Visit BSA's new blog. It'll tell you something about the BSA – what we do, how we do it, stories we encounter, stories that move us. Perhaps it will also make us think about the everyday stuff we do, take for granted, and don’t realise we never told anyone we’re doing them.
At the AGM last week I had the pleasure, on behalf of the BSA, to present John Evans with a token of our gratitude and appreciation for his contribution to the BSA as Chair over the last three years. He deserves to sit back and enjoy the fine claret we gave him in the knowledge that the BSA is in a good position to build on the work of recent years. John's wise council and balanced advice, based on his Christian principles, have been a solid rock in what have sometimes been quite stormy waters. John's commitment to the BSA in terms of time and energy has been extraordinary. Few BSA members fully appreciate what he has achieved, but I suppose that is a reflection of John's modest and unassuming nature.
I'd like to thank the Trustees for electing me as their Chair, and hope that I can fulfil their trust in me. But we shouldn't underestimate the challenges we face. In short, we've got a big job to do in a climate of limited resources. The role the trustees play, in partnership with Norbert and his staff and army of volunteers, will determine how successful we are in that job. Ultimate responsibility for the BSA lies with the trustees. We have to ensure that the BSA has a clear vision, mission and strategic direction, and that the BSA is focussed on achieving these.
Everyone involved with BSA and ESN has a tremendous opportunity to effect change for the good in our society. With competent governance, firm financial controls, and the skill and commitment of Norbert and his staff, we can help people who stammer believe in themselves, enjoy their lives to the full, and make a greater contribution to society at large.
I'd also like to pay tribute to the two outgoing trustees, Colin Marsh and Mandy Taylor. Colin has been a devoted warrior for the BSA for over twelve years. He’s one of the most kind-hearted men I’ve met, dedicated to spreading understanding about stammering. We will miss his inimitable emails and his encyclopaedic knowledge of the hostelries around Bethnal Green.
Mandy’s enthusiasm is infectious. Her contribution to discussions is always lively and intelligent, and her willingness to get involved is an example for us all. She recently resigned her trusteeship in order to take up a part time job with the BSA as Finance Officer. And she's been invaluable in filling the gap between Steven and John Perkins leaving and finding a longer term solution.
So we thank them for their selfless input and very much look forward to their continued involvement with the BSA in the years to come.
It’s always exciting to welcome new trustees onto the Board, and the arrival of Rob Pinn and Jimmy Lang is no exception. We eagerly await their contribution in terms of new ideas, expertise, and enthusiasm. I know they will find the job of helping people who stammer a rewarding experience.
Some of you will already know me as Mandy from Northern Ireland. However, last summer I made the move across the Irish Sea and now live in Cheshire with my partner Pete and our four children.
I became a Trustee during a very difficult time at the BSA, a time in which we had to cut our staff hours even though demand for our services seemed to increase. However, funding was an ever prevalent issue.
During the last year we have lost two of our longest serving staff due to these cuts.
People are human and they needed more than the BSA could provide and two charities have now gained two very experienced, energetic individuals. As Trustees we wished them well with heavy hearts, but as ever, we look at what is best for them. So Steven and Julia, the very best of luck (not that you need it) in your new positions and I hope they also serve you well.
Steven leaving has left big holes, for membership services, for helpline work, for administration, and one in finance as he was responsible for recording all the monies in and out.
As this is what I do myself, being one of those accountant types, I was lucky to be in the position of offering a bit of my time and so I have now joined the staff for one day a week. Norbert is a hard task master, as that 8 hour day kind of expands and you do not even realise it! However, like every one of the staff at BSA, we are paid for a number of hours but the actual hours worked, well, we do it to give something back.
I am in a lucky position that I can work mostly from home, but I do get to go into The Big Smoke every few weeks to touch base. I obviously had to sadly resign as a Trustee and I will continue at present to do my 'day job' working for a marketing agency in Wilmslow.
