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Selly Oak businesswoman sets up food school at Harborne School Yard development

The deal means the School Yard, at the Grade II-listed Clock Tower, is fully let – and comes after previous plans for a food school on the development fell down after a fall out

Shaleen Meelu is setting up a new food school at The new School Yard development in Birmingham
Shaleen Meelu is setting up a new food school at The new School Yard development in Birmingham

A young businesswoman who advises the Government on nutrition is setting up a new food school in the city.

Shaleen Meelu, from Selly Oak, will offer cooking classes and support for food entrepreneurs at The Harborne Food School, at the School Yard development in the town.

Ms Meelu’s background is in public health and nutrition, and she said she also hopes to work closely with schools and groups in the city to encourage healthier eating.

The school will have a training room, cooking classes, a demonstration area where she plans to bring in chefs and farmers to give talks on food-related issues and a private dining area, which can be hired out for corporate events.

The deal means the School Yard, at the Grade II-listed Clock Tower, is fully let – and comes after previous plans for a food school on the development fell down after a fall out.

Ms Meelu has formed a community interest company and is backed by former PwC director Robert Smith.

She said: “The school will have a private dining room, but I also want to have a local deli, with three or four empty shelves for people who come to the food school – so we can support enterprise through the school.

“There will also be a training space. I do public health and nutrition training across the UK, so it will be an opportunity to work with people from this city.”

The school will offer basic skills classes, masterclasses including Scandanavian, South American and Middle Eastern cuisine, help for food entrepreneurs and weight management programmes.

Ms Meelu, who attended Hill Crest School in Selly Oak before studying at Imperial College London, said first and foremost the new school will aim to meet growing demand for cookery classes of varying skill, on the back of a food renaissance in the city.

She will be assisted by her sister, Kativa, who is responsible for the Berlin division of Kitchensurfing, which is behind popular street food events and private dinners.

The 39-year-old has worked with the likes of Kelloggs, Sandwell PCT and the Department of Health and advised the Government on health and nutrition issues.

As a nutrition consultancy, the school will offer help to create healthier menus, support people with conditions like diabetes and heart disease and fight obesity.

She said: “At the moment people are reprimanding members of the public for giving their children rubbish, but families need help in making the right food choices – and they want that help.

“We are not giving them that help at the moment. Our aim is to educate and support people.”

“We want things that people are interested in,” she added. “People are saying they want to do a Thai cooking course, but the training is a bit basic.

“In general there are a lot of people that have basic cooking skills but want to learn more.”

Ms Meelu has been working with Professor Janice Thompson, an expert in the field of public health, nutrition and exercise at the University of Birmingham to build up plans for the school.

She will be bidding for public sector contracts and grant funding, like the Big Lottery, for specific contracts, like working with people on issues like diabetes or heart disease.

She said Birmingham’s ethnic diversity meant that it was an ideal test bed for food issues

The terms of the deal which saw Neil Edginton, of EDG Property, buy the Clock Tower from Birmingham City Council dictated that there had to be a community interest company running the food school.

The Post previously reported that a food school run by Jayne Bradley was supposed to be part of the £5.5 million scheme, but it was scrapped after a fall out with Mr Edginton.

Mr Edginton said: “This does more than I originally hoped for from the food school. It is as diverse as the city it lives in.

“The partnerships which Shaleen is forming are with key Birmingham networks, including hospitals, colleges, local doctors’ surgeries and more.

“It is not only a food school, there is also a focus on the preventative and general food health.

“Shaleen has got good links through her work with the Government and assistance from a former partner at PwC to make sure it is sustainable.”

Meanwhile, after Boston Tea Party took up the only other available space, the School Yard development is now fully let.

Mr Edginton admitted it had been a tough project.

“It was always going to be a difficult project, bringing back to life a listed building,” he said.
“The refurbishment project was challenging but we have put more money into it than people normally would.

“It is all about creating a catalyst for development in Harborne. I think there is a real opportunity in Harborne, and I would like to do more.”

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