Salma Bi Bem

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Alongside working as a nurse at a local hospital here in Birmingham, Salma has spent the last 15 years devoting her time to making grassroots sport, especially cricket, a much more inclusive space for women.  

After moving to the UK from Pakistan at the age of 4, Salma faced both cultural and family resistance when it came to playing cricket. Her determination to make a difference has resulted in over 1,000 local girls getting involved in sports.

Discover what it takes to get women interested and passionate about grassroots sport. Plus, Salma tells us how on earth she fits it all in! 

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Alumni Podcasts

Discover the incredible journeys of BCU alumni in our captivating podcast series. Join us as we delve into their diverse experiences, successes, and lessons learned, offering inspiring insights into the world beyond graduation.

Alumni Podcasts

Hello and welcome to BCU’s Alumni podcast. I'm Bethan from BCU’s Alumni Team. And in each episode we welcome a different member of the BCU alumni community back onto campus to find out what they've been up to since they graduated. Today, we're joined by Salma B, a Nursing graduate who has changed the face of grassroots sport here in Birmingham, alongside working as a nurse at a local hospital here in Birmingham, where she provides care for acute and chronic kidney failure, Salma has spent the last 15 years devoting her time to making grassroots sport, especially cricket, a much more inclusive space for women.

After moving to the UK from Pakistan at the age of four, Salma faced both cultural and family resistance when it came to playing sport. But now she has helped over a thousand local girls to get involved with grassroots sport. She founded the first all Asian women's cricket team and went on to become one of the few female Asian umpires here in the UK.

Salma was also a senior cricket coach, the director of a sports company, and she has even played at county level for the likes of Worcestershire and Northamptonshire. In 2020, Salma was awarded a British Empire Medal in the New Year's honors for services to Cricket and Diversity in Sport. And last year she was awarded Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games Hometown Hero as well.

In this episode, we're going to discover what it takes to get women interested and passionate about grassroots sport. Find out more about Salma’s inspiring journey so far and also question how on earth she manages to fit it all in. Salma, thanks so much for coming into the studio today.

So when was the last time you were on a busy campus then?

I think 2006. So one I passed my assignments. I didn't look back because I said that’s it, that’s the end now. Well done, Salma, and let's hope we our results so we can graduate. So yeah, to be honest, I didn't come back because I thought I would have done a bit more study days.

But I kid you not, you know, I did six months of the Orthopaedic course, so that was nice. I enjoyed the Operating Department Practitioner course, so I did that for six months while I was waiting for my PIN number. So yeah, 2006 between 2007. While I'm waiting for my PIN number and hoping I'm going to get my job as a nurse. It was nice to come back and do that bit of extra course for the skills. So yeah, that's achieved a bit more credit as well. But yeah, still it was the same because a lot of my friends had got jobs by then, so they moved on. But yeah, it's been lovely that I’ve popped in today. It's brought back a lot of memories.

Yeah, I suppose it's really different now.

Oh yeah, it's cool. I mean, they've got a gym. We didn't have a gymnasium before, so these guys are really lucky.

That's good. So let's rewind the clock then. You were the first one in your family to go to university. You know, very similar to many BCU students and graduates. You arrived back in 2006. So, what was it that actually inspired you to study nursing in the first place?

Well, it it's my mum. When she passed away, I was only nine years old, so I just remember knowing that my mum passed away as I grew older, thinking life is so short. But was this something that I could have done for my mum? And I remember looking back at her death certificate and thinking, Oh, she passed away with fibroids and there was a lot of other complications. She, she basically passed away in the recovery room. And I'd always had this in my mind that even though I had the passion for law, I always saw myself working in the hospital. So I thought, No, it's something I want to give back to the community, something that I want to do. So maybe one day my mum can look and say, Well, I'm proud of my daughter, she's working in a hospital. So yeah, I just had this passion that I wanted to work in the hospital. I didn't know what as, but I just wanted to be in the field. And then nursing came about. I liked the idea of it.


I've got two brothers that are autistic, so I've seen them go to schools of learning disability. So again, when I did get in to the nursing course, it was through Clearing. So I got in. I remember having my interview over the phone and then I was offered the placement for Learning Disability for the first year and I said, Yeah, why not? I'm going to take it on because I've got that experience and I've seen it at home and it's nice that I want to take up this course. But I do remember not mentioning it to anyone in my family. I remember not telling my dad. I thought, I don't know if he's going to let me go to university because I would be the first to even mention university in this household.


