John Evans introduces the Cardiff-based self-help group and tells us what it gets up to.
The Network (originally called Speech Help Wales) grew out of the BSA Wales and the West Open Day back in 2008, from an idea by founders Jonathan Lloyd and Speech and Language Therapist (SLT) Lisa Partridge and began at a venue in what was then Glamorgan University. We currently make use of a modern, cosy church building which is available in the evening. Thanks to Lisa and member Anna McGroary, we have good contacts with NHS speech therapy services in Wales.
We divide each meeting up with a section where we talk about stammering and how we are getting on at present, and then another where members practice skills, such as in speaking circles or with interview practice. I chair the group and am responsible for organising the venue. I am self-employed and work with a number of charities, after a career as an international economist. I took on the group after Jonathan moved away because I have always believed that people who stammer can help each other, and because I wanted help in my own life-long journey of self-acceptance. It has helped me a lot in coming to terms with the fact that, although I am generally a fluent speaker, I am still marked by stammering. My belief is that things that appear negative are meant to be changed into things that are positive. Stammering has led me to find some of the things I regard as most precious in my life and the group helps me deepen these experiences.
One of the best things has been that I no longer feel like the only person in Wales who stammers...
What members think
Brendan Berry, who works part-time for Marks and Spencer after a managerial career in the baking industry, helps the group along with his encouraging emails, reporting on each meeting and inviting people to the next one. He is an expert mechanic, repairs clocks and maintains a vintage motorcycle in his spare time. Brendan says, “I first attended after going on an intensive City Lit course – the people running that recommended self-help groups as a good way to progress, through sharing experiences with others who stammer. It was hard coming along for the first time but part of the therapy had been to realise that avoidance was part of the problem and that I should confront my fears.
“One of the best things has been that I no longer feel like the only person in Wales who stammers – it can be such an isolating thing. It really helped make me realise that other people feel the same as I do and find the same sorts of things difficult. Speaking circles have been a wonderful discovery; I never believed I could ever speak in front of a group of people. Now I am looking forward to giving a speech at my daughter’s wedding!”
Anna McGroary was an NHS SLT in Cardiff: “As a retired therapist, I see the group as being a tremendous resource for people who stammer. When I was working, so many people who came to see me had never talked with another adult who stammered in their whole lives. It can make such a difference when they meet face-to-face with others, many of whom who are successful and live fulfilling lives.
“The group works in a very informal and accepting way, with no pressure on anyone. It provides camaraderie, support and a sense of belonging. It is wonderful to see people grow and slowly begin to realise that they can help others grow as well. Being in the group means that I can continue to work to help people who stammer realise their right to access a normal life. I appreciate being able to make a contribution based on my experience and knowledge, even if it is a different kind from the one I offered during my professional life.”
We have always made sure that we have an internet presence and thanks to Hayley Rawlings’ youthful expertise, the group has its own Facebook page. Hayley, who works as a carer, says, “Before going to the group, I had never spoken about stammering with another adult who stammered. I had begun speech therapy and my therapist thought it would help me. I was really nervous and sat outside for some time before saying to myself, ‘Get out of the car and do it – NOW!’ I am really glad I did.
“Meeting other people who stammer has helped me see my stammer as something that I can accept and sort of befriend. I know I am not going to ‘get rid of’ it, so it doesn’t make sense to see it as an enemy. I like the fact that people of all ages attend – people my age I can identify with and older people who have lived with stammering all their lives and done well.
“I think the group has actually done more for me than speech therapy, which is just as well, as my therapist recently told me that there was nothing more she could do for me. If you are wondering about going to a support group, my advice would be to just do it – the first step is often the hardest.”
If you’d like to attend the group, details are on our Cardiff/Caerdydd group page.
From Speaking Out Summer/Autumn 2014, p.16