Reflections on the Creative Communities Fellowship

Back in November I entered the ‘Creative Communities Fellowship House’, a five day residential retreat in Yorkshire to explore how to exercise leadership in using arts and culture to drive transformational change in my community.

In early 2020 I had been selected to be part of the first UK cohort of the ‘Creative Communities Fellowship‘, an international partnership between Derby Museums and United States-based NAS with support from the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Social Impact Strategy (CSIS).

The ‘House’ was the culmination of a year of online learning and gatherings to connect with other creative entrepreneurs across the UK. Through online retreats, small group work and a series of modules, we learnt new tools and strategies, completing assignments and sharing our thoughts and experiences. Eventually meeting with people and bonding over good food, silly games, dancing, singing and walks in the beautiful surroundings was nourishing and important, especially in the context of the challenges of Covid-19.

Morning walks to connect with nature and one another

Our learning was supported by a team of facilitators from the USA and the UK who generously shared their extensive experience with us. We were able to take advantage of one-to-one meetings with mentors and shape the schedule around our own enquiries.

It’s been an inspirational journey to be part of a community of people doing pioneering and important work in their communities. Getting to grips with tools such as Design Thinking and Logic Models, and seeing how they can be applied with a focus on equity and participation, is something that I’m already bringing into my creative practice and sharing with my community. I’ll be striving to continue the learning and collaborate with others on this journey.

Huge gratitude to the whole ‘House’ – there are too many special people to mention, but you know who you are and you all brought the magic in so many different ways. However, I WILL give a special mention to Hannah Fox, whose tenacity and ambition brought the Fellowship to the UK. The Creative Communities Fellowship was funded through Arts Council England and the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation (UK Branch).

Hello Bird, Hello Fish!

An opera for pre-school children in Sparkhill? Sounds improbable, but that’s precisely what I’ve been helping to make happen with the talented folk of B’Opera.

In my role as Co-ordinator of Art Works, the Local Arts Forum for Hall Green Constituency, I have been supporting the development of an ambitious, co-created musical project with B’Opera and The Springfield Project. We successfully applied for £10,000 of ‘Next Generation’ funding from Birmingham City Council, which has enabled the development of a new musical production.

B’Opera created ‘Hello Bird, Hello Fish!’ with and for children and their families who are users of The Springfield Project Children’s Centre, Mini Springers and Park Road nurseries. The piece was devised through a programme of participatory sessions and the work in progress was showcased at The Springfield Centre on 22nd February 2022.

It’s been great fun to help plan the project, to dream alongside staff and children, to document the work and join in with sessions as much as possible. Art Works strongly believe that everyone in our area should have access to high quality arts and culture, as well as the opportunity to express themselves creatively and have their voices heard. This really has been a wonderful example of what is possible.

It is hoped that funding will be sourced to develop the piece further and tour it around other children’s centres and community venues later in 2022. To find out more, or to contact Zoë Challenor, visit the Art Works website.

Thanks to Zoë Challenor, Jac White, Aliyah Wiggins, Sophie Williams and Phil Ypres-Smith at B’Opera as well as Sarah Robbins, Rachel Hawkesworth, Asma Ammora, Rachel Vargas and the folks at The Springfield Project who have created the magic. It’s been so joyous to be part of this and I’m so excited to see where it goes next!

Enjoy this film, shot by Paul Ullah and edited by Jac White.

Represent Exhibition

For the past three years I have been project managing ‘Represent’, a community heritage project exploring the impact of gaining the vote and WW1 on the lives of Birmingham’s people.

Delayed by Covid-19 lockdown measures and our inability to connect with community participants or access Birmingham’s archives, the People’s Heritage Co-operative were thrilled to eventually launch our exhibition and learning guide in October 2021.

The exhibition and downloadable learning guide delve into the period following the Representation of the People Act 1918, exploring issues around political representation and organisation and parallels today. They feature banners created by community participants from Saheli Hub and elders from Edgbaston Community Centre, alongside stories of how people have historically made change in their communities, in our city and farther afield.

As we find ourselves in a period of political upheaval, tentatively emerging from a pandemic with questions around inequality, discrimination, our climate, racial and gender violence and our economy coming to the forefront, voices from the past have an important role to play in helping us reflect and consider how we can effect change ourselves.

I am currently developing a digital game to accompany the project, thanks to a ‘Thrive’ bursary from Arts Connect WM. It will take players through the 1918 ‘Representation of the People Act’, prompting them to consider issues around political representation and how we can effect change in the world today.

Represent was funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund.

Boundary Way Declares a Climate Emergency

I’ve been working with Boundary Way Project for a few years now, jumping at every opportunity to head down to the allotment and spend time on the plots.

This most recent film I’ve creates explores Boundary Way Project’s pioneering work in shaping the project in the context of the Climate Emergency, as well as considering how nature and creativity support wellbeing and link to the five ways to wellbeing – Connect, Take Notice, Be Active, Keep Learning and Give.