And I've got two older siblings that got settled down really early. So I thought, Do I want to have this life? I know one day I will want to settle down, I want to have my own family. But it's a cycle that will just keep on repeating. But what am I doing for myself? What do I have to show for myself? And there’s opportunities out there. We've come to this country. I was only four years old. My dad worked hard, but I wish that if he was a bit more educated, we would have had more prospects out there. So I felt like, No, I know I've got to put my foot down. There's a lot of things that I will deal with. I have to prove it to him that, you know, you never see an education is actually really good for you. I remember getting the offer, the start date, and telling my dad, “could you drop me off to university tomorrow?” I couldn't drive at that time. And he was like, “what? what university?” And I was like, “Look, I'm going to tell you, it's nursing. There might be more females anyway on this course and this is the campus I'm going to.”


So I'm trying to make it as easy for him. And then he just had to give it a good thought. And then the next day he did drop me off. And since then I didn't look back and I thought I met great people on the course. I met people of all ages from all walks of life. And I thought, Wow, this is the opportunity for me to take, and it opened doors for my other siblings. My other brother, he went on to do accounting. My younger sister is now a grammar school teacher. My niece is graduating next week from the same campus.


As a social worker. So it's lovely to see that we've done that. I've created that trail for them to follow.

Absolutely. So I guess can you tell me about what it is that you do at the hospital then and how you help patients.

Yeah, I'm a sister on the dialysis unit. It's the main dialysis unit in acute setting at UHB Heartlands Hospital. I love every minute of it. I've been there 14 years. It can get busy at times, but it's great. It's great how you manage things. I think you take that initiative, you learn those skills and you help your colleagues and it's something that we enjoy every day because it's very hands-on. We're looking after patients who've got kidney failure, so they're coming in four-three times a week or even more to have the dialysis completed, which is removing their fluid and having their blood cleaned.


So it's a lot of needles, a lot of dialysis machines, but it's amazing. I mean, we are very nurse-led, so we're not hanging around for doctors to sign off or any bits and bobs. But we're very like, yes, we'll get on with it and the doctor will come later. So I've loved every minute of it. I've worked all over the community as well. So we go around, and rotate two of the smaller satellite units. But this is where my base is and I've enjoyed it. And then I'm hoping that I can go on and do a band seven course and work in the transplant field.

Okay, So cricket then is a huge part of your life. What got you interested in cricket in the first place then? And also how does it feel to now be known as this, you know, grassroots cricket champion?

Growing up, my dad, my brother, are playing in the garden as they do, watching cricket on TV. We supported Pakistan. A lot of the games that we were watching, you know, had men playing. I just loved it, loved playing out in the garden. And I remember watching Australian spin bowler, Shane Warne, Bowling and I was like, There's something that I love doing. I'm just practicing it and thinking, Yeah, it's just something that gets me away from a lot of the stress in life and a lot of the hardships, and it was nice that it's something that you can be free and open about and enjoy at the same time. And it was, it was a really good, healthy lifestyle for us. I mean, my dad played Kabaddi, which is also like judo, so he played that in Pakistan and he grew up bringing all these medals home and these trophies. So we knew that there was a lot of camaraderie with him and it was nice to see that he had that competition in his blood.


We wanted to follow on. My brothers, they played a bit of cricket, but my one brother, he didn't follow it through to county level. I played cricket up till when I was at the girls school and I remember being selected from the county coach and they offered me trials for Warwickshire and I've never played for a club at this time. I didn't have any kit with me so it was a change in the cycle where I had to make up for all these things that I've missed all these training sessions that I couldn't commit to because my parents couldn't drop me off or they didn’t have the means to with supporting me. So it was a big change. I mean, at that time when I was telling my dad, okay, I'm not going to be playing cricket only in school can I be playing on the weekends? It made him think and worry a bit and think, “no, no, it's not for you. And really, is this something that you can get a career out of? It's not going to pay.”


“It's going to cost us a lot of money. And if you can't do it, don't do it.”. So, it was one of those where I was missing a lot of training sessions. I didn't make it easy for myself. So when I did try for Warwickshire, I wasn't selected, which was understandably the right way for me to go. But it was a learning curve because when I did join a cricket club in Evesham, the coach was picking and dropping me off, so that helped me a lot.


And when I was there I met some great people. The girls were like family because we trained twice a week and then we played on a Sunday and we got on so well we just didn't see any way out of it. And it was nice. I was learning from the younger players and I was, as one of the senior players, I took that leadership where I was taking wickets every weekend and I even started playing for the men's team. So wherever I had an opportunity to play cricket, I did it.


