it doesn’t matter who you are, how old you are, your colour, your faith, your financial status, you are part of us and we are part of you. Let’s give a round of applause and show our love for this community of Balsall Heath! Thank you

Sajeda Sajan