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Mahsa Mohajer joins MELA as a work placement on the YES Project

MELA was delighted to welcome Mahsa Mohajer to the team. During her work placement, Mahsa took on a leadership role on the Youth Engagement Space (YES) project working with young people to support them in their social action project. Mahsa mentored the young people in planning their culminating event which was a huge success. The aim of the event was to get young kids off the street and into the Concord Youth Centre in Birmingham to try different activities that would inspire them and to make new friends.


This is a bit about Mahsa:

I have over 10 years of professional experience in both field of Landscape Architecture and Urban Design, in both professional practice and academic teaching. I have been involved in projects involving public spaces design, green spaces, masterplanning and strategic policy development projects in the Middle-East, Iran as well as teaching students (undergraduate and postgraduate) on the Landscape Architecture and Urban Design courses since 2015. My work and responsibilities included writing brief, weekly individual and group tutorials, delivering seminars/lectures, participating in crits and assessment and marking at Sheffield University,UK.

My doctoral research, titled ‘Exploring the Potential of Water’s Edge: A Spatial Analysis of Everyday Life, the Case of Anzali Port-Caspian Sea’, is groundbreaking work at the intersection of Urban Design, Landscape Architecture, and Human Environmental Relations Studies. I also worked at MELA Social Enterprise on the YES (Youth Engagement Space) project. The project involved me working with young people to transform social exclusion and create a new sense of belonging and identity as an intercultural network. Working at MELA developed my future aspirations including to continue working on challenging urban design and planning projects at a global scale involving innovative design principles and sustainable approaches to address the increasing challenges in urbanism and to improve the quality of life of people, in particular, children and young adults in our global future.

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GUEST BLOG: A PLACE OF WELCOME by Sarah Martin, Lemon Gazelle CIC

Local plantsman/Britain in Bloom rep Tony planting bean seeds with one of the younger new residents (Source: Lemon Gazelle CIC)


MELA is pleased to invite guest blogger, Sarah Martin from Lemon Gazelle CIC, to share a case study where they found creative ways to build a sense of ‘community’ between existing residents and new residents moving into a new housing development. We need more of this kind of ‘social introduction and welcoming’ thinking as the UK government plans to build millions of new homes in existing neighbourhoods.

There are no strangers here, only friends you haven’t met” Roald Dahl

What does it take for us to feel welcome and at home in a place? Conversely, what is it that makes us feel uncomfortable, or unwelcome? Are there particular barriers to certain individuals or groups being welcome in a place, and if so, are these rooted in physical, environmental, social, attitudinal or perhaps health issues……or something else?

These are questions that we set out to answer with a Town Welcomes project we supported. The town in question is growing fast, with substantial and controversial housing development, and a new vitality in the town centre which had seen large numbers of vacant units. It is a town where people of all walks of life want to live, being close to major cities, surrounded by countryside and an attractive place to raise children or retire.

So, is this a welcoming town in which to live? This question was posed by the Mayor who set out to find out how it can be as welcoming as possible to everyone, whether they are new residents, have a disability or experience other barriers to being able to fully participate in the life of the town.

We began by speaking to a wide range of local community and support groups, including the Stroke Group, a children’s disability charity, the dementia friendly initiative, schools, U3A and youth workers. Our focus initially was on ageing and disability, and particularly around using the town centre services and facilities. We asked,

·      Do you use the town centre?

·      Are there any barriers to you accessing the services and facilities of the town?

·      Are there ways that the town could feel more welcoming to you?

·      Are there places you’d like to celebrate which offer a great welcome?



Our findings revealed some physical issues around access, such as dropped kerbs, parking, signage and toilets where improvements could be made. But what was revealing was that most of the barriers, and opportunities were around attitudes and behaviour; a person with dementia who is given time to count out the coins to pay for shopping, supported and not rushed, feels that they can shop there again. A parent with a child with autism who is supported and not judged in a shop or cafe when a meltdown occurs is far more likely to return.  Simple, yet highly effective actions centring around kindness, patience, understanding and lack of judgement are what make people feel welcome, whether they have additional needs or not.

With these findings in mind, an awareness event was set up, inviting all town centre traders, organisations and community groups, to find out more about the barriers and opportunities that exist in welcoming people to the town. We heard from speakers on becoming Dementia Friendly, issues around hidden disabilities and discussed examples of where organisations had thought creatively to become more welcoming.

Further work in this strand has involved specific training on the use of Makaton sign language, clarifying signage and conversations with the Town Council on physical improvements. The second key element to this ongoing project focused on those new to the town, and how we could involve these families and individuals more in the life of the town. We recognised anecdotally that, disturbingly, some residents of the new houses had experienced hostility from established townsfolk.  We also recognised that everyone has gifts and talents, hobbies and interests to share and that feeling welcome and secure are important before you’re likely to be prepared to get involved and share these.