I did so much where I went to trial for Worcestershire. I missed the first two trial dates and I went in for the last trial date and that's where I was selected. So I thought, Wow, you know, this is something I've just achieved. And I remember having that phone call made to me to say, “you've been selected for the county side.” And in that same year, I hate to 2009, I also was shortlisted for the British Asian Sports Awards, London Hilton and Denice Lewis came up to me and said to me “Salma, you were on the panel and I was one of the judges and I really, really fought for you because I wanted you to get this award. And I'm grateful that you have achieved it today because you've just achieved the Outstanding Achievement Award for Women in Sport. But I would like you to carry on doing the sports that you do and carry on sport, and carry on supporting the girls around you.”. It was the same night where I got to see Amir Khan, the boxer, and he had these Olympic medals at that time, and he won an award that way. And I felt like I could compare my life to his where we've just started off in our careers.


And it's people out there when at a time when I was playing for Worcestershire, I wasn't always selected for games. And I was at a point where I felt like even though I'm battling at home with my parents saying, No, no, cricket is good for me and I'm going to go out there and achieve something. When I was going to my games, I was on the bench. It was so hard because I couldn't really come back and tell them because it was just an easy option for them to say, “well, you know, we told you it's not good for you, so there's no point. Why are you playing? You're wasting your time.” I couldn't tell them and I just had to keep it in. And I didn't make many friends at the county side. So it was it was something that I had to face. It was a struggle that was I set myself out for. But by getting this award, I thought, Wow, you know what I need to do for other people out there? Because if I give up now, then what have I left for this to follow? And I believe that there is something out there for me, because there's a reason why I've come out here to play my cricket. So come to the Cricket grass roots championship. That really came when I realised, yes, I want to do more for others. So I've played for the MCC now. I've had the privilege to play at Lord's. We've played against teams like Hong Kong, Japan, we've gone all over the country, and I've got to play alongside Ex-England players, even like the likes of Sue Redfern, who's an umpire now, so inspired me to do my coaching courses and do my umpiring course. I mean, I did a ten-week course where I was the only female on the course, but it was still nice. It was nice that I'm doing something that was different. I'm going to create this legacy that no one has done before. I would turn heads as the brown girl in the team and I thought rather than take it as a weakness, make it as my strength, that I'm different. I'm bringing something different to the play. And why no, why am I not allowed to be doing anything like anyone else's? And yet I'm not privileged. I've I couldn't afford my kit at times. Even membership was difficult to pay for, but it was my nursing that helped me to pay off a lot of the games and the travel costs I had over the years.


So it's nice that I had a job. I started driving, I had my independence and then I went and enjoyed my cricket a bit more because I had something to pay off with and it was at the same time nobody to say, “well, we helped you along the way” because if nobody did support me, it's fine. It was my path to take and I got my younger sisters involved. They went on to play 11-a-side footballers as well. And then, my younger sister, she went and played for Warwickshire, so it's nice to see that they were following my footsteps. And yeah, so when we, I became a coach, I also got to meet a girl that I was playing five side football in Lozelles and she's an Ex-England goalkeeper. So Gemma and me decide to sit down and we thought, okay, “Gemma, I want to host an event. I want to get more girls playing sports that we've enjoyed, but we didn't have the chance to go to these events where we growing up. So how did we do this?” And she said, “well, Salma, I have a community interest company. I'm not really doing much with it. Do you want to come on board as a director?” And I said, “yes, because I have all the ideas. Let's get together, let's do it.” The first event that we set was the football event, and it was like a ten hour record of girls playing football for five side football for 10 hours.


It was a crazy idea, but it was also inspired by a tournament that happened in Brazil. So we thought, okay, let's put it out there, let's promote it. Would girls join? And girls from Wales, Manchester, London, people travelled and came to events because it was free. It was because they had kit on the day, they had food and drinks available to them and they all went home with medals. So it was it was a win for all.


And it was about just getting girls to turn up and play sports. We did the ten-hour record, we did twenty hours, then we did the T10 Cricket World Cup. One of the events was hosting it for all men and even the men. And the feedback was we couldn't tell if it was a female-led or a male-led event, but you guys just pulled it off because we can see the passion that you have for your sport. You are letting other people take that step and get involved. So it's brilliant to see. I mean, last year, inspired by the 100, I've been doing the 50 Ball event and I did it for the girls and it was it was brilliant to see that the girls at Moseley enjoyed every minute of it. This year there's a company that would like us to host the event outside of Birmingham, so we're looking forward to doing that. I mean, with all of these events over the years and then having all these national awards and over time, it's been brilliant. I mean, that's where it was the icing on top to receive the British Empire Medal for the 2012 Queen's Honors. And lastly, I've enjoyed being one of the hometown heroes as an ambassador for the Commonwealth Games.


