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The Stammering Support Centre Volunteer Group

Alison McLaughlin | 01.02.2013

The Stammering Support Centre (SSC) in Leeds, which opened in April 2011, provides a highly specialist service to children, young people and adults who stammer and their families. Clinical Lead Alison McLaughlin explains how the Centre’s users are empowering themselves.

ISAD coffee morning, with cakes.At the heart of everything we strive to achieve here at the SSC are the individuals who access the services we provide. The children, young people, adults who stammer and their families not only guide our clinical practice, but we actively encourage them to help us develop and shape our future services. We regularly receive emails from people wanting to help out and volunteer their time at the Centre. This interest comes from a variety of sources: individuals who stammer who access therapy services, some who don’t, family members of people who stammer, student Speech and Language Therapists (SLTs), and practicing SLTs with an interest in fluency. In response to this, our Volunteer Group was created.

Our volunteers have been involved in a number of projects, the majority of which are planned, but sometimes just a simple visit to the Centre can turn into a volunteer opportunity, as Tony Chase found out: “As a long-term member of the BSA living in the north east, I have been following with interest the inception of the acclaimed Stammering Support Centre. I had planned on visiting the Centre for some time, but did so eventually at their International Stammering Awareness Day coffee morning on October 22nd. I was made very welcome and was greatly impressed, in terms of the Centre’s ideal layout, staffing, and range of services for people who stammer. I was happy to assist on the day by selling raffle tickets, which helped to raise funds for the BSA.”

He added, “It strikes me that the Centre is in an ideal position to investigate various ways of treating stammering and to monitor results. I was particularly interested in Claire Rowland's project regarding the 'variability in speaking', as I feel this is a key element in understanding stammering. On a personal level it is good to know that a centre like this now exists. It fulfils a need for support and treatment for people with speech-related problems. I wholeheartedly approve of the Centre and would recommend it to anyone in the area.”

I always love to help others at the SSC because I now know how life-changing it can be to receive the help. I see it as additional therapy for myself.

Reception staff training

Training reception staffInspired by the work of BSA members Richard Cave and Christine Simpson at the 2011 BSA Conference, Joanna Kitchen (SLT) and volunteers Penny Palin and Michael Turner embarked upon their mission to deliver training to NHS reception staff from across the whole of Leeds Community Healthcare. Penny talks of her experience: “A year ago I volunteered to co-write and co-present a training workshop for reception staff entitled ‘How to talk to people who stammer’. I recalled my own difficulties in making appointments and giving my details, and I thought of ways that I would have liked to be treated. During the training session I talk of how someone who stammers feels and give guidance on how reception staff can help. I was amazed by the response to the first workshop last May. Everyone listened and asked questions, and when I related a good and a bad experience of how I had been treated when I stammered, they felt for me. The best thing was that all the attendees said that hearing from someone who stammered enabled them to understand our problems and learn how to help us. All my life I have been embarrassed about my stammer and here were people who wanted to know about it. It was great to practise my public speaking techniques; it’s a win-win situation. We gave four workshops in 2012 and plan more for 2013.”

Facing challenges and presenting to VIPs

Talking openly about stammering can be a challenge, especially when the person you are talking to is in the public eye. Last October, the SSC hosted an evening to present the International Fluency Association award for Best Contributor to Colin Firth and David Seidler (writer of The King’s Speech). Frank McNeil volunteered to share his personal reflections on the impact of the film upon his life. He said, “How do I measure how much I have changed since I started speech therapy? This is a question I sometimes ask myself. For example, if somebody was to ask me three years ago to give a speech to Colin Firth, I would have run a mile. So the fact that I didn’t hesitate (well not much), I think means I have come a long way. To be honest I felt a little daunted by this task, although I soon realised it was a great opportunity to personally let Colin know the positive impact he had on me by playing the lead role in The King’s Speech.”

Colin Firth and Frank McNeillHe went on, “Giving my own speech to Colin was a very enjoyable and memorable experience. Of course I was nervous, but not because of my stammer - these were just the normal nerves I now realise most people would have had whether they stammered or not. I always love to help others at the SSC because I now know how life-changing it can be to receive the help. I see it as additional therapy for myself; I always learn something new from speaking and listening to newer members, and helping out in public situations only builds my confidence and helps my speech.”
We are always looking for opportunities to ‘get the word out’ about stammering and the support available here at the SSC. Having volunteers that are willing to help out and talk to others about their personal experience of stammering at information-giving events is invaluable. Carlos Waddington was one of a number of people who helped out at the ‘Discover Speech and Language Therapy’ day in Leeds last year. He said, “If I had to describe the event in one word, it would have to be 'uplifting’. I wasn't sure what to expect at first; I turned up a little nervous but open-minded. I decided to wear a badge that I had made which reads 'I have a stammer', and take along a few snippets from my blog about my personal experiences of having a stammer. I was so taken aback by the interest people showed in the stammering stand, asking questions and really wanting to learn more. It was great to exchange knowledge with a variety of students, professionals, the general public and other stammerers. I would definitely love to attend more events like this and help spread the word about stammering. This really is a prime example of what the SSC is doing to reach out to the surrounding area. We need more days like this!”

If somebody was to ask me three years ago to give a speech to Colin Firth, I would have run a mile. So the fact that I didn’t hesitate (well not much), I think means I have come a long way.

Looking forward to 2013, we anticipate another year full of ideas and suggestions generated from our volunteers, clients and parents. The NHS reception staff training will enter its second year of being delivered by Penny and Michael, and a schools workshop for teachers was supported by Paddy McGowan in March. We are also excited about developing the idea suggested by Bhavesh Mistry, who would like to go into schools to share personal experiences and support teenagers to speak out about stammering.

If you are interested in being part of the Volunteers Group, or have any ideas for getting the word out, the Stammering Support Centre would love to hear from you. You can keep up to date with what is happening at the Centre by signing up to its monthly bulletin Getting the Word Out - phone (0113) 843 4331 or email Join its facebook group at .

From Speaking Out Spring 2013, p13-14