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BSA – a review of 2017

Tim Fell | 08.01.2018

2017 was a vintage year for the BSA.  So many incredible people have done so many amazing things in 2017 that it’s impossible to be able to honour them all.  What is certain is that the lives of many who stammer have been improved by people who are passionate about helping others through their own experience.

Talking about stammering

It was a year that put another nail in the coffin of silence around stammering.  How?  By talking about it.  It’s only by talking about stammering that we’ll nail the social stigma surrounding stammering.  And it’s only by us talking about stammering that we’ll nail our own limiting, self-stigmatising beliefs about our stammer.

The BSA is here to help.  I see the BSA as being the catalyst for change, encouraging and inspiring people to make a difference to the lives of everyone who stammers.  You, our members, are Team BSA, and it’s you who’s driving the change.

The reason the BSA abandoned its membership fee at the beginning of the year was to tear down a possible barrier in our efforts to speak as one voice.  That strategy is working as evidenced by the fact that membership has doubled in the last twelve months.  But we need it to increase tenfold to maximise the volume of what we have to say.

Raising awareness about all the issues around stammering is something we can all do, must do, at every opportunity.  2017 was an outstanding year in that respect.  Norbert led the way with a presentation at the Department for Work and Pensions after which the Customer Services Leader, Martin Berry, said:

“I have worked for the Department for nearly 24 years and I am struggling to think of a talk that has had as much impact as yours. A high number of staff have talked to me about how they will act and react differently when listening to someone who has a stammer.”

Raising awareness about stammering came in a multitude of different guises.  Those lucky enough to get tickets for the play “Unspoken” by Neil Rathmell and Trudy Stewart were treated to powerful theatre exploring the feelings and experiences of living with a stammer (and we've only just had confirmation the play will be staged in London at the City Lit on March).  Teacher Abed Ahmed’s brilliant video showing how he helps his pupils come to terms with their stammer went viral on social media. 

Humber NHS Foundation Trust joined forces with Hull City of Culture to develop Hear in Hull which included an imaginative animation based on conversations with children who stammer.  Their ambition is to show the animation in every school in the country. 

Creative talent comes in abundance in people who stammer, and exhibitions by Rory Sheridan and Wendy Ronaldson showed how art can be a highly effective medium for delivering powerful messages about living with a stammer.

Many others have raised awareness, and much needed funds, through feats of endurance.  Jimmy Lang swam for miles despite a touch of flu, Ade Abimbola ran the marathon in an impressive time, Iain Wilkie rode his bike all day and couldn’t sit down for weeks, and Michael Thompson played 100 holes of golf in one day.  I even managed a little walk myself. 

Educating society about stammering is at the core of raising awareness.  BSA Trustee, Patrick (Paddy) Campbell wrote an important paper called “The Way We Talk” in which he explores the use of language around stammering, highlighting the stigmatising effect of certain words.  The Huffington Post published a brilliant article by Iain Wilkie titled “An Obsession With Fluency In The Workplace Creates Barriers For Those Of Us Who Stammer” in which he provides valuable insight into the benefits of equality and inclusion.

2017 saw some firsts.  The Airedale Stammering project scooped the Guardian Digital and Technology Award for Public Service.  The BSA collaborated in this initiative.  This outstanding achievement celebrates a combination of innovative thinking, the imaginative use of widely available technology, and the determination to deliver a much-needed service to people in need.  As a result of the tremendous work by Steph Burgess adults who stammer can now access speech therapy live via their laptop or mobile - free. 

Another first was the live streaming of the Giving Voice event at UCL.  The success of this event guarantees that it will be the first of many, allowing everyone to benefit from presentations and lectures.

The benefits of being open about our stammer has been a common theme throughout the year, no more so than at events put on by the Employers Stammering Network (ESN).  The emergence of inspirational champions like May Breisacher, Betony Kelly, Angela Morgan, Paul Barrett and Mark Benton will ensure the message gets through that it’s OK to stammer at work.  Mark says:

"There’s no doubt in my mind that being open at work has been one of the biggest enablers in terms of career advancement for me."

ESN Manager, Helen Carpenter, in conjunction with Employers Network for Equality & Inclusion, wrote “Understanding Stammering – a guide for Employers”.  This is a seminal paper which all employers would do well to read.  Its effects will be far-reaching for the prospects of people who stammer in the workplace.

The Redefining Stammering at Work Programme, run over three sessions, has been evaluated by City University thanks to funding from the Dom Barker Trust.  This research confirmed, perhaps unsurprisingly, the barriers and challenges imposed at work for people who stammer.  It also reported that attendees achieved a greater acceptance of stammering, self-confidence and self-esteem on completion of the workshops.

A new ESN hub has been established in Bristol, with the hope of another one in Birmingham.  Open Days in Ashford, Kent, and in Merseyside have been responsible for bringing people together to talk about stammering.  Such is the popularity of these days that we want to encourage as many as possible in the cities around the country.

Helping and advising parents to negotiate the path though the education system for their children who stammer is a big part of what we do.  And we’re so fortunate in having Cherry Hughes’ expertise on these matters.  One of the most heart-warming moments of the year came when Norbert received a letter from a Mum whose son, who stammers, sets out on his first day of secondary school.  Letters like this make me proud to be associated with the BSA and the people within it who work so hard.

As we move forward into 2018 we have much to look forward to.  Change for the better is taking place every day that passes.  Our members and volunteers, our staff, the Trustees, Speech and Language Therapists, partner organisations – all working towards a society where every person who stammers has as much chance of a full and rewarding life as anyone else.  How good is that?