Community Dialogue and Social Enterprise
Noha was invited to deliver a webinar for GlobalNet21 on the theme Community Dialogue and Social Enterprise.
This was her context for the talk:
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.
You can watch the webinar here.
Moseley Road Street Iftar – part of the Great Get Together
On Sunday 18th June 2017, MELA and its partner organisations and businesses along the Moseley Road in Balsall Heath held a Street Iftar as part of The Great Get Together in memory of Jo Cox.
Hundreds of people and organisations from across Balsall Heath came together for the first time that Sunday to break the Ramadan fast (iftar) in a ‘Street Iftar’, celebrating the life of Jo Cox as part of the nationwide Great Get Together.
Over 110,000 Great Get Together events took place across the UK that weekend, as part of a celebration of Jo Cox’s life and legacy – one year on since she was murdered by a white supremacist – and bringing together communities around what they have most in common.
“The Street Iftar is designed to bring all members of Balsall Heath together regardless of cultural or religious background and to animate the Moseley Road as a new meeting place for both sides of the neighbourhood,” said Noha Nasser, Director of MELA Social Enterprise who organised the event.
“This is the first time partners along the Moseley Road have united in solidarity to plan this type of event and to take their interfaith work out into the public space for everyone to participate.
“We hope the Street Iftar will kickstart an annual intercultural and interfaith event where Balsall Heath can unite to break bread together. It is the start of the regeneration of the Moseley Road as a key meeting place for the neighbourhood,” she said.
In excess of 1000 people attended the event and 1500 meals were distributed. There were short talks from friends of many faiths, networking games, food and entertainment stalls.
A video of the event can be seen here.
Kings Cross Bridging Cultures Roundtable
On 13th March 2017, MELA Social Enterprise delivered the Kings Cross Bridging Cultures Roundtable with partners Knowledge Quarter, Impact Hub Kings Cross, and Camden Council.
The aim of the roundtable is to address inclusive growth in Kings Cross and Knowledge Quarter by engaging and connecting more people from the surrounding area. The Roundtable brought together social innovators (charities, community organisations, and social enterprises who find creative solutions to bridging cultures) with the public, private, cultural and academic sectors.
There appears to be an unparalleled opportunity to leverage the momentum associated with the ongoing regeneration of Kings Cross with the range of world class institutions to deliver transformational change to the wider area defined as the Knowledge Quarter. This can be a mutually-beneficial opportunity to enhance and grow existing communities to create a thriving Knowledge Quarter, as demonstrated by the Bridging Cultures Roundtable. This process can create the synergy amongst the existing people, organisations and stakeholders through a collaborative and inclusive plan of action. We look forward in developing a proposal to harness this energy and to create a wider area framework to facilitate this process.
The key themes emerging from understanding where the opportunities for transformation are to be found were:
- Communication: A strong emphasis was given to how institutions, organisations and the Council can better communicate with local people with the aim of building an open and trusting relationship. Communication does not only mean the use of easy-to-understand everyday language, but also the dissemination and awareness of information, and easy access to support. The improvement of channels of communication was considered important. Greater social networking opportunities between the Council, institutions, organisations and communities was highly valued to promote meaningful dialogue and which could be real and/or virtual.
- Collaboration: A strong theme was the need for a welcoming and engaging partnership approach in the development of policy, and engagement of local people in sustained long-term training, education and the cultural development of the area. The need for a cross-sectoral approach was discussed and requires a shift in internal organisational culture to simplify the process for new collaborations to take place. Value was placed on positioning communities as a focus of cross-sectoral working rather than policy or fiscal needs. A clear understanding of who delivers what in the area needs to be mapped and disseminated so that new partnerships and exchanges can be created.
- Involvement: The focus on listening and speaking to people living in the area was considered the foundation for participation and involvement in the future of Kings Cross. By mapping local needs a number of opportunities would arise such as recognition and value of local skills and knowledge, the engagement of local people with organisations like the Impact Hub and Knowledge Quarter, and the transfer of knowledge by people working in Kings Cross to deliver change in communities. The aim is to support and empower the community in taking a ‘steering role’ over the area, and its employment, education and cultural opportunities, particularly young people, residents in the Council Estates, and BAME communities. Another focus is ensuring public spaces and buildings are welcoming, comfortable, playful and accessible in the way they are designed and programmed
- Sustainability: Concern was raised for the need for a level of continuity to ensure social inclusion is implemented long term.
