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When I first decided to walk the length of Britain to raise awareness of all the issues around stammering I had to choose which way to do it – John O’Groats to Land’s End….. or Land’s End to John O’Groats.
In the end, I plumped for John O’Groats to Land’s End. Here’s why.
When I start on the 27th July the temperature in the South West could be 25 degrees or more during the day, which would make for pretty uncomfortable walking. The north of Scotland is likely to be much cooler. By the time I get down to Cornwall at the end of September autumn will be knocking on the door. And, of course, there’ll be less traffic on the narrow roads at that time.
Apparently, cyclists choose the other way around to have the prevailing wind behind them. But I don’t think that’s as much of a factor for walkers. Walking into the sun every day might be more wearing, but then I’ll have my sunglasses. Talking about the sun, I’ll need a hat now that I’m becoming more follicly challenged.
The stretch from John O’Groats to Inverness and on to Perth could be quite a slog. I’m not taking the scenic route, so the A99 and A9 will become very familiar to me for the first two weeks. But I’d rather get my head down and do it at the beginning of the walk rather than face it at the end. What better way to break up the long days than to stop and talk to people about stammering along the way…
One disadvantage of starting in the north in July is the midges. Now, I love Scotland, and I’ve spend many happy times fishing in its beautiful lochs and rivers over the years. So I know to go prepared with a midge net to put over my head to stop them driving me crazy. It’s not the most debonair of clothing accessories so, with luck, there’ll be a stiff easterly blowing in off the North Sea to keep them at bay.
But, perhaps, the most compelling reason for setting out from John O’Groats is that it’s downhill all the way.
There’s been a fantastic response to our call for support for Stamwalk. As a result, Norbert and I made the decision on Monday to go for it. The number of you who have responded has shown that we have the core of support necessary. But that’s only the start. To make the impact we want we need as many of you as possible to get involved.
Just to remind you, I’m going to walk from John O’Groats to Land’s End, meeting and talking to people about stammering all along the way. Start date is 27th July. Dates and timings of the entire route are already on the Stamwalk page.
As some of you know I’m very keen that we should talk about stammering. Talking openly about our stammer is something that many people who stammer find incredibly helpful. And talking about stammering to our friends, our colleagues, and the general public is essential if we want them to understand what it’s all about.
There’s been a lot of brilliant talking about stammering lately - ESN, DSN, radio and television interviews and documentaries, conferences and seminars. It’s an exciting time for people who stammer, and you get the feeling that a momentum for change is building. Now it’s time to walk the talk.
Walking the talk from John O’Groats to Land’s End is a visible demonstration that people who stammer live and work throughout the country, with no boundaries of background, profession, race, religion or politics. It’s an opportunity for us to learn from and to help each other, to inspire each other, and to reinforce the fact that stammering is nothing to be ashamed of. It’s an opportunity to promote the benefits of speech therapy and to celebrate the amazing people who work in that profession. And it’s an opportunity to turn around the public’s negative reactions towards stammering that persist today into an appreciation of the wealth of talent that people who stammer have to offer.
Stamwalk is also about the BSA, and how it can do the best for people who stammer. As BSA Chair, I’m very happy to take the lead. But we need lots more help. The success of Stamwalk will be measured by how many people we can involve and include. So please get in touch if you can support us. You can support by walking with me for as long or short a distance as you want. You can support by arranging an event on the night I’m in town, remembering to invite the local newspaper reporter along. You can support by spreading the word on social media. And if you have a spare bed in the house I will gladly, and gratefully, sink into it.
Stamwalk is also an opportunity to raise funds for the BSA. All money raised will go towards funding the activities of the BSA and will not be used to cover the costs of the walk itself. You can donate at
www.justgiving.com/stamwalk or donate by texting STAM53 £5/£10 (delete as appropriate) to 70070. So if you wanted to donate £5 you need to text STAM53 £5 to 70070. You can't donate more than £10 through Textgiving.
2016 was a massive year for the BSA. I want to pay tribute to all the hard work that has been done, but so much has happened that I hardly know where to start.
