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.