Saleema Imam 1941 - 2023

Saleema Imam Sheffield permaculture diploma Isle of Man Rod Everett Barbara Bristow Angus Soutar

Saleema Florence Imam was born in 1941 in the Graves Park area of Sheffield. Soon after, the family moved to Heeley and then to Pittsmoor, which is where her mother came from. She lived in Pitsmoor for the rest of her life. After raising her family, she took on a career as tutor with Sheffield College, responsible for recruiting, training and supporting language tutors working with learners unable to attend classes. She had a continual interest in various crafts using recycled or found materials. Her permaculture "career", accelerated by her retirement from formal education, is outlined in our tributes below. She died in August this year, after a short illness.

Memories of Saleema

Barbara Bristow - Greave House Farm Trust

I heard about Saleema long before I ever met her. I worked in the area where she lived – Pitsmoor in Sheffield and I often heard about the various community projects and initiatives she was always setting up or getting involved with.

It must have been around 2004/5 when I saw that she was running an Introduction to Permaculture Weekend. I booked on to it and also persuaded a young woman from the housing project where I worked to come along with me. I don’t think I had ever heard of permaculture before. A whole new world of endless possibilities opened up for me and for the first time in years I was enthused and inspired by something new that I was learning about. That was the first time I met Saleema and in 2006 I went on to complete my Permaculture Design Course run jointly by Saleema and Angus Soutar.

In 2008 myself, hubby and two friends bought a retired dairy farm in Stocksbridge and started to establish our care farm Greave House Farm Trust using permaculture principles and supporting adults with learning disabilities and autism. I think Saleema might have played her part in it down but really, I don’t think it would ever have happended without her influence and inspiring life. She became a regular volunteer on the monthly work days and the two of us went on to run a Permaculture Design Course together and also hosted other courses led by Angus including diploma weekends.

Saleema in the Greave House Farm Polytunnel
In the polytunnel at Greave House Farm

About fifteen years after that first Permaculture weekend, I bumped into the young woman I had taken with me. She was now a mother of two with her own house and I felt so moved when she told me that the weekend we both met Saleema for the first time had inspired her so much, that she became a very enthusiastic gardener, growing lots of her own food and passing on her passion to her two young children. There will be so many people with similar stories of how Saleema inspired and encouraged them to make a difference in the world. Thank you Saleema for the legacy you have left behind from living a life based on Earth Care, People Care and Fair Shares for all.

A life well-lived

Angus Soutar - Permaculture Institute of North Britain

Saleema in the Isle of Man
Saleema at the Permaculture Design Course, Native Oak Group, Isle of Man

I first met Saleema at one of the many permaculture get-togethers that happen up and down the country. It was at least 20 years ago: I cannot recall exactly when and where because, wherever permaculture was, there was a good chance that we would see Saleema. She was one of those folk who was always there. We were both enthusiastic supporters of the Permaculture Association (Britain) and although we lived on opposite sides of the Pennines, that counted as pretty "local" in those days.

In the early days of permaculture our meetings were full of "characters". Some of those pioneers turned out to be here-today-gone-tomorrow types, but Saleema was a steady presence right up to the end of her long life. All the time I knew her, she was not fully mobile which only emphasised the respect that our little community had for her perseverence and her committment.

As well as a common interest in regeneration, we both had a great affection for Sheffield (I had lived there for a while as a young man when the city was in its heyday). After a while, we did the Bill Mollison thing: Saleema had enough of networking and decided that the "work-netting" had to begin. That's when she recruited me to lead a permaculture design certificate course in Burngreave. I jumped to the chance of spending more time in Sheffield and found myself in the Ashram cafe attempting to deliver the course amidst the comings and goings of local activists.