Let me try.
We’ve swept away the old subscription membership in favour of joining the BSA community for free. This fundamental change recognises the times we live in. Now, all you have to do is to complete the on-line form giving us your name, postal address, email address and telephone/mobile number. Simple.
Why is this important? Because we want to boost membership numbers from about 1200 now to 10,000 by the end of the year. The more members we have the more society will sit up and take notice of us. We know there are hundreds of thousands of people who stammer out there. Together we can make a difference to all those whose lives are affected by stammering. And, only together, can we dispel the myths and stigmas attached to stammering which persist in society today.
People with similar interests working together to achieve amazing results. That’s what networks are all about, and the ESN, the Stammering Network, and the Parents Network have all had landmark years. We now have the ear of people at the top of Government and big business. The ESN, led by Iain Wilkie and Norbert, has run three courses on Redefining Stammering at Work, and three on Stammering Awareness for Managers. It has achieved momentum in the civil service, and now has internal stammering networks with over 50 members.
Norbert was invited to join the Civil Service Expert Advisory Panel on Disability – a huge accolade. Norbert is widely respected for his expertise on stammering and this appointment will cement further the reputation of the BSA as a major player in the field of diversity and inclusion.
We were delighted that Jimmy and Ottih were recognised for their work in establishing and promoting the Defense Stammering Network. They both received MBEs and we are hugely proud of them and their achievement.
Manchester has featured strongly with two massively successful events – the national conference and the parent and child day. And Italy was the venue for the International Youth Exchange.
We have a new accounts system which, despite the birth pangs that it gave Norbert, will enable us to monitor and manage our finances more efficiently.
The telehealth project, run jointly by BSA and Airedale NHS Foundation Trust, begins this month as the result of a successful bid for funds in September. Between 40 and 50 people who stammer will receive speech therapy via Skype. We’re very excited about this because, if the pilot study proves successful, it will expand the availability of specialist speech therapy to areas that are not currently served by the NHS.
Talking about speech therapy, City Lit ran a groundbreaking seminar in November called Stammering Pride and Prejudice. Speech therapy has come a long way since Lionel Logue, and today’s practitioners take a more holistic approach. A different language is being used now, which removes the whole feeling of shame around stammering.
If you want a good read then look no further than three of our close associates Kala Ramachandran, Ed Balls, and Jon Smith who have written about aspects of their lives including, of course, how stammering has affected them. Ed has had a storming year and he continues to support our cause whenever the opportunity arises. There has been mounting exposure about stammering in the media and we need to be available to exploit opportunities as they arise.
Our association with the global marketing company, Ogilvy, produced some arresting posters that were used extensively in the lead up to ISAD on October. The posters focused on the strengths exhibited by people who stammer, and this is a theme that we will continue to promote in the years to come. Planning has already started for ISAD 2107 although, in a sense, every day should be a stammering awareness day :-)!
Another poster produced by Ogilvy drew attention to the new BSA strapline – Talking about Stammering. It’s what the BSA is all about. Talking about our stammer rather than suffering in silence. Talking to society about stammering to increase understanding and tolerance. The poster has been widely used on social media, websites, open days and seminars. It’s a message that we should never tire of delivering.
The Open Day in London in 2016 was an outstanding success. At least two others are planned in 2017, the first of which is in Bristol in March. Open Days are a powerful way of reaching people affected by stammering in different parts of the country. To make the organisation of these days easier Christine, Rory and Jimmy have written a guide (available on the website) which is a blueprint for success. Volunteers to host these days are warmly welcomed!
People up and down the country are working hard for a society where every person who stammers has as much chance of a full and rewarding life as anyone else. There are countless heroic volunteers talking about stammering and fund raising - too many to mention by name I’m afraid, but I thank them all on your behalf. Without their selfless input we would not have a BSA.
What 2017 holds in store
You know, I feel an unstoppable momentum. There’s change in the air and we must grab the opportunities as they present themselves, and run with them. The time has never been better to champion the cause for people who stammer. And society seems receptive to our calls for understanding and acceptance. But we need to keep pushing and to build on the fantastic work of the last few years. Let us go about our work with passion and determination.
