A safe space created for women of all religious backgrounds to play football in Fulham has seen its attendance more than double since it was set up in December.
Siham Abdullahi, 19, her sister, Sagal Abdullahi, 22, and their friend Sarah Abdulle, 22, decided to launch the Barakah programme after feeling uncomfortable playing football growing up.
The three Muslim women with Somalian heritage set up this grassroots project with the aim of creating more accessible spaces for women from diverse backgrounds to play football in whatever clothing with free sessions on Saturday mornings at Fulham Cross Girls School.
“You’d be conscious of people watching you and sometimes you’d feel uncomfortable with the things that you’d wear. Like wearing trousers when everyone else wears shorts, subconsciously I’d feel left out.”
She would wear trousers and a head covering in line with her faith, however the fear of standing out was always on her mind. The new space allows girls to wear whatever they want without feeling pressured to change.
She added: “There wasn’t a space out there that was fully accessible so we decided to do something about that. We thought why not create this?”
Conversations between the girls sparked the idea of creating free female football sessions and two months into that project, they are going from strength to strength with over 15 girls now attending each session from a range of backgrounds.
With two sessions a week on Saturday mornings for 11-15 year olds and girls over 16, the space empowers females to play the sport they love without compromising on their faith.
Siham said: “What was important for us was to create an environment that was inclusive to the most excluded women and girls and by default it becomes inclusive for all women and girls.”
Girls are now bringing their younger siblings to make the most out of an accommodating space which lets them feel at ease.
Siham added: “People give feedback saying things like ‘wow this is amazing’, and girls are bringing their little sisters along and then saying how much it has inspired them.
“The feedback honestly moves you as it’s more than just people kicking a ball around, it helps so much with the confidence of young girls.”
With funding from Made by Sport and a partnership with LEAF Education, as well as the provision of equipment from Chelsea FC, there is every hope that this could be the beginning of something special that could be replicated across the city.
A recent study by Sports England highlighted that 55.1% of children and young people were failing to meet the current physical activity guidelines.
The term ‘Barakah’ stands for blessing in Arabic and right now, for the female community of Hammersmith & Fulham, these weekly football sessions are precisely that.
Siham concluded: “We chose the name Barakah because we believe that our bodies are a blessing to us and something we should try to take care of through a healthy lifestyle. Unfortunately, many Muslim women do not have access to sports and exercise due to socio-economic reasons but also due to the lack of spaces that fully accommodate for our needs.
“We see our community around us as a blessing and something that should be cultivated as a way to connect to people from all walks of life.”