There is no power for change greater than a community finding out what it cares about” – Margaret J Wheatley

A Welcome Afternoon in a nearby primary school was offered for new residents, where local community and voluntary groups set up stalls and family fun activities and provided information on opportunities for volunteering and community fun. We worked hard to promote this event, leafleting every new house, using social media channels, word of mouth and our local press to reach out to people.

The promise of fun, tea and cake worked, and people came to find out about their local area. The project is now looking at leading walks from the new parts of town, showing people how to use the brilliant network of little paths and walks that exists to get around without using a car (car parking being a bone of contention in the town).  People are more likely to change their behaviour if they are supported and shown the first time than if they are handed a map and told to walk rather than drive. The Welcomes organisation has become a Community Interest Company, and now has a presence in the local churches, through the Carnival, Christmas lights event and volunteer festival.

We all need to feel welcome, connected and involved in our community, to be able to contribute our gifts and talents. Communicating, breaking down barriers, raising awareness, and demonstrating kindness and a non-judgemental attitude are central to extending genuine welcome to all our neighbours. In this way, we weave, knit and stitch our community together and it is beautiful.

Sarah Martin

Business Development Director, Lemon Gazelle CIC

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Paul Chapman, MELA Director, publishes paper on the power of rivers for intercultural interaction

The river becomes the mediator – urban river restoration creating new spaces for intercultural dialogue and mediation

Published in Comunicação e Sociedade, special vol., 2019, pp. 199 – 211

At a basic level, water is a fundamental part of the human experience. Cities are, for the most part, founded on rivers. Water and rivers form a significant metaphor in describing, recording and celebrating historic and personal narratives. The title of this paper is inspired by a Persian fairy tale where a lovelorn princess, needing reassurance that the man she had fallen in love with was true, spoke to and heard back from the river. Symbolised by the river, water is the bringer of life and the connector of people. And yet… in many cities the small urban river is a problem, something to be fenced off and ignored. While cities have rediscovered the importance of major rivers in driving regeneration, smaller tributaries, streams and creeks are covered, diverted or hidden away. But it doesn’t take much for the focus to change. Revitalised riparian public spaces provide a natural and neutral meeting point for all members of the community with the river acting as a physical and metaphorical mediator. Previously unloved and unknown spaces can become a key part of a city’s infrastructure. More importantly, the city residents have a space to meet becoming, in turn, known and loved.


Urban; river; intercultural; placemaking

Please read the full article her:

Blog_Paul Chapman

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MELA invited to speak about Neighbourliness and Inclusion at Urban Design Group Event

#UrbanDesignGroupEvent #TacklingTheSilos #5June
Noha is pleased to be speaking on Neighbourliness and Social Inclusion in this much needed event run by the UDG on Tackling the (Professional) Silos in Place Making on Wednesday 5th June 18:15-20:15, The Gallery, 70 Cowcross Street, London EC1M 6EJ. Please come along!
“Everyone is a specialist whose aim is not primarily to achieve the end-product’ Ian Nairn, “Outrage”, Architectural Review, June 1955
Over 60 years after the publication of Ian Nairn’s famous “Outrage”, the planning, design and engineering of towns and cities continues to be beset by the difficulty in getting specialists to go beyond their own professional boundaries, to take responsibility for the overall success of new and existing development.
The objective of this event is to discuss how to move united towards on issues such as climate change, human rights and equality.
Attend this event to hear views of expert speakers, and to add your own experiences of the challenges, and your ideas for improvement.
The Programme includes the following speakers:
Raj Rooprai, Brenda Peuch, Rachel Toms, Loretta von der Tann, Alan Stones, Katja Stille, John Dales, Paul Shaffer, Jim Smith, and Liz Reynolds.


6.15  Introduction

6.20  Expert Panel Presentations – 4 minutes each



Global Urban Design Framework

Raj Rooprai



Mobility and inclusion

Brenda Peuch


Neighbourliness and social inclusion

Noha Nasser, Mela


Public Health

Rachel Toms, Public Health England



Systems thinking

Loretta von der Tann, UCL




Strategic Urban Design & Skills

Alan Stones



Katja Stille, Tibbalds Planning and Design


Places, Streets and Movement

John Dales, Urban Movement


SuDS & Water Sensitive Urban Design

Paul Shaffer, CIRIA (Construction Information Research and Information Association)



Jim Smith, Trees and Design Action Group, & Forestry Commission


Using the space under our towns and cities

Liz Reynolds, URBEN and Think Deep UK

7.20  Workshop session

Are there common objectives for towns and cities?

What are the main barriers?

What needs to be done to overcome them?

Specifically, what can professionals do?

8.00  Feedback

8.15  Close



The objective of this event is to discuss how to move towards a system for the planning, design, engineering and management of towns and cities that works well together, and works consistently towards high level objectives, such as the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, central government policies and statutory duties on issues such as climate change, human rights and equality.

