A Widdrington Station woman has a new lease of life after taking action to overcome her stammer.
Lisa Nealan had suffered for more than 30 years and used to avoid words she struggled with and situations where she would have to speak out or introduce herself.
The water production north administrator at Northumbrian Water had been reluctant to talk about the issue, but things changed when she attended an employee roadshow.
One of the speakers on a DVD that she and other attendees watched was Andy Kelly, a maintenance technician and well-being champion for the firm.
He talked about the McGuire Programme he went on, which helps people with a stammer control the condition, including how it had changed his life for the better.
Lisa asked her manager if she could give it a go and he put her in touch with the HR department, which enrolled her on one of the programme’s four-day intensive coaching courses and paid the fee. This took place in Newcastle in March.
She was delighted at how well she did by the end of the course – it included standing on a soapbox and speaking about having a stammer in Northumberland Street, one of Newcastle’s busiest areas.
Since then, she has continued to make excellent progress and her newly-found confidence has benefited her in other ways.
The 38-year-old said: “My stammer has affected me since I was eight years old and although I did well in my school subjects, I didn’t want to sign up for clubs or school plays.
“I joined Northern Rock after finishing school and I managed to progress my career, but it took longer to get there because of my speech problem.
“I love working at Northumbrian Water and the stammer didn’t have a massive effect on the job I’m doing, but it still meant I wasn’t confident to be very sociable or get involved in things outside of work.
“The speech by Andy Kelly in the DVD really opened my eyes and I thought it was worth giving the McGuire Programme a try.
“It was very intense, but it was just what I needed and I felt great afterwards. It included breathing techniques to help you when you feel a block coming and it encourages you to be upfront about your stammer to help bring the fear level down.
“The aim of getting us to speak in front of so many people in Newcastle was to give us the confidence to speak in any public situation.
“It was emotional and reassuring to hear people’s reactions. Some praised me for admitting that I had a stammer and others said it didn’t bother them.
“I have a couple of primary coaches (one of which is Andy) and I regularly work on the techniques I learned on the course at home because you can never cure a stammer, but you can control it a lot better to the point where it doesn’t hold you back form anything.
“I have changed as a person because of the extra confidence I have gained. I have also signed up for things that I wouldn’t have done in the past, including a fitness programme at the Elite Physique Transformation Centre in Cramlington. I have lost 54.2 pounds to date.”
Lisa recently attended a refresher McGuire Programme course in Birmingham and she enjoyed helping out the new students.
She has received plenty of encouragement from family and friends and her biggest supporter is her 16-year-old daughter, Rachel.
She also praised her colleagues and managers at Northumbrian Water for their support and chief executive Heidi Mottram has also been in touch a couple of times to ask about her progress.
• The McGuire Programme has been going since 1994 and since then, thousands of people have attended its courses worldwide.
Techniques of concentration, assertiveness and non-avoidance are used to help tackle the many fears of speaking experienced by people who stammer.
Initial four-day courses are very intense – sessions usually begin most mornings at 8am and end at about 10pm – and participants are told not to use phones or watch television during this time. There is also an element of public speaking.
For more details, visit www.mcguireprogramme.com