For this edition of Hall Green Communities Spotlight On… we met with Rubina Tareen from Smart Women Gym and Community Centre.
Smart Women Gym and Community Centre, or Smart Women CIC for short, was set up in 2012 by Rubina Tareen. The centre is located in the heart of Sparkbrook and supports women from in and around the area with a number of health, wellbeing and training service and activities that seek to empower the women who take part. The centre boasts a number of brilliant facilities, including a gym, classrooms, beauty parlour, sewing room and meetings spaces, The centre is ran by Rubina and her team of volunteers whose work seeks to help women to reach their full potential.
Helping others has always been in Rubina’s nature and from an early age she found that family members in crisis would call on her for help and advice whilst she was growing up in Pakistan. Many of these requests for support were related to issues facing her community in day-to-day life, and although she has a degree in law Rubina explains that “what I do you cannot learn through studying, if you really want to help and support people you just have to do it and learn from real life.” The time that Rubina spent supporting her family and wider community in Pakistan would teach her valuable skills in grassroots community work that would help her in the development of Smart Women CIC.
In 2003 Rubina moved from Pakistan to Birmingham and had intended to take a break from community work to focus on married life whilst her husband obtained his degree. But not long after settling in Birmingham Rubina realised her helping nature had not gone away and that the skills she had developed in Pakistan could support women in her new home. From 2003 to 2011 Rubina volunteered for local organisations, colleges and community centres in a variety of roles, working to support others and working through her own challenges: “when I started volunteering I was new to the country and their was a language barrier but I overcame it and started to support others in similar circumstances to my own”.
Rubina’s community work during those years meant she developed strong local knowledge and an understanding of some of the needs and gaps in community activities for residents in the Sparkhill and Sparkbrook areas. In particular, one strong need that Rubina recognised through her work was for a place locally for women in the area to meet, chat and take part in activities. After providing voluntary support for other groups in the area for many years, Rubina used her savings to invest in Smart Women’s Sparkbrook base and began developing the gym and community centre that is a thriving hub today Smart Women’s central location is important for engaging local women into support, including those who may be initially reluctant to get involved with activities, as Rubina explains “because we are in a central location near schools, Temples and Mosques it means that women can find out about us and then start coming to us when they are going about their daily life.”
Many women who access support from Rubina and her team of volunteers at Smart Women start by joining the gym and attending fitness classes. As they get more comfortable the women start to hang around after their workouts and begin chatting to other attendees and forming friendships and organic support networks. This is the heart of the work Rubina does, brining women together.
Like many grassroots community organisation’s Rubina kept working throughout the first Coronavirus lockdown and used her local knowledge to support those in need “I knew that there were people in need very early into the lockdown; people needed help with their shopping, with prescriptions and also they needed someone to talk to. I knew straight away how I could help.” Utilising grant opportunities from Hall Green Early Help and the Hall Green Neighbourhood Network Scheme to help support some of her work Rubina worked tirelessly to ensure that key coronavirus safety messages reached the diverse communities living in Sparkbrook
and Sparkhill and helping people experiencing crisis as a result of the pandemic.
Rubina has no plans on slowing down and plans to continue her community work, “we want to engage hard to reach women and create a space for them to get the help and support they need to become independent and empowered. We are ran by women for women and want this to continue”
We would like to thank Rubina for her time – to find out more about Smart Women and their services please contact the team on email@example.com.