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ClimbMuz: why are inclusive spaces important?

words by Yasmin Centeno

A safe space for minority groups

I do not identify as being Muslim but I was raised Muslim both in the UK and in Malaysia. I am an ethnic minority and a woman in a male dominated industry at work. The sports I tend to enjoy are also male dominated. There are so many avenues to go down with this article, the difficulties being Muslim in the UK, the perception of being a Muslim woman as being disenfranchised of free will or I could go more broad and talk about the difficulties of being a woman in a male dominated sport like climbing. The list could go on but let’s focus on the need for a safe space for minority groups in climbing.

Colour Up

I regularly climb with a group called Colour Up in Bristol. The premise of the group is to encourage ethnic minorities in Bristol to try climbing in an inclusive space. Having moved from London, where frankly I felt more comfortable being an ethnic minority to Bristol which is far less diverse and aware of its own inequalities; I was so tempted to pack my bags and move back to London.

That was until I found Colour Up. So much of what ethnic minorities in the UK face is being seen as different. It seems to be the human condition to see differences rather than similarities, it’s how we define ourselves and organise ourselves. Being non-White British, we are from a different culture, we eat different food, we look different, we speak different languages: therefore we are just different and feel unfamiliar and unknown.

Being amongst the unfamiliar and unknown is uncomfortable and therefore we are seeing British society and politics become insular and popularist. For a lot of us, especially for those who have never lived overseas, the decision is either we assimilate to not be different or we fight to find a space to keep some of what makes us unique. For people like me I know there is no other choice but to accept that I am different and may not be accepted for that by everyone. The fact that this is the fate I am stuck with by the choices that were made by my grandparents and parents is sometimes outright depressing but when I go back to Malaysia, I realise… they all left for a reason!
For me, it’s hard to not talk about something without getting fully involved and talking myself down a rabbit-hole. I feel there is undiscussed xenophobia in Bristol towards people that look like me and that can often leave me feeling unwanted. I don’t always want to talk about my feelings of not belonging here amongst my peers but I want to be in a community that somehow gets it. We sometimes talk about that feeling of discontent and isolation and sometimes we just climb and focus on the problem (boulder) at hand. Colour Up has not just become my climbing group, they have become my social group and my support group during some tough times.

Talk Club

There is an amazing charity in Bristol that is advertised at Redpoint’s cafe called Talk Club which is a talking and listening club for men. They also offer sports clubs, similar to ColourUp and ClimbMuz. It helps men find a space to talk about their mental health in a safe space. The idea that sport is therapy is not because you release endorphins when you exert yourself. Sport brings people from all walks of life together to participate in something we have in common. Seeing a group of brown people doing the same things as the majority of people makes us seem not that different. Between climbs we would have random chats on the boulder mats and if you ever overhead us you’d realise we all have dating woes, annoying housemates or an irritating colleague at work. But we also can talk about how we
feel, we talk about the shit days and the good days and we club together when we need to and we celebrate together too.

ClimbMuz is a very similar space and I felt so welcome when I climbed with them in October. The first thing they did was compliment my tattoo which I thought they would be a bit sceptical of. From such negative experiences in Malaysia: I strayed from Islam mainly because of how I felt religion was being forced upon me, not by my own parents but by Malaysian society. Being Muslim was apart of what it entailed to be Malay but also my religion (even now) is stated on my ID as being Islam and Shariah law can be applied to me. It also influenced the company I keep in Malaysia, I have no Malay friends and I don’t really communicate with my mum’s extended family outside the pleasantries because of that fear of judgement of being a ‘bad muslim’ and by defacto a bad person.

In all honesty, we climbed together, we did not talk about anything to do with religion or anything particularly deep. Bethwall has enough corner climbs to hurt your brain. But it made me remember that Islam is a tolerant religion. The women I met at ClimbMuz are tolerant and inclusive; they welcomed me with open arms. When I think of my parents, I see them as tolerant people. More importantly, Islam is a way of life that they choose to follow in the same way that I choose not to follow the Islamic way of life for myself. When you see a Muslim woman with a hijab crushing it at Bethwall, she is just as psyched as everyone else there, she is a strong woman making a free choice to express herself and I think ClimbMuz is a space that encourages that self expression in a familiar context.

This is why spaces like ClimbMuz are important.

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Road to ClimbMuz: finding my voice

From a young age I had my heart set on doing extraordinary things.

I never thought it would be being the face of a community group. There are many reasons for this, I grew up with an overt stammer which impacted me speaking in front of people. I was always too afraid to put my hand up in class or do any form of public speaking. I would become incredibly nervous if someone called out my name to speak, I was afraid that people would laugh at me and most of the time when I was growing up that did happen. There were some people around me who did not give me the space I needed to speak and questioned why I spoke the way I did. 