So that's where my cricket team comes from. So I believe that it was a step that I had to take to show my dad that I can do something in my life. And a lot of my family members or my cousins would say to my dad, We heard your daughter on the radio, we seen her in the papers at first he would worry, what would they say, how they see things. But because they were applauding what I've achieved. He then took it in and thought, “wow, you know what? My daughter has done some amazing things out there in the community and whatever she's doing, she knows what she's doing. So I'm going to let you carry on.” So, yeah, since then, I've not really looked back.

So you've helped so many local girls and girls across the UK. You even founded the first All Asian Women's cricket team. I mean that in itself is a huge achievement. So what was that like for you and also those in the team to feel like, you know, you were making a real mark on history?

It was a good friend of mine. She's in Yorkshire, so she approached me and said, “Salma, this is what we want to do. And it's a game against the army. We want to do an annual thing, but we want to do an AJ a team. Why can't we find 11 players from the BAME community to come in one team for me and from all over the country and you are the perfect person for me to go to.” So I said, okay, leave it with me, let's get to it. So we did like a lot of research. First, we asked a lot of these girls, This is what you want to get involved in. Some girls weren't available, some people didn't meet the criteria. But when you shortlisted, we had these 11 amazing people. It was nice that I was leading the side. And yeah, history was made because we've never had 11 girls, 11 Asian British girls.


To take part in a team together and they've, they've been friends since. So it's good to see that we can pull off something like this and from following on, I've recently played a game for the NACC and I've found that there's more and more girls from the Asian community that are playing cricket. So it's good to see that cricket has come a long way. Cricket has come a long way itself anyway. The crowds are full in stadiums. We're getting more and more spectators. The younger generation are involved in the cricket and you're getting to know these players, even in the England side as a household name. So it's good to see and this is what we want for our kids out there as well.

So what more do you think needs to be done then to get more women and girls interested in sport?

We go back into primary schools and I think that's where it slips out. And I think when I started playing cricket, I started when I was in my late twenties and I felt that I, I missed my time because I remember playing for a game for the MCC and we had an under 16 England selector on my team. So she was also playing a lot of cricket and she was encouraging me really while that day and just telling me all you really, while you're amazing. And then at the end of it she was like, “would you like to play or trial for England?” And I said, Yes, of course I would love to. And she said, “how old are you?”. And I told her 20 something and she said, “Oh dear. I’m an under-16’s selector.”

Oh my God.

She said, “And I thought you, if you're a lot younger and I would have loved to have a spinner to play because you bowling, you were doing all sorts and you would have been a perfect person.” And then it hit me and I thought, Wow, you know, it's a shame that I started off so late because I didn't have those stepping stones to be supported with. The foundation wasn't set for me. My dad didn't know anything about county cricket or club cricket or where to take me, so I missed it. But it's one of those things that I felt like, okay, never mind. I can look at it as a proud moment to know that I was still good enough. I was good enough to have the potential. I was impressing the selector and it was nice to see that something of this could have been be done. But never mind. It's a place for somebody else to get involved. And I think when we go back into schools, this is where we see this younger talent and we want them to get into All Stars or Dynamos cricket a lot sooner because that's where they'll be picked up. Because if you look at the England side, the likes of Sophia Eccles said that these girls are really young, they're still doing their GCSEs, but they're playing for England. So this is what we want to see because they have more expectancy of playing cricket than been starting off in your thirties.


So this is where we go back into schools and encourage the parents to get involved, see that their child has a future and consider sports as a career path. I remember knocking doors for parents and telling them that your daughter is a great player and we would like her to come for county trials or we'll take her for this club next. Could we take her? It's going to be on the evening, but I'm happy to take her. I’m a female coach. I'm Asian. Could you see see it happening? And some of them would like be like, oh, wow, you know, brilliant. You're a coach, you're perfect, you've done it, you've played cricket. You used to make them think twice, but they'd be like, Well, you've done it. So of course my daughter will do it. Some parents would be like, “no, no, my daughter has Mosque to go to”, or “there's other important things to do”. “Why does she need to do something like this? She's doing this at school, but she's got to come home and she's going to be in a safe place and it's got to be at home with all the other siblings”. So it's one of those things where, yes, we would like you to start off a lot sooner than later.

