The power of netball: Shaharun’s story

48-year-old Shaharun Nessa is a mother of seven who suffered with severe post-natal depression, to the extent that her condition required significant doses of anti-depressants. As part of her treatment, Shaharun’s doctor recommended that she begin taking regular walks, and during one of her strolls in a local park in Birmingham, Shaharun came across a Back to Netball taster session being run by England Netball Community Coach Val Thomas, who encouraged her to take part with some other passers-by.

It was the first time Shaharun had picked up a netball since school, but that was all it took to get her hooked….

She said: ‘From the moment I picked up that netball in the park my cheeks began to ache from smiling, I got an amazing buzz out of it. It helped me to imagine feeling fit and happy again. I instantly felt a part of the group and didn’t want to give up that feeling, the only problem was I was having to travel to different sessions as there wasn’t one nearby me, so attendance began to become a challenge.

As part of my day job as an interpreter, I began to identify many other women in my local community who I felt would really benefit from netball and enjoy it as much as I do too. The types of ladies I often meet are very vulnerable as they don’t speak English so they are deprived of much contact with other people and don’t have access to mental health support, so I started to think about starting my own Back to Netball session.

It wasn’t easy at first, as many of the women in my community cover up for religious or cultural reasons so we needed a space that was for women only so that everyone would feel at ease. So, I lobbied to the Saltley Wellbeing Centre in Birmingham and gained their agreement to run a session once a week, which was cordoned off for women only and boarded up so that we could all just enjoy some netball with women from all different backgrounds who felt more comfortable in that environment.  

I told my friends and family in the community about it and those that I met through work, the local school and mosque, and just through word of mouth 35 women from different backgrounds all came together to enjoy netball at my first session!

I began to struggle running it myself and knew I needed to bring in some help as I wasn’t a qualified coach. So I relentlessly tried to track down and rope in Val who had first introduced me to Back to Netball, and with her help we continued to run the sessions, set up a club with two teams, entered a Women’s Only Netball League, and helped a number of women that attended to gain coaching and umpiring qualifications, so that they could continue to give more ladies the chance to play this wonderful sport.

Since we began on this journey, we have managed to encourage more than 80 women to come through the Back to Netball programme. My intention has always been to help vulnerable women who were in a similar position to me to get involved in some form of physical activity, so I am pleased we have already managed to get so many people involved. I hope that by spotting me on the front cover of this magazine many more women who may perhaps cover up in some way, or feel unsure/ uncomfortable about trying out a new form of physical activity, will feel empowered to give it a go.

I can’t begin to explain how much I have benefited from the Back to Netball programme and I want others to truly understand its benefits. At one point my dose of anti-depressants had to be increased and I didn’t want it to be, but counselling and medication still didn’t seem to be working for me, it just made me feel low. However, after just two months of playing netball I started to feel better mentally and was able to lower my dosage. I’m just proof that you can get through it, pull out of it and feel better through physical activity. Even physically I’m seeing benefits, I had a pain in my knee and elbow, which have now completely disappeared. When I play I forget my age and I feel like a teenager, all worries and stress leave me – it’s truly the magic of netball.

 Around my job as an interpreter and my role as a mother of seven, I have found time for myself thanks to this sport – I’ve even begun coaching and will soon be working towards my level 2. I hope to be a role model for others in my community – I’m a mother, I’m a wife, I work and I’m still doing what I love; playing netball. 

I’ve made so many friends and we now go out on socials, we’ve been to see the Vitality Roses play, we grab dinner together and more. I love it!’

Shaharun has been shortlisted for the Unsung Hero Award at the prestigious British Ethnic Diversity Sports Awards, which take place on Saturday 6th April, for her outstanding contribution to the sport.

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