Over the years I have worked hard to try and find my voice and ClimbMuz has been the biggest game changer for this because I support and represent each and every single person who comes to the events.

Speaker: Kendal Mountain Festival

On the 19th November, I spoke in front of a larger crowd of people at the Kendal Mountain Festival. I did not think about this until I got there and saw the hall that I was speaking in. I immediately felt incredibly nervous at speaking in front of a big crowd and wondering if I will be able to be eloquent enough to express all that I needed for ClimbMuz. We did a rehearsal which was a surreal experience and I waited whilst the crowds gathered. We were up first and I was super proud to see the Adidas clip being played in front of a crowd of people.

During the talk as I was speaking I made a conscious effort at times to look at the crowd whilst I spoke to  create a sense of engagement with the people in the audience. The response from people was great and I had people approach Shareena and I about how they felt inspired about the things we were saying.

For ClimbMuz and I it is an ongoing learning curve.

There are three main challenges I have faced and worked towards overcoming  since starting the group:


 My anxiety about no one turning up to the session for the past 15 months has been incredibly real and trying to reframe what success looks like in terms of numbers is something that I have to constantly have to redefine and work towards.


Being accountable. All that I see, post and do is my responsibility and sometimes I second guess whether or not I have said the right thing but ultimately I am learning, even if it’s in a very public space.


 It’s time. Recently, I’ve been trying to manage my own mental wellbeing with family, work and ClimbMuz and realising that I need to get the balance right. At times I have no choice but to show up in certain aspects of my life because that role requires me to and that takes a lot of strength.


Read Siddrah’s ClimbMuz blogs to date…

The Road to ClimbMuz

ClimbMuz is an initiative to get more Muslim women into climbing. Organised meets create an inclusive space for women to try out indoor climbing and meet like minded friends. We learn about how this group began.

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The Road to ClimbMuz

Siddrah introduces us to her new intiative to get more Muslim women into indoor climbing and how ClimbMuz was born.

I started climbing in my early 20’s when a friend introduced me to Mile End Climbing wall. While they never went back I continued climbing on and off throughout the years. I spent a long time climbing by myself, I did feel self- conscious not because I felt I needed representation but because I felt as though in my mind I was being judged for being scared, I have a huge fear of falling so it took me about 8 years to reach the top of a V0. I enjoyed climbing so I would always go back.

Years later I went to a Muslim meetup social event.

A group of us started climbing socially once a week, it did not occur to me how we were a group of Muslims in a majority white environment, I did not think about representation. I just accepted it as part of the norm. We stopped climbing as a group, ‘life happens’ and I as usual carried on climbing, making more climbing friends, this time around the majority of them were from the white community. I was proud of myself for being in this environment. I became comfortable being a minority as it was aiding my growth.  Also, on the other side a small part of me never really understood why people needed familiarity, someone who looks like them. If someone wants to try climbing, why not just turn up. I hadn’t realised how much of a barrier lack of inclusivity and representation is for many people.

On the 18th of June 2020 I had a conversation with someone about being a minority on the climbing wall…

“I’m used to being the only minority amongst people I climb with, I’m okay with that as the people who inspire me are beautiful souls. I personally don’t feel like I need representation.I grew up in a very desi (a person of Indian, Pakistani, or Bangladeshi birth or descent who lives abroad) high population of ethnic minorities, for me having non South Asian friends who don’t climb has given me the opportunity to mix in with people and learn from other backgrounds that are not my own. That includes people from the white community. Hanging around with my white climbing friends moves me out of my comfort zone and broadens my experiences.”

I then realised that perhaps the lack of diversity in the climbing walls was down to lack of representation.

I wanted to make a change. My journey in all of this involved having conversations with people, tuning into Louis Parkinson’s takeover Tuesday stories and actually realising that not everyone feels comfortable or has the confidence to be a minority in a predominantly white environment. For some, seeing someone in climbing walls who has a disability, who is a visible Muslim or from a minority background might provide some comfort in that space. It will give them the confidence to take up climbing as a sport if they have the representation that they need.

I want everyone to feel comfortable in trying something new

Creating a inclusive, welcome space using events was the way I felt I could make a difference. It was in June of this year that I approached friends about spreading the word and increasing diversity in climbing walls, then at the beginning of July, ClimbMuz happened. I run groups at my local climbing wall and offer places to Muslim women who have never stepped foot in a climbing wall before. I have always been reluctant to be visible on social media primarily because it can come with a lot of unwanted attention, undesirable comments and trolls. However, alongside all of that there is the opportunity to create something truly magical, to inspire a whole new group of people, to try and tip the balance, which I believe far exceeds the negative.

To find out more about Siddrah and ClimbMuz – visit her on instragram, @Climbmuz and keep an eye out for upcoming events.