  • How can technical standards be drawn up so that they don’t conflict with each other or block high-level policies, visions, and masterplans?
  • How can urgent objectives for improving public health, or adapting to and preventing climate change be translated into action?
  • How can decision making by different sections of public authorities be made consistent?
  • What funding systems are needed to encourage great design and liveability?
  • How can local authorities be encouraged to make the essential updates to their guidance and standards necessary to align with current central government policies and statutory duties?
  • How can professionals be provided with a work environment that gives them the freedom to deliver up-to-date best practice that puts people first?
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MELA delivers Street Iftar 2019 with partners in Birmingham

On Saturday 11 May 2019, MELA and its partners UKIM, Clifton Road Mosque, Sultan Bahu Trust, Zaf Cash and Carry, Odara, Unity FM, Hope Not Hate, and MAB Youth, delivered the 3rd Street Iftar. We were hosted and fed by UKIM Sparkbrook Mosque with activities, stalls, and interfaith speeches on ‘Our Shared Earth’. It was a huge success with over 600 meals handed out. We met our ‘green’ goals for this year and hope to get better and better year on year. Next year we have our sights on the city centre. We are grateful to our 50 odd volunteers who worked tirelessly to set up, pack the food parcels, distribute them and pack up. It was an incredible atmosphere and team effort.

Here is a video from the event:


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MELA invited by Urban Design Group to talk about Building Neighbourhoods not Housing Estates

On Thursday 9 May at 6.30-8.30pm, the Urban Design Group are running

Creating Neighbourhoods not Housing Estates: What’s going wrong and how to put things right

JTP, Unit 5, The Rum Warehouse, Pennington Street, London E1W 2AP


Most housing today is delivered by major house builders as housing estates rather than as balanced development. The practical problems have been well publicised, including poor location leading to car dependency, the vehicle-oriented design of streets, and a value engineering approach that eliminates many of the features that humanise an urban area.

But the problems go far wider, with housing areas characterised by poor social mix, loneliness, declining local facilities and communities divided by age, ethnicity, ability, gender and wealth.

What can be done to create housing areas where neighbourliness, friendliness and happiness grow and grow?


Chaired by Leo Hammond – Urban Design Group & LSH

Speakers include:


Introduction: Creating Neighbourhoods not Housing Estates  

Noha Nasser, Mela Social Enterprise


Government’s Housing Policy: the future

Jenny Thomas, MHCLG


Urban Mending – Case Study: Dover Court, Islington  

Tricia Patel, PTE


From hostile high-rise to homes for humans – Case Study: Lenton and Radford, Nottingham  

Clare San Martin, JTP


Creating neighbourhoods  

Cany Ash, Ash Sakula


Housing design – from councillor’s subjective perspectives to objective assessment  

Professor Matthew Carmona, Place Alliance


Good design is an economic issue

David Rudlin, URBED and Academy of Urbanism




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MELA invited by Landscape Institute to deliver workshop on Immersive Engagement Practice

#ImmersiveEngagementPractices #Co-Design
To celebrate the Landscape Institute’s 90th Anniversary, the Landscape Institute SouthWest and Bristol Architecture Centre are running 3 workshops on Co-Design. MELA will lead the first workshop on Immersive Engagement Practices. Come along if you are in the Bristol area on 23rd May 2019 3.30-6.00pm.

Participatory design gives communities and clients agency in the design of their neighbourhoods and workspaces. This skill is in high demand, but not commonly or formally taught in the landscape, urban design and planning courses, and rarely found at a high quality in commercial businesses and public sector.

The ‘State of Landscape’ report revealed that the top skills required from the landscape architecture profession were; community and stakeholder engagement (50% profession requires this), communication and presentation (65% requirement), collaborative partnerships (53% profession requires this), and problem solving (65% of landscape architects require these skills). This series of events seeks to upskills landscape and urban design professionals in this critical skills gap.

To Book:
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MELA partnering to deliver Street Iftar 2019 in Birmingham

For the third year in a row, MELA is partnering to deliver the Street Iftar 2019. This year it is a collaboration with Unity Iftar led by UKIM and Sparkbrook Mosque. The theme is Our Shared Earth and will influence the programme and the plastic-free and environmentally-friendly approach partners are taking for the event. The motto is Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors. Open Invitation. All welcome.

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MELA to run A Community Vision event for Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government

#BetterDesignForBetterPlaces #CommunityVision #MHCLG #Birmingham
MELA Social Enterprise is proud to announce we will be running ‘A Community Vision’ event for the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government the evening before their big national conference on ‘Better Design for Better Places’ on 13 February 4-6.30pm, HS2 College.
We are calling households based in Birmingham that represent the diversity of future housing needs to attend; households of extended families (3+ generations), nuclear families, couples, single people, young people, elderly people, people with disabilities, empty nesters, people from BAME backgrounds etc.
Together we will envision future housing that meets the changing demographics with illustrations for innovative housing and neighbourhoods. These will be filmed and exhibited at the national conference on 14 February. The event will be attended by senior civil servants.
All participants/households will be interviewed before being accepted.
To book go to: