An Interview with Ben Cleary

By Lucy Hayes, Communications and Youth Engagement Manager

Ben Cleary is a film writer and director from Dublin and his recent short film ‘Stutterer’ has been nominated for an Oscar. We spoke to Ben about making Stutterer and his Oscar nomination.

Tell us about your film-making journey- where did it all start?

 Well I’ve been scribbling ideas for films and characters since I was about eight, but I finally decided to get serious about it in 2010 when I applied for a screenwriting masters to the London Film School. It was a great year and I learnt a load about the craft. From there I began writing shorts for other people to direct and finally saved some money to write and direct my own one. 

 Why did you choose to write a film in which the main character has a stammer?

 Well I saw something online on day that stayed with me. It was a gentleman with a stutter who was speaking about his experiences. He had gotten to the point where the stutter was almost imperceptible when he was speaking to someone face to face, but once he got onto the phone, it came flooding back and he found phone calls immensely difficult. This really struck a chord with me and I began considering how someone faced with the difficulties presented by a speech impediment might navigate through life. And it is this image that opens the film. An extreme close up of a mouth struggling to get words out to an impatient phone operator. But also, growing up I had a friend who had a pretty severe stutter and I remember how difficult that was for him. So you could say I had a bit of a personal connection to the issue too. The more I explored the idea, the more excited and passionate I became about telling this story.  

 How did you do your research and what resources did you find most helpful?

 The vast majority of my research was done online. I would spend hours and hours looking at sites and going through videos on youtube watching these incredibly brave people speaking about their speech difficulties to try to help others. I was sitting in a shared desk studio at the time and there were so many instances where I’d be watching a video and start to tear up and desperately try to hide my tears from the people sitting around me. I still don’t know if they noticed or not! But yeah, it really moved me and it still does even thinking about it now. But also, a lot of my knowledge about it came from experiences of knowing someone with a stutterer and seeing what it can be like from day to day and in certain situations. 

 What have you learnt about stammering through producing ‘Stutterer’?

Well, I learnt that there are a lot more people suffering with a stutter than I had been aware of. And of course I learnt some other things like the fact that it’s not necessarily just an anxiety thing or that some people find they can sing perfectly or other interesting things like that. But I think I also learnt something that I already suspected. And that’s the fact that I think a lot of people don’t really understand the issue and sometimes don’t have the sensitivity about it that they should have. Although our lead character, Greenwood, finds it impossible to communicate with people face to face, he has this wonderful inner voice that we get to hear through voice over, and he’s very eloquent and charming and witty. I was very interested in exploring this element of it, and I hope with Stutterer that we’ve represented the issue in a sensitive, insightful light and if it gets people to look at the issue in a new way, that would make me very happy.  

 What would it mean for you if you won the Oscar?

 Well we never thought our little film could ever get this far so even being nominated feels like we’ve won you know? Winning the Oscar would of course be an indescribable honour but we’re just going to go and enjoy ourselves and see what happens.

We’ll keep our fingers crossed! Good luck to Ben at the Oscars in a few weeks time!

 


An open letter to young women who stammer

By Lucy Hayes, Communications and Youth Engagement Manager

In October 2015, ASC launched it’s Youth Panel who’s purpose is to represent the voices of young people who stammer. The panel is currently made up of 10 young men aged between 13-21 and in their first meeting decided that the group needed to be more representative of the stammering community.

We have  decided to reopen applications for young women to join the panel, and current panel member Michael Scott wants to tell you why you should apply:

“As someone who has stammered for as long as I can remember, I know how draining it can be at times, particularly during a child’s time in the education system – and this is one of the key reasons that led to me applying to be a member of ASC’s youth panel. After seeing the promotion of the panel my mind was cast back to one of the worst times I have been through with my stammer; which was during high school and I realized that I couldn’t pass up on the chance to influence one of the most prestigious speech therapy organisations in the country, and hopefully work on a national campaign in order to increase the overall awareness of stammering not just for me; but for anyone else who had ever been in that place. One of my main issues during my time in high school was consistently coming across teachers who were unaware of how to help someone who stammers and hopefully a national campaign will help us reach the end goal – stammering people being able to thrive in whatever environment they are in. This panel has given every member the chance to make a huge difference for stammering people as a whole and to ensure that the thoughts of the people who receive the services of the ASC are deeply embedded within the organisation’s policy.

However the panel isn’t currently representing the extremely diverse community of people who stammer as a whole; in order to encompass the perspectives of all stammering young people we need to recruit more young women who stammer as this will result in the voices contributing to the policies of the ASC being a full unification of a varied community of stammering young people. The panel so far has been very fun to be a part of, the meetings aren’t all serious! The topics are important to the panel as a whole but we have fun working together in order to produce something (for example in the last meeting we worked on putting a mission statement together) and each topic usually results in some jokes and stories being shared.

To conclude, I’d like to show you this quote from an amazing article about stammering awareness day – “I imagine that for the non-stammerer, language must be a little like air, a medium so compliant that most of the time you forget you’re moving within it. But for the stammerer, speaking is like moving through water – you are constantly aware of language because it constantly resists you.” I do partially agree with this, because physically a stammer will always feel like walking through water, however in this panel we can work to change the attitudes of people so it doesn’t mentally feel like walking through water, and our own thoughts don’t stay as thoughts because of fear of how the person we are speaking to will react to stammering. The first step towards achieving this is for more young women to join the panel. ”

For more information and the application pack go to http://www.ascyouthpanel.com/

 


Welcome to 2016!

