Stammer battlers to appear on BBC3 show Stop My Stutter

Two inspirational people from Norfolk who have battled to overcome speech impediments will have their voices aired tonight on a BBC documentary called Stop my Stutter.

Sarah Webster, of Kirby Cane, near Bungay, was able to keep her stammer hidden for 20 years by carefully choosing what she said and avoiding certain words – including her own name, which she struggled with the most.

Now the 25-year-old is finally taking steps to fulfil her dream of becoming a primary school teacher, after finding her confidence through a radical speech therapy course, the McGuire Programme.

Sarah, who is a nanny and an artist, is part of a support group in Norwich and was selected to take part in an intensive five-day course in Birmingham under the instruction of pop star Gareth Gates, which was filmed for the BBC Three show.

'People did not know I had a stammer,' she said. 'I was a covert, so that means I did my best to hide it and avoid situations and certain sounds.

'I was not bullied as such, it was just tiring to skirt around all the words. I could not say what I wanted to say.

'I'd act stupid and sometimes pretend I didn't know something so that someone would say that word for me. On the phone I'd often say the signal was bad and hang up.'

Most Read

The former student at St Felix, in Reydon, and Norwich University College of the Arts said she had elocution lessons when she younger but it was only after graduation when she had to go out in the 'real world' and make lots of phone calls that the problem became more of an issue.

She said: 'They (The McGuire Programme) touch on not just the physical side of how to control your stammer but the psychology of it.

'Their aim is eloquence and control. Fluent speakers think fluency is the goal to successes but we are told not to compete with others but to compete with yourself.'

She added: 'That involves breathing from the costal diaphragm, pausing, and speaking a lot less words per breath, until you build up the foundations and can speak more. It is a mindset change.'

The programme challenged Sarah to do activities she would never normally do, including introducing herself to 100 people on the street and doing a public speech.

'Since being on the McGuire programme I am pushing out my comfort zones. I'm doing things I fear rather than moving away from them, for example I'm in the midst of teacher training interviews,' she said.

'Now I am determined I can achieve my dream of becoming a primary school teacher, rather than ruling out teaching as a profession because of my stammer.'

'I hope this will not only cast light on life for people with a stammer so that people are more aware but also I really hope this will help someone else out there and give them hope and courage.'

Also appearing in the documentary will be a Norfolk speech therapist who struggled for years to overcome his own stammer.

Russell Eden suffered with a chronic speech impediment since the age of seven which led to him being bullied at school and gave him difficulties in progressing in his career.

But he turned his life around after getting help from the McGuire Programme – the organisation where he now volunteers as a speech coach.

Russell, 42, lives at Great Moulton, near Long Stratton, and works for the charity Shaw Trust on Prince of Wales Road in Norwich, where he helps people with disabilities get back into work.

He said both his day job and his volunteer role with the McGuire Programme were equally rewarding, and he hoped the TV show could inspire others to overcome their problems.

'It is just so rewarding when you know that you have been instrumental in helping someone else improve their life,' he said. 'To be able to share my experience and the developmental journey with my own speech to help others... I couldn't put it into words.

'The TV programme will undoubtedly raise awareness that anyone feeling completely locked by the shackles of stammering can break free with the right help.'

Russell said he could remember the moment when his childhood 'speech wobbles' became more significant.

'I stood up in class to read and I remember getting stuck with my speech more than I have ever done before,' he said. 'The whole class laughed and that was the start of it going downhill. I was bullied at primary school because I spoke differently. Children can be very cruel and I stammered without control for 25 years – and there were a lot of adults who were quite cruel as well.'

Russell joined the McGuire Programme in 2003, where he learnt new breathing techniques and practised stammering on purpose to overcome his fear of it – a strategy he likened to an Australian firefighter running towards a bush blaze in order to extinguish it. As there is no complete cure for stammering, Mr Eden must still carry out daily exercises to maintain control over his speech impediment.

?Stop My Stutter is on BBC Three tonight at 9pm. (Monday)

Become a Supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Become a Supporter