Introducing : Defence Stammering Network
Photo : Jimmy Lang, Co-Founder of the awesome network
The Defence Stammering Network is the first such network in any Armed Force in the World. Jimmy Lang, Co-Founder of the network, tells us more about this truly awesome network.
WE’D LOVE TO KNOW MORE ABOUT THE HISTORY OF THE NETWORK AND HOW IT GOT STARTED?
I had wanted to develop a support network for people who stammer (PWS) in the Army and I found out that there was in fact a group on Facebook named the British Army Stammering Society or BASS for short. I got in touch with Emmanuel Ottih who was coordinating the group and we both wanted to take this further as the group was not doing so well and had very few members. Around the same time I met Walter Scott who is a civil servant for the MOD who was interested in doing something similar. After a few email exchanges and phone calls we agreed to go big and we launched the Defence Stammering Network (DSN). Being a Defence network means a wider audience and potentially more members than only having an Army network.
WHY IS THE NETWORK NEEDED?
Stammering is often very misunderstood and it is still very often the one disability which appears to be acceptable to mock in public. Education and awareness of stammering is important, I believe that many PWS do not reach their full potential, they don’t know where to seek advice from, and those who they do ask for advice have no idea where to access the type of support PWS need.
The DSN is of great use in terms of finding out about therapy, inspirational stories and support groups which are not widely advertised. We bring people who stammer in the military and MOD civil service together in order that they can share their experiences.
“Stammering is often very misunderstood and it is still very often the one disability which appears to be acceptable to mock in public. Education and awareness of stammering is important.”
WHAT’S THE PURPOSE OF THE NETWORK?
We work to ensure that Defence PWS can unlock their full potential. We have three main aims: To Support, Engage and Inspire. We support Defence PWS by offering them advice and we offer advice and awareness to those who manage PWS. We engage with people by raising the awareness of stammering through our online platforms and inspire others by sharing success stories.
HOW IS THE NETWORK COORDINATED? WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO RAISE THE PROFILE OF THE NETWORK?
The network is coordinated by myself and the two other founder members, Walter Scott and Sgt Emmanuel Ottih. We usually do most of the coordination online. Currently we have around 53 members on our closed Facebook forum and about 30 on Defence connect. We also have a Facebook page where everyone can see what the DSN are doing.
I am quite active when it comes to raising our profile. For example I delivered a presentation to approx 250 people at the Army Equality & Diversity conference last year, I presented at the National Stammering Conference in Glasgow and have done many interviews for online magazines such as this. The more I speak about the DSN and stammering, the more people will understand about the condition and realise that it should not prevent any PWS from releasing their full potential.
HOW IMPORTANT IS SOCIAL MEDIA, LIKE TWITTER, AND ONLINE ARTICLES THAT PEOPLE CAN ACCESS AT HOME AND ON THE MOVE, TO THE NETWORK?
Social media is extremely important to us. Stammering does not get much media coverage and is rarely seen on TV, and often when it does, it is used for comedy effect. Using the social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter we can reach a larger audience as these days nearly everyone, young and old, has access to the internet. Social media is great for the military as PWS from all services can access the internet from all around the world and can keep in touch even when abroad or on military operations. The wider public also get to see who we are and what we are doing therefore raising the awareness and helping us break down the barriers and stigma that are usually attached to stammering.
Photo : Jimmy (left) with his friends and colleagues from the Royal Navy COMPASS network
at our inaugural Inclusive Networks Awards, 19th November 2015
DO YOU HAVE SUPPORT FROM SENIOR FIGURES WITHIN THE ARMED FORCES AND HOW IMPORTANT DO YOU THINK THIS VISIBLE SUPPORT IS?
Yes we are supported by a few senior people in Defence such as Lieutenant General Andrew Gregory, the MOD’s Chief of Defence People, Philip Rutnam, the Civil Service Disability Champion and Mark Lancaster MP, the Minister for Defence Personnel and Veterans.
This visible support is vital to what we do if we are to be taken seriously as a network. By understanding and valuing the individual and their community, these senior figures recognise that Defence will more effectively achieve its goals. They will also ensure that those wanting to progress in Defence will be supported so everyone is given the opportunity to release their potential.
DO YOU WORK CLOSELY WITH ANY OTHER NETWORK GROUPS/ORGANISATIONS?
