MELA was commissioned by JTP 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 project explored the nature of Southall’s place identity and questioned how the Gas Works development can provide the setting for Southall’s existing and incoming communities that promotes what is special about Southall.
The project concluded Southall has a visible and distinctive Punjabi place identity in which the identities of smaller communities can co-exist. This is best exemplified in the different community niches and the creative innovations and fusions in the artistic sphere.
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.