I was going to write this blog on the train on the way home from BSA Manchester 2016. But I fell asleep. Surely the sign of a great weekend…
Today, refreshed, I can reflect on the huge achievement of Max Gattie and Jen Roche together with their team at the Manchester Stammering Support Group. Not only was the conference run in a highly professional way, but it also brought together an extraordinary collection of people, both speakers and attendees. I say extraordinary because I have rarely been with a group with such a universal desire to help and inspire other people who stammer. Comments on Facebook endorse that.
I had the privilege of introducing Ed Balls during which I took the opportunity to tell the Conference about the new BSA strapline, Talking About Stammering. You can see it under the BSA logo on the web pages. You’re going to hear a lot about this strapline in the years to come because the Trustees feel that talking about stammering is the cornerstone of our ambition to improve the lives of people who stammer.
And, indeed, improvement was the theme of the conference.
But what does improvement mean in the context of stammering?
Well, the word improvement has connotations of development and growth, probably over a period of time - a progression. Some people use the word journey to describe the progression. I like the word voyage because it makes it sound more of an adventure. It’s a voyage of self-discovery, yes, but it’s also a discovery of the help that’s available.
Improvement suggests a movement from one state to a state considered to be better – a change for the better over time.
And that’s why the theme of the conference, improvement, was so exciting. There’s so much within ourselves. Our theme said you don’t have to accept how things are now. There’s hope. You don’t have to remain locked away in a dungeon of dysfluency or disaffection. You don’t have to look back in later years and regret the missed opportunities.
And, of course, one other great thing about improvement is its inclusiveness. Anyone can do it! It’s inclusive, and it’s possible. Because we can all improve.
The point of the conference was not to come away fluent. But it was to come away feeling inspired to improve. To develop a greater belief in ourselves. To reinforce our unwillingness to be shackled by our stammer. To build our confidence.
Of course, we talk about self-improvement. But what about society? Do we not also have to move society forward to a state of better understanding of what stammering is, and of how to relate to people who stammer? And the conference addressed that, too.
The first step to improvement is talking. Talking about stammering. And that’s where our new strapline comes in. Quite ironic, isn’t it? Talking, I mean, when many of us are used to zipping it. Finding excuses not to talk.
But talking about stammering is something we must do more of. The BSA already talks about stammering. We must do more. We should encourage people who stammer to talk about their stammer. We should encourage people who stammer to talk regardless – not to hide away and be ashamed of their stammer. We should talk about stammering more in schools. We should talk about stammering even more on social media. We should talk more to our employers about stammering. We should talk more to our employees about stammering. We must insist society talks openly about stammering because only by talking about stammering are we going to mitigate, and eventually remove, the stigma around it.
So the BSA is committed to talk about stammering because that is how we will improve the lives of people who stammer.
There will be an unmissable opportunity to talk about stammering in the lead-up to International Stammering Awareness Day on 22nd October. The BSA needs your input because the more people who are prepared to talk about stammering, the better. We need people to talk to their regional radio and television stations. We need people to talk to their local newspapers. We need people to talk to anyone who will listen. You will soon be able to download an information pack from the BSA website to help you talk about stammering whenever the opportunity arises.
Finally, a big thank you to everyone who made BSA Manchester 2016 such a success!
The BSA National Conference in Manchester is coming up fast and with that workshop organisers like us are making our presentations and talks to (hopefully) entertain, intrigue and inspire attendees. Our first “Why Sssooo Ssserious” workshop at the London Open Day was initially met with a few odd looks and comments, so we thought it would be good to explain the thoughts behind it for its upcoming sequel in Manchester.
Laughter is powerful. Jokes in society about stammering that peddle prejudiced, negative views are all too common. These jokes undoubtedly play a significant role in creating and maintaining the large amount of public stigma surrounding stammering as well as assisting the development of internalised stigma. Fortunately, this common experience has united the stammering community to crusade against laughing at stammering, from the playground to the television.