We work very closely with the British Stammering Association (BSA) and it’s Employers Stammering Network (ESN). I am privileged to be recently voted in as a BSA Trustee, I look forward to this challenge as I believe stammering has still such a long way to go before we are fully understood and accepted by society.
“This visible support is vital to what we do if we are to be taken seriously as a network. By understanding and valuing the individual and their community, these senior figures recognise that Defence will more effectively achieve its goals.”
DO YOU THINK THERE IS ENOUGH SUPPORT FOR PEOPLE WHO STAMMER? WHAT MORE CAN BE DONE?
There is a lot of support available, however it is not widely advertised. The McGuire Programme, Starfish Project and City Lit Speech Therapy Courses are good starting points, however the hub of stammering information is the BSA website.
You would think that PWS would be aware of all their options, but this is not the case, an example of this is that I have stammered since I was 8 years old, but I never knew about the BSA until I was 35. I went along to an Open Day in Cambridge a few years ago and it changed my life, as a result I wanted to give something back to the stammering community and here I am today.
In terms of what more can be done in terms of support is difficult to answer. Everyone who stammers is different, therefore there is no one course covers all. Many PWS do not wish to disclose their stammer whilst others do. My opinion is that there should be perhaps a TV documentary made showing PWS at work, the ESN could easily help with this and PWS would be seen in real life and how we cope with our stammer but most importantly what other skills we have and what our capabilities are. Introducing a PWS character into a TV show would be helpful as the issue would have a greater coverage and would enhance the understanding of stammering.
There is no known single cause for stammering and there is no known cure, so I support any research into finding out about this fascinating condition. Finally, I think people who know PWS at home or at work, or even if they meet a PWS, they need to have a conversation with them about their stammer. This will clear up any misconceptions about PWS, it will also make the PWS feel valued as someone is taking an interest in them.
WHAT ARE YOU MOST PROUD OF TO DATE?
There have been a few key moments for me such as the Forces TV documentary “My War with Words” and our Radio 5 Live broadcast. What I’m most proud of is our official launch at the House of Lords on 14th July 2015, which was hosted by Baroness Whitaker, patron of the British Stammering Association (BSA), and attended by Mark Lancaster MP, the Minister for Defence Personnel and Veterans, Lieutenant General Andrew Gregory, the MOD’s Chief of Defence People, and Philip Rutnam, the Civil Service Disability Champion, as well as many other high ranking military and civil service personnel. This was a great night in a great setting with great people who offered us so much support, it was such a fantastic evening.
‘MY WAR WITH WORDS’
“Everyone who stammers is different, therefore there is no one course covers all. Many PWS do not wish to disclose their stammer whilst others do.”
THE NETWORK WAS SHORTLISTED (AND HIGHLY COMMENDED) AT OUR INAUGURAL INCLUSIVE NETWORKS AWARDS LAST NOVEMBER. HOW DID IT FEEL TO BE SHORTLISTED?
Being shortlisted was a wonderful feeling as it was confirmation that all our work and effort was being recognised by others who appreciate what we do. To be Highly Commended was a great honour as we were up against many well established networks and groups. This gave us all a real boost as I feel that stammering does not get nearly enough recognition as it should.
The awards were great, I attended them with my friends from the Royal Navy’s COMPASS group. I really enjoyed myself and it was a great venue for such an event. I hope that this is not the first or last time the DSN are involved with the awards, the Highly Commended award and the Awesome Network title really add value to the DSN and what we do.
WHAT’S NEXT FOR THE NETWORK?
I have submitted a paper on behalf of the DSN outlining recommendations that we hope will be included in Defence Disability policy. We are awaiting the future outcome of this. This year we intend to hold a Stammering Awareness Briefing Day in order to spread the word and raise awareness within Defence. This will be followed by a black tie dinner event in the evening to celebrate our good work and achievements over the past year. We will continue to support, engage and inspire our members.
Later in the year we have thought about raising money in order to have some funding available to assist Defence personnel attend stammering therapy courses where needed.
The Defence Stammering Network was shortlisted for two 2015 Inclusive Networks Awards. ‘Network Team of the Year’ and ‘Health & Wellbeing Network of the Year’ – where they were Highly Commended. The network is also one of our 2015 Awesome Networks.