The Action Plan can be summarised under a number of key themes to implement:
- Produce mapping and research of assets, stakeholder networks, and barriers to inclusion for setting up a real/virtual sharing platform
- Develop a Sharing Platform for all networks similar to Knowledge Bank by Knowledge Quarter but for wider community-based organisations to share knowledge, assets, services, skills and needs for employment, venues, events, housing, workspaces, work experience, partnership development and community consultation/engagement
- Create a Strategy of Engagement to be co-produced by all networks in the Kings Cross and Knowledge Quarter area and supported by the co-ordinated spending of Section 106 and CSR money
- Develop a Public Buildings and Open Space Strategy that co-ordinates a long-term programme of accessible events and shared spaces
- Produce a Wiki Plan for Kings Cross similar to Melbourne’s Wiki Plan where the community are partners in the design of policy e.g. Camden Cultural Strategy
A film of the event can be seen here.
Limassol Bridging Cultures Roundtable (Cyprus)
As part of the Council of Europe’s Intercultural Cities Network, MELA was invited to run a Bridging Cultures Roundtable in Limassol, Cyprus. 35 people attended from the international community alongside local activists from civil society to co-produce an action plan for an intercultural future for the city.
Following the event, the Municipality pledged to set up an Intercultural Council to produce an Intercultural Policy to collectively address the many needs and issues of ex-pats, immigrants, and refugees.
The value and needs of civil society in Limassol were:
- Bridge between organisations, cultures, practices and services
- Flexible, responsive but needs independence and recognition
- Committed to tolerance and acceptance and equality
- Interested in meeting demand but need co-operation and permissions from the Local authority and state
- Need independence to act with fewer restrictions – the space to develop
- The need to start with a dialogue about the situation and to view diversity differently where all society is involved
- Respect from wider community and recognition
- Better communication
- Integrate migrants into civil society
Bristol Bridging Cultures Roundtable
The second Bridging Cultures roundtable event in Bristol received endorsement of newly elected city Mayor Marvin Rees, who attended along with leaders from the corporate, cultural and social innovation sectors to explore how public spaces can better embrace social cohesion.
The roundtable event, which was held at the Bristol offices of independent law firm Burges Salmon on Friday, July 22, 2016, further elevated the city’s ambitions for social inclusion as Mayor Rees is committed to Bristol becoming a global city of culture. The event complemented the city’s innovative urban development and thriving cultural economy and international reputation as a leading destination.
The roundtable initiative is the brainchild of Dr Noha Nasser, a respected urban designer, social entrepreneur and author. Over the next twelve months Nasser is planning additional city roundtable events to complement the vision of her award-winning book Bridging Cultures: the guide to social innovation in cosmopolitan cities. Nasser asserts that the event can assist in creating a fresh narrative which contributes to the wider complex cultural debate which incorporates the constant redrawing of urban spaces in communities across the country.
The roundtable created an open and honest dialogue that can use urban design to tackle prejudice and intolerance and enhance the city’s public spaces of diverse cultural communities. Cultural diversity has the potential to introduce untapped creativity into the economy and the event considered different ways to drive growth.
The event kicked off with a talk by Marvin Rees, Mayor of Bristol, who shared his own childhood growing up bridging cultures and the importance of addressing inequality in the city. He is a passionate advocate of developing leadership skills to raise aspirations for those from disadvantaged backgrounds.
The roundtable ended with all participants making pledges of their role in bridging cultures in the city.
In summary, the roundtable created many new opportunities for the city to create a more collaborative and inclusive future. The key themes that emerged were:
1 Networked Neighbourhoods
There is a desire to take social innovation hubs/activity to the neighbourhoods. This could be through community asset transfer, pop-ups, or within existing structures such as libraries or schools. The desire was to create a city-wide programme and shared learning/activities to build capacity of BAME groups. a sub-themes included ways to connect social investment and allow for social innovation pilots.
2 Connecting the Corporate Sector with Neighbourhoods
There was a strong desire to connect the corporate/cultural/social innovation sector in mentoring schemes and apprenticeships within neighbourhoods. A scheme like that would have a positive impact on improving the educational achievement of local schools – another desired outcome. It could also be part of the neighbourhood-based social innovation hub network. Sub-themes included breaking down language barriers between sectors and linking businesses with schools.
3 Networked Organisations and Professionals
There is a desire to build and network existing community structures, public/private/cultural organisations and professionals to share ideas, knowledge, activities, and opportunities for collaboration. A city-wide exchange programme was suggested (Curate the Curators – a platform of People, Projects and Connectors).
A film of the event can be seen here.