So in 2020, then you received your British Empire medal. That must have been a huge moment for you. What kind of pride did you feel in that moment?

Legacy has been set. It really hit me. Yeah. It made me realise, wow, everything that I've done in my life has not been a waste of time. A lot of people would say, Well, cricket doesn't pay. And yeah, it didn't pay me. I had to pay into it. But I've enjoyed every moment of it. When I look back and I think, Well, would I do that again? Yes, I would. Of course I would, because that was the phase. I had my life that time that nobody else will hand it to me. And now the phase where I have a family of my own and my kids, that is a different phase, but I've enjoyed every minute of it. It's not only given me friends, I've got to see the whole beautiful country. I've got to two different countries and I've got to do some amazing things in my life. And I think that's exceeded my limits that I even set out for. At one time, it was just me being stubborn with my family and saying, “I want to play cricket and that's it. I just love playing sports and it's only about me”. But where the greatest reward was when I was doing it for other people. And I think that's why when I've been given the British Empire Medal for my services to cricket and diversity, it's brilliant to know that a girl from Pakistan, Azad Kashmir in where I'm coming from, nobody has achieved a medal like this.So I'm trying to reflect it to people to see that if I've come to this country, the opportunities that it's given me, please go out there, make most of it, because these are resources that we don't have every day and enjoy it.


And there's so much benefits out there with playing sports, being in education. It's a balance. I had to prove that. “My dad used to think, Well, if you're going to be playing sports, you probably won't even think about your education anymore”. But I had to prove that – “no, I will complete. I would graduate and become a nurse and I will carry on doing my sports”. And it's given me greatness that even today I'm here as a graduate and I'm talking about my sport story and I'm hoping that it inspire other people around me.

So you do so much for the people, obviously.


Obviously in your job, nursing and sport as well. So I guess how do you keep going? I mean, obviously, as you said, you're a parent as well, so how do you keep going and fit it all in and still kind of get up every day and feel really inspired to do everything to everything?

Yeah, I think you've just answered that question for me. I get a kick out of helping others. Honestly, that's just me. I love that about me, that nature. I'm very patient with a lot of things. And I just believe, like I say, life is so short. When we would do events, we will not only be hosting these events for these girls to play, but we will get them to raise funds.

So the likes of Alzheimer's disease, ADHD, so is educating these girls about sports. But there's people out there that can't get out there and play sports. So I'm dealing with patients that are dealing with kidney failures. They've got a body image to deal with. They've got needle phobia, blood, everything going on with them, and they just about get home to sit down and rest. But I can walk out of my job and still go and enjoy the rest of my day. So why not? Why not make the most of who I am and these things are around me and enjoy life and be appreciative for everything that I've have in my life.

So this is something we do every episode. Then a Birmingham quickfire round.

So Blues or Villa?


Would you rather go to Broad Street or Digbeth?

Broad Street.


Yeah. I don't know why. I have grown up having friends there. Yeah. Good memories there. Yeah.


Digbeth is kicking up. Yeah, it's really cool.

Where is your, like, favourite, like Brummie landmark?

I'm going to be really cheeky and say it's New Street where I had my mural.

Oh, of course.

So yeah, it's going to be that place. It's. It's an achievement in itself.

Yeah. And what is your favourite like Brummie word?


I do say to my younger sister quite a bit. So yeah.

It's a classic.

It is. It is.

You've been selected as one of our local heroes this year’s Alumni Festival. So what does that mean to you then?

It's nice. Nice that you've chosen me. I'm honoured. It's good that I'm hoping that I can inspire the audience around me. I'm so excited for the next generation to come forward. It's good to see what’s going on at the campus. And it's already making me feel like “I want to come back. I want to study a bit more” because there's so much goodness that comes out of being an educator and being a student. It's brilliant where education leads you to. So yeah, thank you so much.

And final question then, if you could go back to your very first day here at BCU, what is the one piece of advice you would give yourself?

Don't be so shy. You’re allowed to ask questions. I think I was I was a bit afraid of who I'm going to meet, how I'm going to take it all in. I've just had a bit of a battle with my family at home, telling them I'm going out to the big wide world, but it's not as scary as seems, and everyone has got that, everyone is equal, and deserves to have an opportunity to do what they want in their life. So let them do it.

Salma, thanks so much for by today, and coming onto the podcast, and hope to see you again very soon.

Thank you so much for having me. Thank you.