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: www.birmingham.gov.uk/coronavirus.

You can also get up to date information direct to your phone or inbox by signing up to be a Covid-19 Community Champion. www.birmingham.gov.uk/COVID-19_Community_Champions.

What have you heard about Covid?

Women and Theatre is working in partnership with Moseley Road Baths and local women in Balsall Heath, to create a series of short videos which share information about Covid-19 and promote positive wellbeing messages.

I will be working alongside Janice Connolly of Women & Theatre and poet, writer and performer Rupinder Kaur to talk to women of all ages and backgrounds about concerns, anxieties and misinformation about Covid-19 guidelines and vaccines. Join us for a swim and a chat and then we’ll be getting creative with some fun workshops to develop the short films.

Sessions take place on Mondays (17th and 24th) and Thursdays (20th and 27th), 11:15am-1:15pm over the next few weeks. For more information, call Matt Smith on 07849 214 799 or e-mail mattsmith@womenandtheatre.co.uk.

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

‘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!

Saheli – Friend By Sabrin Begum

Looking for a Friend
Saheli provide so much more then exercise.

My name is Sabrin Begum it has been a decade (wow) since I have been with saheli. I started with work experience from college with Shebina (manager). She made me feel welcome and part of the team. I was a SAHELI and it was good. Part of a fabulous team that changed womens life’s.

I was working part time as an admin after few years. I was front of house welcomed people in and helped them through their journey with saheli. I also was interpreting for lady’s as some could not speak English.

Saheli offered me alot of training which helped me become more confident and gain more knowledge.

Saheli is my other family
Come along and find out what your journey will be with Saheli.

Life on the saddle by Hema Patel

I love helping and connecting with people. This is the reason why I am writing this blog for the first time today. My name is Hema Patel and I am from Birmingham.

My journey:

Big Birmingham bike provided cycling instructor training and Saheli gave me the opportunity to do some voluntary work. This gave me the confidence and room for growth. They didn’t just  give me the opportunity to do voluntary work, but they also offered me paid work. I enjoy teaching people how to ride bikes and how to stay fit.

I am really grateful for the services Saheli provides for people who really need it. I have loved working with this team ever since I began. I cannot ask better leaders than Naseem and Shebina. They have helped me throughout my journey, including keeping us going throughout the current global pandemic. I would like to help people in the same way that they have helped me. It would be great to see more women come and achieve their goals. I believe that everyone has great potential. It doesn’t matter what age, race or religion, everyone deserves the chance to get fit and healthy, whilst having fun.


With a passion for sports a friend of mine forwarded an advertisement from the Birmingham Road safety team which put a call out to recruit and train the first team of cycling instructors for Birmingham.  I instantly thought I wanted to do this but I didn’t own and bike and the last time I had been on one when when I was 16. I called the organiser and explained this and he encouraged me to still come along and he will take care of the rest.  I turned up and fell off my bike! The end, no- my journey began.

I started off as a Bikeability Instructor 15 years ago teaching Level 2-3 National Standards in primary and secondary schools across the city, but my passion was to increase women’s participation in cycling. I went on to run several groups with the local authority, until I met Saheli. I found that they shared my passion of providing activities at grassroots level, and I’ve been with them since. I am now one of the lead instructors and after setting up the Club, I am also the Club Secretary.

Currently I help plan and co-ordinate cycling activities; I recruit, train and mentor new Ride Leaders and Cycling Instructors; I also run my own groups of Learn to Ride and led rides for women and men at Ward End Park. I continue to train and recruit women from within the communities of the sessions we deliver. This means those participants have a role model that they can relate to and can access for advice and guidance.

Saheli offers sessions for all abilities. We have varied groups depending on ability and confidence levels on the bike. The participants can choose to stay within the enclosed area of the Learn to Ride sessions or join us on a 20-mile Club ride. We are there to support the individuals, and help develop their skills, but leave it up to them to decide when to move to another group within the framework. Saheli Cycling Club currently runs across three sites.

The highlight always is teaching someone to cycle for the first time, especially when they never thought they could. I don’t think that will ever change for me and continues to motivate me to do more.