A follow up roundtable of key cultural institutions in October 2016 discussed an action-plan to address some of the emerging themes:
- The possibility of a city-wide intercultural festival as part of a network of neighbourhood-level social innovation hubs
- The need to develop diverse audiences within the cultural and creative sector
- The need to develop artists and creatives from diverse backgrounds
- The desire of the corporate sector to engage with neighbourhoods and diverse communities through mentorships and apprenticeships
Balsall Heath in Conversation
MELA was funded by the Arts Council to deliver an intercultural participatory digital storytelling project. MELA commissioned artists Dan Burwood, Friction Arts and Ana de Matos to engage people in Balsall Heath to listen and to capture personal stories about living together. Stories formed and created conversations across different formats:
- Created up to 38 opportunities for artist-led storytelling engagement activities in partnership with Ashram Moseley Housing Association, Balsall Heath Forum and St Paul’s Community Trust.
- Delivered an artist-driven immersive spatial experience as a pop-up cafe and ‘World Café’ event for participants, local residents, community managers, artists and Mela Associates to meet.
Our project engaged Balsall Heath residents to creatively imagine Moseley Road as a new social space for different cultures to mix, targeting the community wholly with existing and new participants.
Birmingham Bridging Cultures Roundtable
The first Bridging Cultures roundtable event in Birmingham took place on 7 April 2016. It was a unique opportunity for leaders from the corporate, cultural and social innovation sectors to explore how public spaces can better embrace social cohesion. Birmingham City council leader John Clancy launched the event which was attended by a diverse list of 35 credible influencers.
The roundtable event, held at Birmingham City Council, is part of a series of roundtable events in 7 of the UK’s core cities aimed to complement the vision of Noha Nasser’s award-winning book Bridging Cultures: the guide to social innovation in cosmopolitan cities.
The roundtable event in Birmingham assisted in creating a fresh narrative which contributed to the wider complex cultural debate which incorporates the constant redrawing of urban spaces in communities across the country. It offered a unique opportunity to create an open and honest dialogue on how cities can best use urban design to tackle prejudice and intolerance and enhance their respective public spaces of diverse cultural communities. Cultural diversity has the potential to introduce untapped creativity into the economy and we must consider different ways to drive growth.
John Clancy, Leader of Birmingham City Council, said: “The Council welcomes the Bridging Cultures Roundtable discussion as a timely and valuable opportunity for the city council to extend the ongoing dialogue with corporate and cultural leaders in addressing issues around social cohesion, innovation and inclusivity for the city’s diverse communities. The Big City Plan outlines our commitment and 20 year vision to creating a world class city and we recognise this roundtable event as a vital contribution in harnessing the creativity and aspirations of the wider community to assist in that transformation process.”
A number of key priorities emerged from the Roundtable that can be summarised in three strands: (i) embed young/youthful social innovators within existing boards and policy-making platforms across the City Council and corporate sector; (ii) provide the intelligence to inform Bridging Cultures with an emphasis on university-led research; and (iii) create opportunities to test-fund bright, socially innovative ideas to nurture home-grown talent.
The city made the following pledge: Social Innovators and bridging cultures make a valuable and important contribution to the social, economic, and spiritual growth of Birmingham, therefore they and our communities should be part of the endeavour in moving our city forward. Consequently, [As a City] we commit ourselves to engaging and working with our social and intercultural innovators as equal partners to promote economic growth and social /community cohesion.
The outcomes of the event are:
- Birmingham is considering joining the European Intercultural Cities Network
- There is engagement with the Youth Charter
- Social Innovators would like to hold another event where they showcase their projects to an audience of city, cultural and business organisations
- Universities consider sharing their intelligence with the city and social innovators
- An idea is emerging to create a series of networked social hubs with key purposes e.g. health, well-being, sport, business, employment skills, leisure, making/manufacture etc.
A film of the event can be seen here.
Southall’s Gas Works masterplan
MELA was commissioned by John Thompson and Partners to research the socio-cultural identity of Southall and ask the question: how can Southall’s culturally-diverse identity be an integral part of its future growth?
To really understand what is special about Southall as a place is to understand the town’s history as a focus of immigration. Although physically and spatially its built form is that of the prototypical Victorian and Edwardian industrial suburb, its socio-cultural dimension is what has changed quite radically in the past 60-70 years and accounts for the town’s nickname, ‘Little India’. With around 63% of the local population classified as ‘Asian’, and more accurately Punjabi Sikhs, Hindus and Muslims, Southall has an undoubtedly Punjabi identity exemplified in its retail offer, the cultural events and activities that take place throughout the year, and the architecture of its community halls and religious places of worship. This research project concluded that:
‘It may not be desirable to mimic the architectural styles and intensity of The Broadway shopping experience in the Gas Works site, but it would be a serious oversight to neglect the socio-cultural pulse of the area that makes it so special. If the Gas Works site is to be a true mixing of existing and incoming communities, the designs of buildings and public spaces should provide the setting for cross-cultural understanding. The most powerful means by which this understanding can take place is through the sharing of food, recreation, festivals, arts, and performance. Southall already has a long history of these cultural practices that can be enhanced in the new development.’
