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.

‘My Ring of Confidence’ or ‘Against All Odds’ or ‘The Girl in me’ by Shebina Gill

It became apparent my ring of confidence appeared in the most difficult times of growth.  Across the bridge of my nose, my mother reminded me every day how beautiful my purpose in life was and that I was made from Love against all odds. 

The little girl sitting pushing dirt with a stick – so bored she became sick.

The runaway family forced to quit a society who could not stand the blend.

The Teen girl, sitting behind the nets picking wallpaper whilst others run with freedom.

The Teen girl, carer to toxic needs – generations of silence and fear.

The young woman, enthusiastic to prove that She will, She can, She has a plan.

The young woman at work not blending in, refusing to do what generations before her opted for.

The young woman at work, the tick tock of the maternal clock, her perceived expectations of the married world.

The woman grows new life – building a fortress around her, navigating a movement of opportunities for her to grow.

The woman with unseen conditions – will they debilitate her progression?

The woman bears a male child teaching him to respect the meaning of ‘self’.

The woman in a sanctuary of friendship, love and marriage, balance for identity to shine through.

The woman losing her mother to a disease that would pause the world of work that stopped her in her tracks.

The woman rejuvenates her self to inspire others through the wilderness

In tribute to all the women we knew, those who are still learning to be, for those who were before me, I am Girl, I am Woman, I am Me and I will arise with my nose displaying the ring of confidence.


I believe more than ever – I Can-I will-I do!

Newest member of the family by Sultana Begum

I first met Shebina, Naseem and Sabrin around 2014 when I was working at Wellbeing Services(now The Active Wellbeing Society). I worked in the same office as Naseem and during this time I was intrigued and amazed at what Saheli had done for the ladies in the community.

When needed, I helped Naseem with preparation on materials for upcoming events, the most memorable would be the little cards that were made for the two Tryathon’. I spent a good few hours punching a single hole in the corner and then tying a purple ribbon (it was the theme) through it, so that the ladies could keep around their wrist to get it stamped, once each of the activities had been completed.

I took part in some. When I took part at the events I felt a great sense of achievement, especially the 5K walk, jog, run. I had never walked 5k, especially around a park…..I was always told parks are scary places. I am the can’t run, won’t run… me stitches just thinking about it, so having the option of walking was amazing.

I volunteered in some events to help out with registration, signposting, giving out medals, T-shirts and goody bags.

I took voluntary redundancy from TAWS in 2019. I stayed in touch with Naseem and around August 2019, Naseem called, to ask if I was free to support Saheli and cover Sabrins Maternity leave.

And just like that I became the new addition to the Saheli family

I started at Calthorpe and took on some of the admin responsibilities. I also supported the instructors at Omnia Medical Practice, Yardley Green Medical Centre and Saltley Wellbeing Centre. It was amazing to be working so closely with the participants and helping them and the relationship the long standing members had with the instructors was definitely of ‘Saheli’ and not of instructor-participant.

Then came along covid and put everything on halt but this time I got my personal experience of Saheli. During the first lockdown my health was not the best and most days I had no motivation to do anything but the positive, inspirational and funny group messages, kept me going, although everybody was fighting their own battles during this hard time.

Until life returns to somewhat normal, the online morning calls and afternoon calls, will need to bridge the gap. Sessions include Talking Art, Natures Gifts,  Stronger, Stretched & Balanced, Crochet & Knitting, Body Conditioning, storytelling & managing anxiety. It’s wonderful to see participants joining in and not just local but from across the oceans.

Harvesting Wild Medicine in Handsworth Park by Eleanor Hoad

My name is Eleanor Hoad and I run the community garden in Handsworth Park in partnership with the Friends of Handsworth Park.  Since 2018 I have led weekly sessions for women in the garden with Saheli Hub as part of their Social Prescribing Programme. Sessions run on Wednesdays 9.30-11am. The women learn about growing vegetables, fruit and herbs and we care for our wildflower meadow.

When I was first asked to run sessions with Saheli in the garden it was late autumn; cold, grey and not the most ideal time of year for gardening. However my first intrepid women braved the cold conditions to help rake and sow our wildflower meadow. The meadow is the wildest area of the garden, left mostly for nature to take its course, providing a wildlife corridor at the end of the garden, a haven for bees, insects and birds and a home for our compost heap.