The chosen tag-line at the time though “stammering is no joke” seems to too black and white.
People who stammers’ often almost uniformly negative experience of jokes about stammering can cloud their vision to this potential of positive jokes about stammering that can break rather than make stammering stereotypes.
In our experience, the laughs come easy and acceptance follows when you mention stammering in a humorous light
- Ian, for instance, often opens his presentations with “I have a stammer and will probably have some long blocks. If you just bear with me, I’ll try and have you out by Christmas”. It immediately puts both himself and the audience at ease. The elephant in the room is outed straight away and they know it’s something that can be acknowledged… even joked about.
- Nisar has found that using humour allows him to set the tone for how we are received rather than allowing the tone to be dictated by a third-party at the expense of our predicament. He has been inspired by Katherine Preston with her positive and occasionally humorous approach to stammering. Nisar finds himself quipping and playing with his stammer during prolongations as an antidote to constantly bogging himself down under the self-inflicted pressure of his negative thoughts and ideas about stammering.
- Lesley has found, like Ian, using humour when talking about her stammering experiences makes advertising easier as it not only puts her at ease but the listener too. It gives the listener the opportunity to engage in a positive conversation about stammering.
- And, Patrick once managed to win a local round of the Toastmasters Humorous Speech Contest with a speech entitled “H-H-Hilarious”.
More widely, the power of laughter has been noticed in other stigmatised disabilities as well. Indeed, a positive disability comedy movement has blossomed over the past 10 years.
One great example is Jess Thom, an activist using humour in Tourette’s. She founded the site TouretteHero, which celebrates the humour and creativity of Tourette’s. She says:
“[We use humour about Tourette’s] to challenge the assumptions about the condition and about disability more generally. To reduce fear of difference, biscuit, and help everyone feel more comfortable talking about it, Biscuit, because it is crucial the voices of disabled people are heard to counteract the rhetoric that is often used about disability. In my experience, humour plays an important role in cutting through fear and helping people feel at ease with difference. Laughing matters”
There are already several stand-up comedians who stammer: Jaik Campbell, Nina G, Chris Douce, or Drew Lynch to name but a few. We even made a show reel of them to show at the workshop – until the Wi-Fi failed. They are all great to watch on YouTube.
The massive potential of positive jokes about stammering and disability is only beginning to be realised. We hope our workshops can encourage this trend to continue.
Monday morning after a tumultuous few days - feels almost a relief to be back in the office and not glued to the telly.
As the Chinese curse goes, "may you live in interesting times". It's a whole new ballgame out there and we will need time to evaluate the impact on BSA. Some of it will be unique to the BSA, some more widely felt in the charitable sector. Some of it may not be apparent for some years and is dependent on the outcome of any negotiations, so we may be worrying prematurely.
Nobody has yet quite worked through what the impact on the economy will be – not as catastrophic as prophesied but not as good as it could be, most likely. There is likely to be an impact on our fundraising as those Trust funders who support the BSA, thanks to Lee’s hard work, may see the value of their investments (and therefore their dividends) decline. Not only that, charities are currently in receipt of €200m EU funding each year and as these funds run out over the next few years and new ones won't come on stream, there will be a greater demand on charitable trust funders to make up the shortfall. This will result in far greater competition for a smaller pot of money. This may have potentially the biggest impact on our income.
What's happening in Whitehall - what will be the impact on our work to influence government policy and practice? BSA has been supportive of the Communication Trust's efforts to make sure that the communication needs of children will be firmly anchored in the Government's new Life Chances strategy which aimed to give children from poorer backgrounds a better start in life. Will a change in leadership put this on hold?
As with charitable giving, any potential financial support from Government for our work may well be less likely as priorities may shift as a result of the referendum.
On a personal level, while our members and supporters have always been very generous, any worries about their economic future may well mean there will be less spare money to support the cause, or for items of extra spending, for example to attend our Conference.
But equally, in these interesting times, we as a charity and a community for and by people who stammer need to be ready to support each other; to lift each other up, and to be there, as BSA always has been, with advice, with encouragement, with inspiration and with support.