As someone who fell off her bike in her training I went on follow my passion of wanting to make cycling accessible for all.  As long as you have the enthusiasm and determination anything is achievable.  My journey was only possible by meeting the right trainers and mentors who believed in me along the way.  I aim to pass this onto everyone I teach and train and always am encouraging people to try it once. Practice may not make you perfect but it will definitely make you better. I teach women how to ride; build their confidence and skills to continue riding for leisure, health and wellbeing or commuting.  So if you are inspired, find a local group who will provide you with a bike and a helmet and turn up.  As I say to the ladies: READY, STEADY, PEDAL!


Rakhyia’s Blogpost

I was told by a friend there was a women’s group in Balsall Heath that had an amazing adventure activity scheme for young girls – the organiser Naseem Akhtar was really something! She said I should go along and meet her maybe see if there was any opportunity to volunteer? I rang apprehensively and was invited to the Balsall Heath Community Forum.    I went for an informal chat was Naseem – hoping to be given the opportunity to volunteer so I could take part in all the fun activities they had on – I had always wanted to try horse riding; canoeing, climbing and quad biking!

I had just moved back to Birmingham after graduating from Manchester University and it was hard to know what I should be doing now – I was an adult in the big world of work, but I really was clueless about what I should be doing next?! I was lost.

I arrived early as I had never heard of the Balsall Heath Forum and was surprised by, but what I discovered – a small garden center with an office in a pagoda at the back!! I knocked and went in not sure if I as in the right place? There was a lot of hustle and bustle and I was suddenly overwhelmed.

However, my nerves were short lived as I taken upstairs and, in the chaos, met Naseem where I presented my CV and was put at ease.  Naseem gave me the background to Saheli Women’s Group she was friendly and had a vision.  I left the meeting hoping that a volunteering opportunity would open.

A short while later I received a call to come interview for a paid position – I was very excited but did not have much experience – would I be qualified, what were they going to ask me? I arrived at the BHF and I remember being dressed formally but chose to wear pointy burgundy shoes – they were smart but uncomfortable!! My feet were sore, and it was painful to walk why had I worn these shoes I thought.

Naseem drove me to Mary Beasley’s (BHF Chair) house and I sat facing Dick, Mary and Naseem.  The interview was a mixture of what I had done and what they were doing and my thoughts and experiences.

I had another interview at a women’s refuge as I had been pedaling out my CV to numerous organisations.  But when I received the call from Saima (Saheli Chair) I accepted – I was excited to be part something different, and innovative.  I had read up on the BHF and was impressed by the buzz of everybody doing their thing their way. 

Naseem and the team were welcoming and down to earth doing work that helping and bringing new opportunities for people across the community.  I have never looked back and have learnt so much and done lots of exciting things.  Anybody wanting to try something new and needing some support come get involved in Sahleli Hub – you will find friendship, support and encouragement like no other.

Girls aren’t allowed to……. By Naseem Akhtar

I thought things would change for the next generation of girls.

I grew up in B12- Sunny Balsall Heath. Sister of five brothers and because of them I loved sport. Football, Cricket anything. If I could be one of the boys I’d want to be in their team. When I was 9 we’d visit my uncle’s house and went out to play I used to sneak onto my cousins bike –  when I could- his bike was just my size.  ‘Girls don’t cycle….. I was told off …. so I didn’t cycling …. when they weren’t looking. I finally learnt to ride a bike at the grand old age of 36.

I went to a girls school and couldn’t understand why girls didn’t enjoy sport…. I learnt to swim at secondary school – Naseem where’s your costume? Mrs Curzon my formidable PE teacher asked. I couldn’t tell her my mum didn’t want me in a swimming costume … but too scared to tell the truth about wearing  a costume I just said I’m not allowed. This is a GIRLS school – of course you’re allowed bellowed Mrs Curzon. That’s why your parents sent you here.  I thought she’s right! I went home argued with my mum and got my first ever costume and went swimming at Stirchley baths… I loved it.

What do women really want….

