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.

You can view the ethnographic film here and a short documentary of the project 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.’

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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

Clapton 2

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.

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