As the number of women taking part in the sessions grew and the weather got colder, the activities I offered grew. Alongside gardening, I added “natures crafts”;  making with natural materials, following the cycles of the seasons and connecting to the natural world around us.

As we began to get to know each other better, the women started to talk about their health, so I started to include sessions exploring herbal medicine. Simple remedies for everyday health complaints that have been used by families for generations.  

This bountiful community garden seems to grow the plants we need without us always having to put in a lot of hard work. The garden grows the best patch of Plantain I’ve ever seen. Not that starchy banana loved in Jamaican cooking, but Ribwort Plantain, one of our native herbs, often called “just a weed” and removed by gardeners or herbicides.

Plantain is in fact a very powerful and safe medicine. It was one of the 7 sacred herbs revered by our Northern European ancestors. Famed as an anti-histamine, it can be used mixed with nettle and elderflower and drunk as a tea to prevent hayfever. It is effective against bites and stings and for drawing out splinters, so a very useful ally to have in the garden. It’s also anti-viral and anti-bacterial and particularly useful for dry coughs and sinusitis.

Several women spoke about problems with eczema in their families and as a sufferer myself  I knew that Plantain oil can be very soothing and healing for this infuriating condition, so we set to work, harvesting the freshest green leaves. I showed the group how to make a simple infused oil. The leaves are chopped up, put into a clean jar and covered in oil. We used olive oil but sunflower or almond oil are also suitable. The jar is left on a sunny windowsill and shaken regularly for about a month. Once the leaves are strained out, the result is a beautiful bright green oil that can be applied directly to the affected area or used to make a soothing cream.

I found it particularly rewarding to see the women sharing their new medicine making skills with other visitors to the garden. They made up batches of the oil themselves, for their grandchildren, passing on the recipes and reviving forgotten knowledge for use in our community. Plantain helped us to spread the word about its healing properties, as the weed continues to spreads further out from the meadow and into the path…

To sign up to take part in the sessions contact (insert details)

Tags: handsworth, handsworth park, herbal medicine, empowering women, sahelihub

My Saheli Journey by Maisie Dill

My Saheli journey started in 2008.

I had recently lost my mother, for whom I used to care for. This left me at a loose end, my husband at work, me getting up each day, housework, gardening and shopping. Attending neighbour meetings regularly with my friend was not enough for me, and I needed to do more. One day my friend visited me. She said: “Would you like to come along to the gym with me?” “Where is this gym?” I asked. She replied: ”Around the corner.” I said: “Are you saying there is a gym not too far from here, and I never knew about it?” Oh, yes, there was SAHELI!

The following day I went and met Shebina; she was very welcoming. I got signed up and got my Saheli card. There was no stopping me now. I had somewhere I could go to exercise and meet other people. To my surprise, there were other people there that I already knew.

Almost every day, I attended exercises classes which I enjoyed. Sometimes we would go walking to places like Licky Hills. We went on rambling walks with a trained walk leader. My friend and I learnt to ride a bike with Naseem; it was always fun being out with her. But we have also been given the opportunity to do other things – I can remember Naseem taking us to the Houses of Parliament, we joined in a debate with Nick Clegg.

After a few months, I was asked if I wanted to volunteer to become a fitness instructor. I said “yes” without hesitation. Because of my age, some of my family thought I was crazy others were supportive. But Shebina and Naseem saw potential in me, gave me the opportunity, and I took it.

After six months, I went for my first exam, exercise to music. I loved music. I used to listen to a lot of music, but I had no idea what phrases and beats were. I failed. But I never gave up. I did the exam for a second time, and this time I passed. Next, I did personal training and a chair- based exam. They were never easy, but I pushed myself until I got there. I am still learning.

Being with Saheli, you never stop learning; it’s continuous. And being a part of Saheli has thought me how to look after my own health. Shebina and Naseem are always giving staff the opportunity to learn something new, and sometimes members are also given the same chance as the staff.

I consider myself very lucky to be part of a great team.

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!