Projects Prior to MELA social enterprise and while Noha Nasser was affiliated with Greenwich University and Birmingham City University
Client: Peabody Housing Association
Project: Community design and visioning workshops for the Pembury Estate
Brief: To inspire residents to become ‘game changers’ in their neighbourhood to build trust and a common goal for improving anti-social behaviour in public spaces
Client: Urban Living HMRP
Project: Sense of Place
Brief: To explore alternative masterplanning approaches which builds local capacity and governance to play an active role in the regeneration of locality through setting up catalytic networks for activism, funding and change.
Client: Urban Living HMRP
Project: Sense of Place 2
Brief: To co-produce projects initiated by local people meeting local needs. The project included training citizen journalists as campaigners of local issues and development of a community website to engage with local people and professionals; working with the City Council, Atkins, and local Street Champions to remove street clutter on the Soho Road High Street; and to support Summerfield Resident Asociation working with the City Council and Family Housing Association to develop a Neighbourhood Charter and tackle the problems associated with private rented landlords in the neighbourhood.
Client: Ashram Housing Association
Project: Community Design Workshops:
Community-led design briefs for the future home
Brief: To build on the work that Ashram Housing Association has carried out with regard to gender equality. The aim was to hold a series of workshops with South Asian women and young people from the local community to look at the issues of design for the future home.
Client: Midland Heart Housing Association
Project: Radnor Road Deconversion Programme
Brief: To inform the internal design of the Deconversion Programme to suit a BME clientele, in partnership with the commissioned architects, Bryant Priest Newman.
Client: Extracare Charitable Trust
Project: Panell Croft Extracare Village, Newtown
Brief: To develop a new extra care village in a culturally diverse neighbourhood in Birmingham and to explore the influence of different ethnic groups on the design requirements of the site and the buildings. The aim for the development is to provide health and social well-being, but also encourage inter-cultural mixing.
Client: Birmingham City Council
Project: Birmingham House
Brief: To develop a community-led design brief for new housing typologies suited to 21st century families living in the city centre. The Birmingham House is a fundamental part of the Big City Plan visionart expansion of Birmingham city centre.
Client: Walsall Metropolitan Borough Council
Project: Walsall Design Guide
Brief: To deliver the content for Walsall’s design guide to be adopted as Supplementary Planning Guidance.
Client: Urban Living HMRP
Project: Aston Six Ways Urban Design Programme for Young People
Brief: To train young people affected by gang-related postcodes to develop alternative design proposals for the remodelling of Six Ways Island and create a new public space which re-connects the three communities of Aston, Lozells and Newtown. The course carries Level 2 accreditation.
Client: Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment (CABE)
Project: CABE Urban Design Summer School 2007-9
Brief: To develop the content and deliver CABE’s prestigious Urban Design Summer School to 120-150 delegates nationwide. The School is based on a four day programme of design workshops, study visits and talks.
Client: Birmingham City Council
Project: Housing and urban design workshops
Brief: To develop the urban design capacity of Housing Officers in Birmingham and Sandwell local authorities to better influence projects in the Urban Living Pathfinder Area.
Client: Walsall Metropolitan Borough Council
Project: Urban Design workshops
Brief: To develop the urban design capacity of regeneration officers from diverse departments in Walsall MBC to enable them to improve their understanding of urban design and raise the standards of urban design guidance and influence.
Client: Urban Living HMRP
Project: Neighbourhood Design Workshops
Brief: To develop the urban design capacity of neighbourhood forum members in the Pathfinder Area to make meaningful contributions to the masterplanning processes due to take place in their locality.
Client: South Birmingham Primary Care Trust
Project: Building Design Capacity within the PCT
Brief: Birmingham Primary Care Trust wishes to raise the design expectations for its new health centres. The PCT set up Design Groups of PCT staff and members of the public that required to be empowered to engage at a high level with the design professionals. Educational support was required to build the design capacity of the Design Groups to ensure they have the confidence to be active members of the design process.
City Road Primary School
Project: Dudley Road High Street Improvements
Brief: To create innovative partnerships between Year 5 (10 year old) children in City Road School and MA Urban Design students at Birmingham City University to develop design proposals for the Dudley Road local centre.
Harborne Hill Secondary School
Project: Harborne High Street Improvements
Brief: To create innovative partnerships between Year 10 (15 year old) young people in Harborne Hill School and MA Urban Design students at Birmingham City University to develop design proposals for the Harborne High Street local centre.
Holte Secondary School
Project: Heathfield Road, Lozells street improvements
Brief: To create innovative partnerships between Year 9 (14 year old) children in Holte Secondary School and MA Urban Design students at Birmingham City University to develop design proposals for the Heathfield Road as part of North Lozells masterplan.