My journey with Saheli

I have been invited by Saheli Hub, a Birmingham based women’s health, wellbeing and empowerment organisation, to support some of their staff, volunteers and members to document their personal journeys with Saheli through blogging, podcasts and film making. However, like so many women in Balsall Heath, I have a Saheli journey of my own.

I first met Naseem Akhtar, the founder of Saheli Hub, when I was starting out making films with community organisations in about 2005 – at the time I was begging, stealing and borrowing whatever equipment I could to start making films! Those who know Naseem know her as someone who sees opportunities to make things happen everywhere. A young woman armed with a camera looking for projects wasn’t going to pass her by!

The result was a short film documenting some of the early work of Saheli. I accompanied a group of young women cycling round Sutton Park and skiing at The Ackers. I was able to get a sneak preview of the Saheli Hub gym before it opened and met many of today’s core members of staff when they were embarking on their own journeys. The film acted as a wonderful snapshot of Saheli’s work and importantly put them on the radar of someone at a local Health Trust who was impressed by how articulate some of the young women were. It also helped me become established as a local film maker – and I’m still doing it!

What has always impressed me about Saheli is their ‘can-do’ attitude and belief that women have potential to make radical and bold change when they are given space to come together. The strong relationships that staff and volunteers have with local women is at the heart of shaping services which people want to access. It’s a simple model, but it requires more than a little stubbornness to change old ‘top-down’ ways of working. In this film which was commissioned by ‘Birmingham Community Empowerment Network’ in 2007, Naseem talks about how they organise.

Over 15 years later Saheli are still part of my life. As a provider of health and wellbeing activities on my doorstep, I’ve seen so many local women doing really impressive things with Saheli. I regularly see groups running around my local park, and I’ve experienced the absolute joy of seeing Saheli women run past my door as they complete the Birmingham Half Marathon. It may be my imagination, but I’m sure they are having more of a laugh than anyone else there!

Since 2019 I have been working with the Saheli Hub group in Handsworth on the ‘Represent‘ project, exploring the history of rights and representation in Birmingham from the 1918 ‘Representation of the People Act’ onwards. The ideas we’ve explored completely link in with Saheli’s values of female representation and empowerment, so it’s been no real surprise to see the group get stuck into discussions and creative workshops.

Saheli women in Handsworth raise their banners as part of the ‘Represent’ heritage project

I can’t wait to delve yet further into rich and important stories of the many transformative journeys that members of Saheli’s ‘family’ have made. I’ll be posting links as the project develops!