A North East man who suffered in silence with a debilitating stammer for 47 years is now making speeches and giving presentations after a short therapy course changed his life forever.
Andy Kelly, 50, from Ingleby Barwick, was bullied at school because of his impediment and was always quiet and withdrawn in order to disguise his inability to speak fluently.
But just days after joining a speech therapy course run by the McGuire Programme, he was standing on a soapbox in the middle of a busy Northumberland Street in the centre of Newcastle delivering his end of course speech - word perfect.
The married father of three, who has worked as a maintenance technician at Northumbrian Water for the last ten years, said: “Life at school was difficult for me. The other kids quickly learned how to bully the kid with a stammer.”
Despite being a promising sportsman, his disability always held him back. “I felt secure once I’d joined groups playing football and cricket,” he explained, “but when I was asked to go further as an individual to county trials I couldn’t go in case I had to speak.
It was while on a customer service training course at Northumbrian Water in September 2012 that he felt he had to seek help.
“We were sat in groups and my heart was bursting,” he recalled, “but I used a trick to get my name out in the introductions, managed to settle down and got through the day. When we finished I felt I had to explain my situation to someone.
“I waited until everyone had left and decided to tell Alison Branton, one of our customer advisors who was running the course. It was while talking to her that I realised, for the first time ever, I was disabled. She listened and promised to tell my story to the people that had helped her.”
Alison, who suffers from widespread arthritis which affects her mobility, said: “I feel I only did what any decent person would have done.”
A few weeks later Andy was invited to a meeting with Northumbrian Water HR advisor Kate Fannon, who made an appointment for him to see the company’s occupational nurse. She, recommended the McGuire Programme, made famous by pop star Gareth Gates, and Andy joined the course in August this year.
He said: “Although the course in Newcastle fell on my fiftieth birthday, I knew this was the time to stand up and address the problem that had controlled my whole life.”
It was a decision that was to change his life immeasurably. Now, less than two months on, he has been interviewed live on BBC radio and has plans to give a presentation to senior managers at Northumbrian Water and address the congregation at his local church.”
He said: “Apart from being able to stand up and speak in front of a large group of people, it’s the little things like answering the phone, ordering a meal in a restaurant and being able to have a conversation with strangers that have made such a big difference to my life. I’m a much happier person and better to be around. Everyone says I smile much more and that I’ve come out of my shell.
“I can’t thank the McGuire coaches, people at work and, of course, my family enough for all the support they have given me.”