It was premiered in October 2021 in the Polytunnel at Boundary Way during a special night-time viewing of the film alongside Graham Everitt’s beautiful filmed meditation on the site and the community of plotholders.

Find out more about this important work and how to join in with upcoming events on the Boundary Way website.

Boundary Way Autumn 2021 from Boundary Way project on Vimeo.

My Doorstep, My Culture

The right for everyone to express themselves creatively and share their ideas, opinions and talents – what is currently coined ‘Cultural Democracy’ – is something that I strive for in all of my projects. ‘My Doorstep, My Culture’, an Art Works project I’ve been co-ordinating, aimed to do just that.

‘My Doorstep, My Culture’ was an exciting programme of creative workshops across three community organisations, led by local Artist ILdikó Nagy and culminating in a group exhibition at Moseley Road Baths. We worked with Amal Creative – a group of Yemeni women who meet in Balsall Heath, Kinmos – an organisation for people with lived experience of poor mental heath and Smart Women CIC – a women’s group who are based on Stoney Lane in Sparkbrook.

Each group started by viewing a selection of images depicting different artforms and artworks, including some of ILdikó’s own projects which include the huge woven willow hare in Moseley Park and a recent recycled plastic sculpture in Coventry (examples of her work can be seen on Instagram at @_usefool_). These prompted stimulating conversations about each group’s interests and hobbies, with some people even pulling out their own craft projects. It was clear from the outset that there were keen artists within each group.

Quite quickly, this developed into a co-designed programme of creative activities for each group. Participants were eager to express themselves creatively and committed to working collaboratively to create something reflecting their talents and perspectives and cultural identity.

The exhibition was launched to an invited audience of participants, their families and friends on Saturday 22nd February in the glorious setting of Moseley Road Bath’s empty Gala Pool. Over 30 people attended the launch where groups viewed each others’ work for the first time and reflected on their achievements with food and drink.

More information on the project can be found on the Art Works website. I am currently Co-ordinator for Art Works, the Local Arts Forum for Hall Green Constituency.

Funded through Birmingham City Council’s ‘Culture on our Doorstep’ fund.

Sustainable, clean and creative Balsall Heath

This week, I launched ‘Sustainable, Clean and Creative Balsall Heath’, a series of portraits of Balsall Heath based people and projects for Balsall Heath Neighbourhood News Online.  They illustrate the ambition of people who live and work here and show the sheer hard graft put into making good things happen.

Balsall Heath Neighbourhood News Online is all about amplifying the positive work that happens in our community on a daily basis, signposting people to services that can support them in their daily lives and making connections with one another to build a better Balsall Heath.

You can link to each of the articles below. Thanks to Elisabeth Charis for her work on interviews and writing these articles as well as to The Active Wellbeing Society for funding this strand of work.

If you think this work is important, get in touch for a chat about how you can get involved in making Balsall Heath Neighbourhood News a sustainable community media project, representative of the many people who live and work in our neighbourhood.

Cannon Hill Litterpickers

Cannon Hill Litterpickers have come together to make a tangible difference to the streets of Balsall Heath West. They began in early 2020 when a small group of local residents shared concerns about how the amount of litter on the streets in West Balsall Heath gave a very negative impression of the area.

The Bike Project

The Bike Project is a charity which takes second hand bikes, fixes them up and donates them to refugees and asylum seekers. Yasmin Nestor talks about the project, the impact of the pandemic and her own involvement with the project.

Deb Day Sewing Room

Deb progressed from an amateur seamstress, making clothes for herself, to launching a space at The Old Print Works where she teaches people to sew their own creations in a dedicated ‘Sewing Room’.  She speaks about how she has built her business and developed new skills – and why The Old Print Works was the perfect base.

Elliott Packham

Elliott is a Balsall Heath based artist whosework is inspired by a broad range of modernist architecture, with a particular passion for the bold structural forms of brutalism. He discusses his perfectionism, art in lockdown and what painting and sport have in common.


Mel Berman of Metallix creates hand embossed pewter items such as journals, keepsake boxes and original mixed media canvases – and is looking forward to returning to in-person markets and workshops. She discusses the versatility of pewter and how she has needed to adapt to change.

The Old Print Works

Hannah Greenwood, Chair of Trustees at The Old Print Works chats about making things happen in a Grade II listed building, the challenges from Covid-19 and being part of a designer-maker community, as the charity ‘Make it Sustainable’ approaches its 10-year anniversary.

What’s The Truth? What Have You Heard?

What’s the truth? What have you heard? is a series of short digital pieces for social media and messaging apps, developed by Women & Theatre from research with women living in Balsall Heath, working in partnership with Moseley Road Baths. They feature Yasmin Jasmine responding to local women’s concerns about different issues relating to Covid-19 and vaccines.