By Balshen Izzet, Chief Executive

Happy New Year!  Action for Stammering Children had a fantastic 2015 and still have so much to do in 2016!  We want to share with you some of our highlights.

January

We hit the ground running at the beginning of the year with a visit to Parliament to meet the Speaker of House of Commons, John Bercow MP, and the former Shadow Chancellor, Ed Balls.  We joined Action for Stammering Children’s young ambassador, Thomas, who lobbied both politicians about services for children and young people who stammer.  Both meetings went superbly well and we are proud to have such a great champion – thank you Thomas!

February

In February ASC Vice President and Oscar winner, Colin Firth, was special guest speaker at our inaugural Gala Dinner. At the dinner we launched the ‘Unlock a Child’s Voice’ appeal, which aims to raise £1.5million over three years to support the delivery of specialist services across the UK, to help us reach more children and young people who stammer.

On the night, the Unlock a Child’s Voice appeal raised over £90,000 – an incredible figure that will make a huge difference to the lives of many children and young people.  Huge thanks to all our supporters who donated on the night and to those who have since donated on our JustGiving page here.

April

In April we had a visit from the Charity’s Vice-President, Michael Palin, the namesake of the Centre. Michael has continually supported the Centre and the Charity – the young people at the Centre always greatly appreciate his visits.

May

ASC were invited to be the chosen charity for an evening with Prof Paul Dolan, author of ‘Happiness by Design’, at the London School of Economics. Prof Dolan has a stammer and it was great to hear him speak about his experiences and how he hasn’t let his stammer get in the way of his ambitions.

June

Stammering went mainstream in June when the musician Ed Sheeran, announced at the American Institute of Stuttering’s Gala that he has a stammer, and that we should embrace our differences. Call us Ed, we’re here to help children and young people who stammer and we would love it if you could help us reach those children! Call us on 020 3316 8113!

August

ASC’s Co- Founder and Life President Travers Reid received an Honorary Fellowship to the notable Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists. Since 1945 the RCSLT has used its annual honours awards to acknowledge the achievements of its members and those who have contributed outstanding services to speech and language therapy. This year, the RCSLT chose Travers who prior to his retirement, was a prominent businessman and is co-founder of Action for Stammering Children. His experiences of childhood stammering convinced him of the need for a specialist centre to help children who stammer which has now become the world renowned Michael Palin Centre.  ASC has a superb partnership with the Centre and long may that continue – we thank all the staff at the Centre for their great work to help as many children and young people in the UK who stammer.

September

This month we launched the recruitment of ASC’s Youth Panel. As a charity whose purpose is to support services for young people who stammer, we thought it only made sense to get a group of young people together to be the voice of those we campaign for.  The only two requirements for being part of the Youth Panel was to be between 13-21 years of age and have a stammer. We hope that the panel will advise our Board of Trustees on important decisions, especially those that effect young people and the services provided for them.

October

The 8th October was #MAKESOMENOISEDAY and ASC was invited onto LBC Radio along with Michael Palin, Ed Balls and 3 young people from the MPC to talk about stammering, the Michael Palin Centre and how ASC works hard to continuously support young people who stammer. It was especially exciting to hear Ed talk so passionately about the work ASC does.

We had our first stammering network summit, bringing together voluntary organisations and service providers for specialist therapy in stammering to campaign for the stammering community. Will Earthy, who recently became a member of our youth panel gave a speech about ASC and how therapy from the MPC has helped him control his stammer and boost his confidence. Will, along with Ed Balls also sat on the Good Morning Britain sofa to spread the word about International Stammering Awareness day. We are so proud of Will for pushing his comfort zone and speaking so fluently on live TV, he is an inspiration to so many young people who stammer.

We also visited the Yorkshire and Humber residential therapy programme funded by ASC.  The course was a huge success and we know that the 13 young people on that course faced their fears and will now go on to achieve the best they can be – we thank the team managing this programme and helping to change the lives of those young people!

This month we also had an addition to our staff team with Lucy Hayes our new Communications and Youth Engagement Manager.

November

There was no let-up in November and we continued with another month of exciting events. We kicked off the month with the Harrow School Long Ducker, an annual event which sees pupils and teachers of the school run 10 or 20 miles for a chosen charity- this year that was us! ASC staff and trustees volunteered to marshal the event and cheer on the boys as they ran from Hyde Park all the way to Harrow.

Finally and most excitingly, we had our first Youth Panel meeting. The panel will come together four times a year to discuss campaigning ideas and present them to the Board of Trustees.  Our corporate sponsor, Tonic Insight, lent us their amazing office space and their Creative Director, Seyi Matthews, offered to run a workshop for the group. Having a stammer himself, Seyi was an inspiration to the panel and gave them some great ideas about how to run creative campaigns and create digital content. The meeting was a huge success and we look forward to the next one in the New Year.

December

The stammering network had its first official meeting and the members are working ideas for a joint public awareness campaign in 2016 – watch this space!

So, 2015 was full of great new projects and 2016 will be full of many more including a volunteer’s programme at ASC, relaunching the Youth Panel application for girls only because the group is only young men – we want a more diverse group to represent all children and young people in the UK who stammer and, of course, we are launching the findings of our independent review into specialist speech and language services across the UK.  This review will help determine the future development of ASC.

However, I write this blog with a heavy heart.  Having been in post for 13 months I am moving on to pastures new working for another Charity that I am equally fond of.  I leave next week and my post has already been filled with an interim Chief Executive who has years of experience running charities.  It is a huge comfort to pass on last year’s projects to Delyth Evans who will help build on our achievements so far.

Thank you to everyone who has helped me make all our achievements in 2015 possible!