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Stamwalk reminded me of my own experience with stammering. You stand at the threshold of life with a stammer and it looks daunting. You can visualise what the destination looks like, but it seems a long way away, and there are many obstacles in your path.
I remember standing at the famous sign post at John O’Groats. Decision time. Do I catch the next train home? Or go for it?
The first step south was the most important. I knew the road ahead was going to be hard. I knew it was going to be painful. But I also knew that, unless I faced the difficulties, I would never get to where I wanted to go.
I was walking at about 3.5 mph. It seemed very slow and I didn’t appear to make much progress hour by hour. But now, when I look back after 56 days I think, wow, that’s an awfully long way. In fact, it was 1,035 miles and 2,163,629 steps. And the thing is, every single one of those small steps has played its part in getting me down to Land’s End.
Raising awareness about stammering is a bit like that, too. It’s never going to be quick. It’s never going to be easy. But every single conversation we have about stammering raises awareness just that little bit more for the good of ourselves and for the whole stammering community. It’s only when we face our stammer and talk openly about stammering to our family, friends and colleagues that we’ll be able to look back after a few years and say, “Wow, look how far we’ve come”.
The walk from John O’Groats to Land’s End will go down as one of the most incredible experiences of my life. It was an enormous privilege to represent people who stammer as I walked down through the country, talking to folks along the way. It was a unique insight into the fears, hopes and ambitions of many fellow stammerers, and a rare opportunity to take stock of my own voyage on the stormy seas of self-discovery. It was an honour to meet speech and language therapists, many of whom are responsible for transforming the lives of their clients – what a wonderful profession it is. And
I got the chance to see some of the most beautiful areas of the country up close and personal.
I wanted to walk the length of the country because I felt we needed to do more to raise awareness about stammering. One of the best ways to do that is to talk to people. Face to face.
Raising awareness about stammering, to those who have little understanding of it, is a no-brainer. But raising awareness is more than talking only to the uninitiated. It’s also about talking about stammering to people who stammer, because many of us don’t talk about it. So, Stamwalk was also about raising awareness of the benefits of talking to our family and friends, people who know us best, about our stammer. If we’re open to them about stammering it’s much easier to be open about it to colleagues and even strangers. It’s difficult to talk about stammering - I know because it took me many years to do it. But it’s the best way to face a stammer.
In the 56 days I was on Stamwalk I stayed the night in only six B&Bs. The other 50 nights I was with members of the BSA, speech therapists, friends, and family. They all welcomed me into their homes, fed me, ran a hot bath for me, tucked me up in bed, and sent me off with a sandwich and Snickers bar the next morning. I can’t thank them enough. Without exception, they were pleased to be involved and wanted to help. Those who knew nothing about stammering demanded to know all about it and you can be sure that, when they next sit down to dinner with friends, they’ll say, “You know what, I talked to this bloke from the BSA and he said…..”.
That goes for everyone I spoke to during the long days, too. Although some mentioned the King’s Speech and Ed Sheeran, no one really had any clue what causes stammering, what it feels like to be someone who stammers, or how to relate to us. But they were curious and wanted to be better informed. When they next meet someone who stammers they’ll see them as perfectly normal people who happen to speak in a different way.
The point, here, is that films and plays featuring stammering, interviews with celebrities who stammer, and videos about stammering are all helpful. But the value of us, all of us, talking about stammering to the people we know and meet is incalculable. It’ll do more good than 1,000s of films, celebrities and videos.
One of the challenges of Stamwalk is to make sure we make the most of the opportunities that arose. For example, Tony Adams, journalist and broadcaster, asked at the Birmingham event what he could do to help. Preet Kaur Gill MP said she would ask a Parliamentary Question. Liam Byrne MP offered his support, as did Steve McCabe MP. George Freeman MP said that he would hold a reception in the House of Commons to raise awareness about stammering. The event in Bristol was the first occasion that the regional ESN hub got together, and a new hub was proposed for Birmingham and the West Midlands, and for Newcastle and the North East. Many other introductions were made with the promise of future collaboration for the good of people who stammer. Our job now is to facilitate those intentions.
A highlight of Stamwalk for me was the companionship of those who walked with me. I will never forget the time we spent together, some for a few miles, some for the whole day. I would like to think we will be friends for many years. It would be great to meet up again soon, although we all have busy lives to lead.
I have to admit to a major failure. I set out to enjoy a different pint of ale every day of the walk and to record my tasting notes. The project was, however, doomed to failure when I discovered that Belhaven and McEwans were the only beers on offer for the first two weeks, with the exception of Sheepshaggers Gold by Cairngorm Brewery. Readers of my blog will know that I signed up three sheep for membership of the BSA, but that’s as far as I was prepared to go.
I set out on Stamwalk to raise awareness about stammering, to increase membership of the BSA, and to raise money for the work the BSA does for people who stammer. I’ve never been afraid of ambition. But what is certain is that raising awareness about stammering is not going to happen overnight. It’s going to take many small steps to make a difference, and we all have a part to play in getting us to Land’s End.
Update: This walk from John O'Groats to Land's End started in July 2017. Visit Tim's Stamwalk blog for his latest blog posts on it.
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.
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.
The theme of this year's BSA conference is “Improvement”. But what does that mean? It sounds an ordinary enough word, but the promise it holds is intoxicating.
The word improvement implies aspiration. Aspiring to be better at what we are, what we do. It also suggests the possible.
Improvement has connotations of development and growth, of getting stronger, probably over a period of time - a journey, if you like. A journey of discovery, sometimes, where we realize talents in ourselves that we never thought could flourish.
Improvement, kind of, insinuates small gains over time. A great wine is almost undrinkable to start with but it improves gradually over ten or twenty years. A marathon runner doesn’t do a time of 2hrs 20 minutes straight away. Her time improves through training month after month after month.
So, improvement suggests a movement from one state to a state considered to be at a higher level – a change for the better over time.
And that’s why our theme is so exciting. There’s so much within ourselves. The potential is there, it just needs to be brought out. Our theme says 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.
One other great thing about improvement is its inclusiveness. Anyone can do it!
The conference will tell you how.
For some people who stammer the journey starts on the 2nd September. It’s a voyage of self-discovery, but it’s also a discovery of the help that’s available for you.
But what is it that is going to be improved, or strengthened? Here’s what: belief in ourselves, our confidence, our unwillingness to be shackled by our stammer, our ability to look at ourselves in a more positive light. Maybe, even, our fluency.
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? The conference addresses that, too.
So the conference in September is the perfect place to begin, and in many cases to continue, the journey I’ve been talking about because there will be people all around you who are willing to help. Not least the keynote speakers and workshop presenters who are there to inspire us and to educate us.
You can book your place online, either for the whole weekend or as a day visitor.
Roll on September 2nd!