These films were developed from research working with older women who attend the baths’ weekly Chat & Splash session for women for whom English is a second language. The research sessions were fun, friendly and informal conversations with swimmers and other local people in May 2021.  Each short piece explores a different area of concern regarding public heath guidance relating to COVID-19. They were developed following social distancing guidelines, by Janice Connolly working with freelance writer Rupinder Kaur and community filmmaker Rachel Gillies.

Yasmin Jasmine was created in response to women saying they would like to hear stuff from a woman like them who they felt  had her feet on the ground and listened with her ears Yasmin is played by Rupinder Kaur.

What’s the truthWhat have you heard? debunks myths and explore new ways of community messaging around public health and wellbeing, by using the language and lives of ordinary people. For more information visit:

You can also get up to date information direct to your phone or inbox by signing up to be a Covid-19 Community Champion.

Film Training with Shelanu

I have recently been running an online film making course with women from Shelanu, a collective of migrant and refugee women working with Craftspace to develop craft skills, confidence and well-being through social enterprise.

Shelanu means ‘belonging to us’, which seemed a really good starting point for developing an online course. Members of the craft collective are looking to create short ‘how-to’ films to share their craft-making with one another and a wider audience too. I was keen to guide the group to explore film making in a way that felt right for them, rather than provide them with a set of hard and fast rules.

Over the course of two online sessions we explored why we wanted to make films, had a play around with camera angles, shared top tips, dipped into film editing and created some short films which we shared with one another. I was really impressed with how willing everyone was to have a go – no doubt testament to what a tight-knit group Shelanu are.

They will now be taking that learning forward into their work to promote their work and share skills with others. I’m really excited to see what this wonderfully talented and creative group create. Thanks to all of the group members for welcoming me and to Emma from Craftspace for bringing me on board.

You can find out more about Shelanu on Craftspace’s website. You can also browse and buy some of their gorgeous craftwork (including stunning origami earrings and migrating birds jewellery!) on Craftspace’s online shop.

I said a little prayer… by Melissa Howitt

I prayed , then I arrived. In 2012 I walked into saheli women’s hub looking for a work opportunity , I found much more than just a job.

My name is Melissa Howitt. My present job role is a health and fitness advisor .I am a proud member of the saheli family.The role is fairly vast and gives me great opportunity to meet some amazing people ,and to develop well needed skills.

How I arrived ?

I recall feeling out of my comfort zone but grounded by my faith as I opened the door and walked in.I was greeted by a beautiful , soft speaking ,woman who welcomed me into my new safe space. That woman’s name is Shebina Gill the hub-manager. That’s when I unfolded and began to grow .

Family first …

I have been blessed to meet some amazing co – workers who I now call my saheli family . I appreciate the support and patience they have had with me over the years .It has been a winding road , trying to find A work life balance and sometimes losing the battle and having to press pause and then reset. Without the empathy , encouragement & support from my mentor (shebina Gill ) I have to say I probably would not have been able to come this far .Thank you my saheli family.

How far have I come ?

I can honestly say my knowledge in my chosen field has increased. I am more confident and assertive . I am a happier and more positive women.I have been massively inspired by many of the people I work with. I look forward to taking on new challenges and embracing new adventures.

Melissa Howitt

Health and fitness advisor @ saheli hub

Norma Green’s journey at Saheli Hub

Norma Green’s journey at Saheli Hub 🤝

When I first started at Saheli, I knew that the name translated in English meant friendship. This was a good sign as to what was to come. During my time working at Saheli, I have had the opportunity to meet all different types of people, from different cultures, ages and races. All of these having made an impact on me in one way or another.

I knew Naseema from her visits to the gym at the Birmingham sports centre. She saw me and asked Shebina, who I knew from a prior gym, to see if I would work for the new all female gym. This was the start of my journey. I started Saheli in 2006 and still could remember the opening of the new centre. It was a Saturday, and I couldn’t wait to get there. There were hundreds of people and members of the committee were all dressed in blue. Then the speakers came, and I was impressed by all of their speeches and the diversity of the speakers.There were drummers and photos, and almost I felt out of place in my scruffy work clothes! When I started to work, it was a breath of fresh air. I was managing staff and opened and closed the gym, giving me increased freedom. The clients in my classes were so varied which was valuable in helping me develop my teaching training. I worked with lots of Asian women who had never used a gym before for months to help build their skills. I also encouraged young girls to become fit in after school sessions, building confidence and giving them motivation. I gained independence, and I value my time there so much.

Although I teach, I have always had injuries. Saheli has always been accommodating of them. My time at Saheli taught me I was capable of managing my own sessions, as I have achieved so much. I have been completing courses to further my teaching skills, such as aerobic qualifications, running courses and power plate courses. Im hoping to continue my journey, by expanding my skills to include things such as mental health training and computer training. I am so glad to be part of the Saheli team and am looking forward to my future at the hub.