So, yes, it will be my good self who now records the ins and outs, drawing up the finance reports and generally keep the Finance Committee of the General Council informed of how the BSA is performing.
So a change of direction for me, yet another path starting, and I look forward to working alongside Norbert, Helen, Cherry, Lee and Allan as well as the numerous volunteers who work so hard to give us all a voice. It was the BSA who helped me find mine and I am very proud that I can now help give something back.
Hello, my name is Amanda and I have been volunteering at the BSA office for four months. My main role was to update the National Database of NHS Speech and Language Services.
Before I volunteered at the BSA, I came across many individuals who had children/teenagers who stammer. Although I could sympathise, I could not direct them to an organisation that could help them. My role as a volunteer has taught me that information and services are so important, because so many individuals and families are struggling. Receiving the right information and direction can literally change your life: "small keys can open up big doors".
It has been great to see such a great support network for people who stammer, stammerers supporting one another, encouraging one another. The BSA are a family, and families stick together. This is important because of the isolation that many stammerers face.
I have personally been inspired by some of the individuals that I have met. Their stories have been encouraging, and speak of perserverance, and triumph over adversity. In my time at the BSA I learned a lot about people who stammer. Our stammers are all very different. However, we may have a lot of things in common such as
- hating making phone calls to people we don't know!
- speaking in public
- social phobias.
I have learned about discrimination in the work place through the Employers Stammering Network, and the different type of obstacles that we stammerers face. It has been an education, I thought I knew all there was to know about stammering, I was wrong!
As a stammerer, I feel blessed to have volunteered with the BSA, I have enjoyed it. It has been a priviledge to work with such a lovely team (Norbert, Steven, Allan, Lee ,John etc.) I would recommend coming to volunteer at the BSA, to help out in the office (maybe even taking over my role of updating the database). Not only will you be providing much needed help, but I believe you will be personally impacted by your experience, as I have.
Bye for now!
Today is just my second day in the role of Membership Manager for the Employers Stammering Network. I wanted to take the opportunity in my first week to introduce myself, to say how delighted and excited I am to be here and to thank everyone for the warm welcome I have had.
By background I am a linguist and a librarian, but I have worked for a number of charities and membership organisations, including the Association of Charitable Foundations. I've also co-ordinated projects that relate to supporting diversity and inclusion and managing cultural change. I am particularly interested in issues that relate to people, places and identity. This is my first connection with stammering, so I am looking forward to listening and learning!
I was looking for a new part-time job and first found out about the ESN Membership Manager role from Jan Logan, a speech and language therapist, previously at the City Lit, whom I know not because of her background, but because we have both been going to the same Tai Chi class for a number of years. It confirms my view that chance conversations can lead in unexpected directions!
I am really looking forward to meeting everyone, and if you'd like to contact me, please do: firstname.lastname@example.org
Lionel Logue: “Why should I waste my time listening to you?”
King George VI: “Because I have a right to be heard! I have a voice!”
Colin Firth exorcises the words across the halls of Westminster Abbey. It is my favourite moment of The King’s Speech. It is such an empowering stammering epiphany
King George, to me, is not speaking to Lionel; he is speaking to himself. He is re-claiming his right to speak. A right that he had lost among all of the negative thoughts and feelings he had around his own speech.
“Because the nation believes that when I speak, I speak for them. But I can't speak”, the King laments early in the film.
All this week StutterTalk have been at the International Fluency Association’s 2015 World Congress producing numerous podcasts with experts on stammering research. The episode I found most interesting was with Dr Michael Boyle on self-stigma in stammering. Stigma it seems can come in two flavours. Public stigma is the most recognisable form. The stigma enacted by society on those who stammer: laughing at an individual who stammers, turning them down for a job because of their speech.
Self-stigma is a more subtle form. Self-stigma is the internalisation of the negative opinions of society. It is those moments of holding back on saying or doing something because of a fear about the reaction of others to stammering.