By the time I was 28 I was a single parent of two boys. I always thought the next generation of girls would get to do everything we weren’t ‘allowed’ to do but as a single mum I realised nothing had changed in sunny Balsall Heath –  especially for women and girls. I went back into education and became a qualified nursery nurse and  got a job straight away in a local school. Next door to the school a Capacity Building revolution was happening in Balsall Heath through Balsall Heath Forum. They wanted to know what women wanted in the area so they set up a women only residents group for women only as local Asian women were not getting involved in their local resident’s groups. Through regular meetings the women came up with an idea of setting up a health and fitness facility run by and for women.  I was offered the opportunity to develop the idea and Saheli Women’s Group was formed and we decided to ask local women through an independent consultation:  What did local women really, really want?

Build it and they still won’t come ….

265 local women completed the questionnaire and said they wanted a women’s centre in Balsall Heath and no they didn’t use the biggest sports centre in Birmingham on the edge of our neighbourhood. Why ? because they didn’t feel welcome, their culture/language/needs of the community were not understood. There was some ad hoc sessions for ‘women only’ and even if you went for that hour women you felt  there were too many men in and around the building. They felt they had to rush in, change and then rush out before the men came in. It felt more like 30 mins not 1 hour. Through the questionnaire the women said they wanted to take part in: swimming, exercise sessions and health related activities and they wanted these activities when they  were free to access them at their own leisure. Most importantly the centre had to be run by women, for women.

The report proved what local women wanted and I requested help though the local  regeneration board and I remember  feeling nervous and scared presenting to this board of men (it was all men) and when the request was discussed the local councillor said:  If we give you an Asian women’s centre then the Irish community will want a centre and then the Chinese community will want one…. I remember answering It’s for ALL women not just Asian women in our area – and challenged back –  Why did he think it was only for Asian women? He was quite embarrassed making an assumptiomn it was just for Asian women but we didn’t get anywhere.

What women? Asian women? All day?

I took the report and met the leader of the PCT – We do health not sport he answered. I took my report to the head of Leisure – We do fitness and sport not health he answered and  you want a women’s centre ? Run by women for women? And you want to fitness and sport? All Day? Just women ? That’s never going to happen!  Oh yes it will I thought –  Maybe not now but one day.

Through Saheli Women’s Group we secured £5K from the Neighbourhood Network Scheme and combined it with Connexions £5k I set up a young girls club. The young Saheli’s aged 13-18 took part in learning to ski, canoe, rock climb at the Ackers and even how to ride a bike. I learnt to ski, canoe, rock climb and to finally ride a bike – properly – with them – reliving my youth but most importantly giving girls the opportunities I never had growing up. All these activities and programmes over the years helped Saheli to prove that women and especially Asian women can and do want to learn and take part in fitness and sport.

Saheli Adventure Hub

In 2006 we open the Saheli Adventure hub thanks to a man, yes a man. Who called me after I was invited to take part in a presentation on how little a difference is made for grassroots community in deprived neighbourhoods through regeneration money. I remember presenting and saying  to many of the officers in the room – Regeneration is just a stepping stone for you on your carer ladders and you always ‘do to’ the community and ‘not with’ the community. In Sparkbrook over £140K per person had by that time been spent by the local regeneration board but I couldn’t see the evidence of it. Nothing had changed in my neighbourhood for girls, women and families but if they’d given me £140K I’d show them how to change women’s lives in my neighbourhood. One of the officers called me the following day and said he heard what  I said and he liked what I said and had I heard there was a new fund. This time they just wanted our initial ideas of what could change the lives of our communities and if they liked the idea they would help us to grow the idea and fund it. I sent a picture of the girls cycling in a park with yellow cagoules on stuck in a ravine with mud splashed all over their faces, Smiling, beam at the fun of it some wearing their Hijabs with Helmets on top and said we’d like a women’s centre in Balsall Heath. Here’s what our independent report said.  We secured £0.5M from Sport England’s Active England grant.

What’s your adventure with Saheli?

In 2021 you can run: a 5k, 10K, Half a marathon or a full marathon take weekends away and run in events across the country or in Europe with the Saheli Run Group. You can learn to ride a bike: in the Park, in the street, 5-25 miles or in the Velo 40/100 miles event with Saheli Cycling Club. You can learn to knit, crochet, take part in talking art with Saheli Social Clubs. You can take part in zumba, aerobics, chair based exercises, yoga and body conditioning in Saheli Hub.  We now deliver across the inner city of Birmingham in three Wellbeing Centres and two GP sites and all we want to know is as a woman …. What’s your adventure with Saheli?