Charlie with Learning Hub tutors

I have had the most amazing and life changing year!

I left Halesowen College in July 2015 after completing my Level 2 Health and Social Care achieving a distinction*

I suffer with a stammer and have done so since I was born. I was also born sixteen weeks premature and really poorly, as well as being one of triplets. I was given lifesaving surgery to connect an artery to my lung only fifteen days after I was born.  In total I spent a total of one hundred and thirty days in hospital before I was well enough to go home. I was in the local newspaper when I celebrated by first birthday.

I left college wondering what I was going to do. I had let my stammer control my life because I was so nervous all of the time and I was always wondering what other people were thinking, so at school and college I was always very quiet. This was because I did not have a technique for dealing with my my difficulty in talking with others. I was always living and thinking in fear. Having a stammer seemed to me to be such a negative thing.

I remember being at the doctor's in floods of tears because I found it really hard to speak and to talk about my stammer. This was because it is such a personal thing. Also having a stammer is not a physical disability, and when we speak to people the first thing they do is say hello and I even struggled to say hello. I always used to get upset and cry a lot. I remember when I was at school and college, when completing group tasks, and finding it very difficult to get my point across. At home my speech was a little better; I think this was because I was more relaxed..

So, In October 2015, I came across an organisation called The Starfish Project: this is a four day intense speech course that did really change my life. In February 2016, I went onto the course and it was the most emotional and intense few days of my life.

I think all of the emotion that had built up over fifteen plus years just poured out of me and I remember getting dropped off in Sussex and feeling physically sick - I was incredibly nervous. This was the first time I had met other people who had a stammer. 

It was also the first time that I had attempted to do anything about my speech. This was because I had to be ready, which I finally was.  I even remember sitting in the waiting room and I just started to cry when I introduced myself to everybody. I think this was the realisation of what I was going to do.

On the first day I was required to answer questions in front of a video camera; this was in front of everybody on the course, it was the hardest and scariest thing I had even done. On the course there were people from all walks of life, some in their 50's and 60's. Ann, who runs the Starfish Project, is the most kind and wonderful person I have ever met. She just gets it. She was a speech therapist and runs the courses every month. 

I have learned a simple but effective breathing technique and it is called Coastal Breathing: I learned how to breath from my diaphragm and that breath gives me the power to talk. Using this method I could finally say my name for the first time with control. It took a few hours to get my head round it because I had to use the breathing technique every time I opened my mouth. 

When I was on the course everybody had light heads because we were practising breathing this way for eight hours a day. After each day ended we could then practice the technique in everyday situations, for example ordering off a menu. 

The telephone was the most difficult of all.  I had to complete different tasks that we had to practice when using the telephone, and then I was required to call up other people in the room. Following that I had to make a real phone call to a member of the public. This was very scary but everybody in my group was very supportive of each other.

On the last day of the programme we were all so tired and emotionally drained but we had to go into Eastbourne and put in place the technique we had learned when speaking to others. Again, this was scary because speaking to people had always been so incredibly difficult. Upon approaching the general public I found that, for the first time in my life, I could say my name to a stranger with control and it felt amazing. 

At the end of the fourth day we made another video, showing how the breathing technique had helped and it was incredible to see the changes in everybody. It was such a fantastic course to go on. There was an initial course cost but Starfish is a a non-profit organisation. And now for the rest of my life I can go down for free.

In the meantime I completed the Innovate course at the Learning Hub, and this helped me apply for an apprenticeship with the Trust. I had attended an interview in the January and I was so nervous about it: there were three people on the panel and this was before I attended the Starfish Project. I remember really struggling with my speech. I told the Hub staff that I had booked myself on a speech course and then I just burst into tears. 

The reason for this was because it was the fear of the unknown. I was not actually successful in my first apprenticeship interview. I related the question far too much on the hospital, and then a few hours later they phoned me up to say The Learning Hub offered me some work experience. 

On that day I went from being very sad to becoming extremely happy.  I began my training in January, still having not begun the speech course, and I shadowed staff but did not go near the telephone. I had another apprenticeship interview at end of January I was successful, I was so excited.

As a result of being at the Learning Hub and the Learning and Development Department of University Hospitals Birmingham, and especially the Starfish Programme, I worked my way forward to being confident in using the telephone for the first time ever. I am now comfortable in being able to call up to thirty people a day, as well as answering calls and dealing with enquiries. All the staff that have supported me are very, very happy with my progress.

I even returned to the Starfish Programme in April, where I went to learn how to teach the technique to young people and their parents. This was another amazing experience. It was very strange to be on the other side and I was able to teach the breathing technique to a young person in front of an audience of forty people. 

I practice my breathing every day. I have to because I will always have a stammer, but it a great feeling that I am able to control it. I am not afraid to admit that I have broken down and have been a bit low occasionally, but then I pick myself up by going back the basics with the technique. There is so much support from the people from Starfish, my colleagues and work friends and my fantastic family.

I am currently completing an Apprenticeship with the Queen Elizabeth Hospital. Believe it or not, I now work on a reception desk where I meet students who are attending the different courses running at the Learning Hub. I also support the administration team. I am able to use the phone on a daily basis and I pinch myself every day that I am working in this role, because never in a million years did I think I would be able to do what I am doing now.

I now have the confidence to speak in front of students who are at the Learning Hub and tell them what I have done, and I do love sharing my story because I want others to know that whatever barriers they may be facing, there is always a way of dealing with them and moving forward.

I have learnt to accept myself that I have a stammer and I love the challenge of overcoming this every day. I am now so much more positive about my speech. I have really and truly enjoyed my apprenticeship and I have learned lots of new skills I would recommend an apprenticeship to everybody.

I have also won the Brighter Futures award at University Hospital Birmingham’s ‘Best in Care’ awards ceremony. This was an unforgettable moment for me and my family were extremely proud, too. It was a very emotional night.

Today, even though it might still take me a little longer to speak, I can state that I embrace and accept my stammer. I am proud of my stammer and it is my greatest strength. When someone asks about my stammer, I am proud to explain what it is and to explain my journey, and to pass on tips and information on to how to handle a conversation with a person who has a stammer.

Michelle and Hannah (Learning Hub tutors) with Charlie at the 2016 'Best In Care' Awards