Self-stigma is thought about in three stages of de-valuing ourselves: awareness, agreement and application of stereotypes. The individual first becomes aware of a stereotype about their stigmatised conditions from society (King George realised that those around him believed stammering showed weakness). They then come to agree with that stereotype themselves over time (King George believes his stammering is a sign of his personal weakness) and finally, and tragically, they come to apply it to themselves (King George believes himself unable to be king because he is weak).
To me, this self-stigma is an understandable response to a society designed for fluency, which wrongly and incorrectly discriminates against our natural way of speaking by a thousand cuts: from strange looks, through automated telephone systems up to the “you can’t even remember your own name”. It is no surprise an individual who stammers can come to view their own speech as inherently wrong and that that subsequently negatively affects the course of their lives. And research shows us that this does happen.
In a galling study into employment aspirations of people who stammer in the UK, nearly three-quarters of participants reported that their speech dysfluency meant certain roles were ‘definitely out of bounds, like a policeman, soldier etc’. One participant explained ‘I had to think about what I could do, not what I wanted to do, 'want' really didn’t come into it'.
This is the tragic end-point of discriminative views of general society on stammering. The person comes to hold themselves back.
However, research into self-stigma has highlighted a surprising finding: some people “are energized by prejudice and express righteous anger”. Some people with disabilities come to rage against the negative stereotypes that proliferate in society rather than accepting them. They gain in self-esteem rather than lose it. They believe themselves capable with a disability and place blame for any lack of ability with a discriminating society rather than anything inherently wrong with themselves.
King George in that great scene kicked out his old negative self-stigma of his own speech and replaced it with an anger demanding a right to speak.
Perhaps before we begin to change society’s negative opinions of stammering, we too must fight to change how we ourselves think of stammering. Then we can begin to demand our right to be heard.
Tonight, Professor Paul Dolan talked about stammering and happiness. Paul is something of an expert in happiness, having written last year's bestselling "Happiness by Design".
So, I was interested. Paul is an economist and as an economist he asked himself the question ‘why does money make us happy’? You have an input (money) and an output (happiness) but what happens in between, what turns one into the other?
His answer was “attention”. Important to us is only that which we pay attention to. So more money makes us happy while we pay attention to it - but unfortunately, we soon stop doing so.
Why? Our brain doesn't like paying attention - it's much happier running on autopilot because that's much less effort. It’s not for nothing that we use the phrase ‘pay attention’ – there’s a cost to it. But whatever our brain does choose to pay attention to seems really important to us - probably far more important than it actually is. So, the 'trick' of being happy is to focus attention on things that make you happy: spending time with friends, walking in the countryside, listening to music, etc. We are happy through paying attention to things that make us happy; we’re unhappy because we pay attention to things that make us unhappy [terrible simplification on my part, but you get the drift].
So, what is the link to stammering, I hear you ask? Well, stammering is unpredictable. If, as Paul says, we'd be guaranteed to stammer on every sixth word, we'd soon get used to it, and our attention would wander because the brain doesn't like to waste effort paying attention to utterly predictable things. But predictable is what stammering is most definitely not. Unpredictable is dangerous. So we watch out for it, anticipate it – we pay attention.
If the old dictum of "stammering is what we do when we try not to stammer" holds true, well, you couldn't focus more attention on trying not to do something if you tried. "Don’t think of the white teddy bear", said Paul. What are you thinking of right now? See?
It would also explain why secondary behaviours work - for a while. They distract our attention from stammering. Until they become so automated that our brain can stop wasting effort on them.
But I was most struck by the importance of happiness, when I was asked to say a few words at the end about what BSA does. And what I said was that we can't give people fluency. No one can. We can offer knowledge, insight and choice. We can fight to ensure every person who stammers gets the understanding and respect they are entitled to. And we can hold and nurture the stammering community which is a rich source of mutual support and wellbeing.
Not every person who stammers can become fluent. But I believe that every person who stammers has the potential and the right to be happy. And to help that along is, in essence, what the BSA is here for.