This year I attended my very first stammering conference, and I had been looking forward to it for weeks! Not only for the workshops, new people to meet and inspirational stories I knew I was going to hear. But also the fact that I was meeting up with a small group from the Italy youth trip as they had flown or trained across Europe to be there!
The conference ran from the 31st of October to the 2nd of September, however a few of us wanted to get there early and settle in before the events of the weekend and so arrived in sunny Cardiff on the 30th to do a bit of sightseeing.
On Friday the rest of our cavalry arrived and registered for the weekend. The conference was being held at Cardiff university metropolitan university and I must say it was 5-star service and accommodation, quite possibly the nicest student halls I’ve ever seen, well far better then Loughborough university anyway! In the evening we were treated to a workshop with a difference. Danny Ladwa took the platform and shared his incredible personal stammering journey and how he has become a successful Beatboxer… that’s right Beatboxer. It was incredible to watch him incorporate his Beatboxing talents while sharing his story with us. When I think about the weekend, his workshop was a special one and a great way to kick off the weekend. Following Danny’s workshop we hit the bar, where we got a little merry and chatted.
The most frustrating part of the weekend was deciding which workshops to attend. The variety was almost overwhelming. depending what you wanted to get out of the weekend I don’t think you would have struggled to achieve this; wanted to focus on public speaking? It was covered. Wanted to focus on self-esteem? It was covered. Wanted to focus on science and research? it was covered. I chose to hit up all three of these categories. Dr Lorraine Maher – Edwards did a great introductory session on acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), something I am personally interested in due to my studies. This was followed by a very interesting workshop by Rob Grieve called ‘stand up and be heard’ which focused on the fears of public speaking. Again public speaking is something I would like to maybe venture into as I get older and hopefully wiser!
Bob Adams held 2 fantastic workshops; one on public speaking and how not to excel and another called ‘change your mind’. His workshop on public speaking and how not to excel is one I don’t think I will forget as he did his entire workshop “badly” without letting us into this little secret. This created a highly entertaining workshop where he opened our eyes to the finer details of public speaking. My final workshop of the weekend was called “what can brain research offer people who stammer?”… now with this one I had no idea what I was walking into, firstly I was apprehensive as I am not keen on supporting research into a “cure”. I know other PWS are, but I am not. However this workshop literally changed my life! Kate Watkins took us through findings from research she conducted which saw PWS go into an MRI scanner and have their brains scanned whilst reading and whilst having delayed auditory feedback played. She presented pictures from this research from both PWS and non-PWS, the results almost knocked me off my chair! The difference was mind-blowing, on the non-PWS’s brain was an active solid purple blob. On the PWS brain was a hole right in the middle of this purple blob. It would need its own article for me to tell you why there was a gap here, but just know that from this, I truly believe stammering is caused by this defect in the brain, this has cleared up questions I have held onto for pretty much all my life… Have I been through a trauma? Was it something in my development? now I believe I was born with it, and this has freed something within me.
An extra special part of the weekend, one however I was unfortunately too old to take advantage of was the children’s program. This was the first conference they had included this kind of program and from what I heard, it was a huge success. I try to stay away from the “age” topic however at this conference I saw that there is a real need for the charity to gain the attention of the younger PWS as there was a definite under representation of 18 – 30 years. Hold that thought we’ll come back to this in a second…
The Gala Dinner
This years conference was the BSA’s 40th anniversary, and so they planned a lavish dinner with entertainment at the St Fagan’s National Museum of History. This building was lovely and the organisers had decorated it accordingly with a designated seating plan to encourage mingling and chit chat. The tables were also decorated with centerpieces of famous people who stammer, my table was George Clooney! When we had finished our amazing 3-course meal we were treated to entertainment in the form of Jimi Webb a Michael Buble tribute act, who sang us on to the dance floor where we threw some serious shapes. Following the meal 2 buses arrived to pick us up, one went back to the university and the other took us party goers into Cardiff city center where we sampled some of local bars and beverages. I only made it until 1am, I was extremely impressed when I heard that those that stayed out didn’t get back until 5! Safe to say that there were a few delicate flowers on Sunday, and I can’t say I was jealous!
What’s a weekend away without a little drama? Well the Cardiff conference was no different. The charity has recently appointed a new CEO – Jane Powell. Jane took to the stage on Saturday to address everyone in a mandatory workshop that everyone attended. Here Jane delivered her 5-year proposal for the charity. A complete change of direction is what was presented and it gave me goosebumps and at some points even made me emotional. Now I mentioned earlier about the underrepresentation of 18 – 30 age range. What Jane’s proposal has done has identified that and has acknowledged all other young people who stammer that are currently feeling isolated and alone unsure of where to turn. Sitting through her 45-minute presentation, I felt all the anger and pain of my teenage years of feeling unidentified and unacknowledged being wiped away. However this was soon bought back by the negativity of some participants there. Since then our community has become divided, obsessed with the new name “Stamma”…
I like it, but only because it will grab the attention of all those young PWS that currently feel that they have nowhere to go, because I won’t lie, The current BSA brand is more likely to scare than attract. Looking back to my 16-year-old self, the currently BSA brand had nothing to offer me. I have since been made aware that they have an employability section of the organisation, which goes into schools, colleges and universities. However I have been to all 3 and I have never seen any sign of the charity. I believe Jane is going to be the force behind changing this. I am 100% behind her, heart and soul. The arguments over the name, I am trying to stay out of because my fight is far bigger than that. My priorities lay elsewhere. Jane’s presence has inspired me to apply for a trustee position, with 17 other applicants, I already know I won’t get a position, but my burning desire to make change won’t let me give in, something Jane has ignited. Oh did I tell you Jane doesn’t actually stammer? If I had known this before the weekend, I would not have liked this, but her passion and commitment to our community are overwhelming, and she gives us all hope that the rest of the non-stammering community can be as warming and understanding as Jane is.
Overall the weekend was a rollercoaster of emotions. I met some amazing new people and was re-united with my Stamily! Despite the re-brand controversy the weekend was packed with positive and inspiring stories and I can’t wait for the next one…