I discovered that Saleema was already a figure of some renown in her neighbourhood. When the Ashram was unavailable, we would "repair" to the Recycle Shop down the road (opoposite the Kashmir Curry Centre). This was an Alladin's cave of re-used and re-purposed items and another of Saleema's local projects. It was a bit cramped doing the course in between the shelves and displays of recovered resources, but I felt really at home there. Both Saleema and I had grown up in the shadow of World War 2 and had a shared experience of post-war austerity and the "make do and mend" spirit. (The last e-mail I ever got from Saleema carried one of her favourite strap lines: "waste not want not".)

At home in Pitsmoor, Sheffield Saleema garden
Pitsmoor in the sunshine Saleema's Pitsmoor plant nursery

That Burngreave PDC had great students and Saleema organised everything, as usual, with consumate ease. The same happened again in 2010 when we ran another design course, this time hosted by Babs Bristow in the cowshed of the newly-acquired Greave House Farm. That was another project that Saleema supported steadfastly until she could no longer travel.

As well as her tireless work on community projects in Pittsmoor and Burngreave, Saleema provided great support to permaculture training further afield. We both found ourselves supporting the permaculture design course on the Isle of Man at Mil Millichap's Native Oak Group site near Ramsey. These courses were led by the permaculture legend Rod Everett. At the 2007 course, together we stacked in a session which was Saleem's permaculture diploma presentation, which turned out to be a bit of a masterclass with everyone following every word.

Saleema Imam Isle of Man Saleema Imam Diploma
Saleema's Permaculture diploma presentation Isle of Man, 2007 Mill Millichap (host) behind Saleema
Saleema holds the attention of the design course group Angus Soutar (behind the camera) presiding

Another year on the Isle of Man, Saleema was at the centre of a drama when a nearby crop fire jumped the Native Oak fire-break and devastated the site with nearly everyone there losing all their equipment and posessions. People were running in front of the advancing fire to get through the hedge to the safety of a neighbouring pond. Somehow some of the youngsters managed to bundle Saleema, still replete with walking stick, through the hedge to sancturay. Although I was not there, I knew Saleema and I knew the hedge and I even knew some of the bundlers. I can easily construct the scene. It was a tribute to everyone involved that no-one was injured.

Saleema Imam Isle of Man Saleema Imam on Isle of Man
Crafts on site at The Native Oak Group Getting away from it all - fresh air on the Isle of Man
Saleema Imam diploma certificate Saleema Imam Diploma
Award ceremony at Permaculture Association (Britain) Saleema with the PAB board
Graham Burnett grinning in the background Flanked by Andy Goldring (co-ordinator) and Martine Drake (chair)

As time went on, Saleema became a valued advisor and mentor to us at the Northern Schhool and also at the Permaculture Institute of North Britain where she served on the accreditation panel. She was the kind of person who had a positive impact on those around her and the community as a whole. During the dark days of the pandemic in 2020, she would join in enthusiastically as our activities were forced on-line and her encouragement would keep us going as the world seemed to deteriorate around us.

Post-pandemic, we both struggled with the technology that is supposed to make life easier and facilitate remote working, and our partnership began to run down and travel became more difficult, but there was one project that kept us working together. Already an enthusiastic contributor for her neighbourhood newsletter, the Burgreave Messenger, she started writing a column for Northern Edge. It is comforting to have some of her work to re-visit now that she is gone. But it is her spirit and her inspiration that will persist as the years go on.

Saleema saw, sooner than most, the threats to Mother Nature and to our communities that result from the excesses of our modern way of life. She knew that the right reaction to a culture of "fast and short-lived" was careful, slow and local action. She could apply her considrable life experience to new situations, knowing what to leave behind as changes were faced, and knowing what to hold dear and protect from thoughtless onslaughts.

As well as her extensive and talented family, she leaves behind a legacy to the wider world. She lives on in the projects, like Greave House Farm and our Institute, that she inspired and supported. Rather than leaving us seeking "solutions" to the world's problems, we can follow her lead and nurture her legacy of love and care that will be the power that takes us all forward.

Saleema having a ride
Saleema on site at Middlewood
Chaffeur: Rod Everett

Permaculture Motoring