Stars of grassroots sport in the West Midlands highlighted.
The Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games has unveiled its list of 14 Hometown Heroes – inspiring local champions of community sport in the West Midlands – after receiving hundreds of nominations from members of the public.
The campaign celebrates and recognises the diversity of the region by shining a spotlight on those that go above and beyond to develop sport, encourage participation and promote physical and mental wellbeing in their community.
The Hometown Heroes include 14 selfless individuals, made up of coaches, managers, umpires, and fundraisers, who have dedicated their lives to grassroots sport in the West Midlands.
To celebrate their inclusion, each Hometown Hero will be profiled on Birmingham 2022’s website and social media channels over the coming weeks and will each receive a special glass award to mark their achievement.
One of the Hometown Heroes recognised is Haseebah Abdullah (pictured) – England’s first hijab-wearing boxing coach and an incredible ambassador for womens sport. Coaching at Windmill Boxing Gym in Smethwick, Haseebah has been key to promoting and developing female participation in boxing in her community, having also played a huge role in changing official dress code rules to allow women to wear a headscarf and full length clothing. Known for making others feel welcome and comfortable, Haseebah has seen the confidence of the club members soar and membership numbers increase.
Naseem Akhtar BEM, also a Hometown Hero, has spent over twenty years inspiring and encouraging thousands of women in inner city Birmingham transform their lives through physical activity. She is the project manager at Saheli Hub, a centre in Balsall Heath run by women for women, which aims to improve health and wellbeing and encourage participation in exercise.
Naseem has set up The Young Sahelis, a youth club for girls aged 14-25; The Saheli Running Club, which has seen over 75 women run half marathons and six women complete full marathons; and The Saheli Cycling Club which has taught over 1,000 women to ride a bike.
Kevin Dillon, who has also been recognised as a Hometown Hero, is the Head Coach at Lions Amateur Boxing Club in Brierley Hill. Kevin, who is visually-impaired having contracted meningitis as a child, has coached hundreds of boxers aged from six to 60 in his time at the club and has always aimed to get the best out of them, both physically and mentally. In 2019, Kevin launched a podcast called Black Country Blokes, which covers the struggles and successes that men experience, with topics such as mental and physical health, fitness, work and family life, aiming to remove the stigma around taboo subjects. Bringing this ethos into his gym, Kevin also set up a men’s support group which involves an hour of training, followed by an hour to talk openly about whatever is on their mind.
The full list of Hometown Heroes consists of:
Haseebah Abdullah, Coach at Windmill Boxing Team, Smethwick
Naseem Akhtar BEM, Project Manager at Saheli Hub, Balsall Heath, Birmingham
Salma Bi BEM, Coach, Umpire and Fundraiser, and Director of Sporting Pathways, Birmingham
Jeevan Chagger, Chairman, Coach and Umpire at City of Birmingham Hockey Club, Birmingham
Ricardo D’Alva, Coach at City of Birmingham Rockets Basketball Club, Nechells
Kirsty Davie, Team Manager and coach at Birmingham Moseley Women’s RFC, Birmingham
Kevin Dillon, Head Coach at Lions Amateur Boxing Club, Brierley Hill
Dave Heeley OBE, Runner and Charity Fundraiser, West Bromwich
Joan Hunter, Coach at University of Birmingham Netball Club, Birmingham
Steve Mroso, Coach and Team Manager at Team Birmingham Elite Basketball Club, Birmingham
Yasmin Nessa, Co-founder of Saltley Stallions Women’s Football Club, Birmingham
Kevin Redmond, Coach at Solihull Moors FC Ability Counts, Solihull
Sarah Scanlon, Umpire at Ernesford Grange Netball Club, Coventry
Ranjit Singh, Coach at Wolverhampton Wrestling Club, Wolverhampton
To mark the announcement, former Birmingham Poet Laureate and four-times Birmingham and Midland boxing champion Matt Windle has written and performed a spoken word poem, entitled Hometown Hero. The piece is inspired by the Hometown Heroes’ stories and reflects their drive and determination to support participation in grassroots sport in their communities.
Birmingham 2022 launched the search for Hometown Heroes in October 2020, welcoming nominations for those that always the extra mile to develop sport in their local community.
After receiving hundreds of nominations, the final list of Hometown Heroes was chosen by a judging panel consisting of Sarah Rennie, Chair of Birmingham 2022 Accessibility Advisory Forum; Ammo Talwar, Chair of UK Music Diversity Taskforce; Mike Chamberlain, Chief Executive of Sport Birmingham; Piero Zizzi, Founder of Proud Baggies and Abigail Shervington, Lead Community Engagement Manager at Birmingham 2022.
The announcement comes as applications to volunteer at Birmingham 2022 will open on 1st June 2021. 13,000 spirited, dedicated and dynamic volunteers are required to be the heartbeat of the Commonwealth Games, and will become a community of passionate people that help deliver the biggest sporting and cultural event the West Midlands has ever seen.
Volunteering at Birmingham 2022 is an opportunity to give something back, inspire a generation and be a part of something special – like the Hometown Heroes do every day. Ahead of applications going live, more information on the volunteer criteria, commitment required, the selection process and training programme can be found at www.birmingham2022.com/volunteering.
On receiving this recognition, Haseebah Abdullah, Hometown Hero and coach at Windmill Boxing Gym, said: “It feels absolutely amazing to have been selected as a Hometown Hero. My aim has always been to provide a service, a home, a safe haven and a platform for equality in my sport and community.
“I’ve fought really hard to earn my place as a boxing coach, challenging stereotypes and overcoming many barriers. Receiving this recognition proves to me that we should always be the change we wish to see! As a coach I will continue to dedicate my time to create positive noise, break down barriers, accommodate different needs and be a driving force for equality and participation.”
Matt Windle, professional boxer and former Birmingham Poet Laureate, said: “I know how important it is to be surrounded by supportive people – those that will always have your best interests at heart – when it comes to training at a local club. A coach that champions the players will also be providing a place where people can come together, feel safe, build friendships, and gain an appreciation for healthy discipline.
“The Birmingham 2022 Hometown Heroes are the type of people that set up the pitch in the pouring rain or are a shoulder to cry on when you didn’t win your competition – and without these – grassroots sport just wouldn’t be the same. It was my absolute pleasure to dedicate a spoken word poem to these 14 individuals – they are fully deserving of this recognition.”
Ian Reid, CEO of Birmingham 2022, added: “I’m in awe of our 14 Hometown Heroes. Their generosity to their club, whether that’s giving up their time or just being a listening ear, is inspiring. Birmingham 2022 promises to be the Games for Everyone, and whilst it’ll be an event that brings together the best athletes in the world, we are also aiming to inspire the next generation. Shining the spotlight on these devoted individuals will no doubt encourage participation in sport and physical activity across the West Midlands.”
For more information and to read the individual stories, visit Hometown Heroes.