The Defence Stammering Network (DSN) was formally launched at a reception in the House of Lords last week which was hosted by Baroness Whitaker, patron of the British Stammering Association (BSA), with attendance 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 DSN members.
The network was established in mid-2014 by Corporal Emmanuel Ottih, Warrant Officer Jimmy Lang, and MOD civil servant Walter Scott, to support regular, reservist and MOD civilian personnel with the condition, and to raise awareness of it. It currently has around 40 members who stammer and it continues to grow, working in close partnership with the BSA and its Employers Stammering Network. It is believed to be the first such network for Defence personnel anywhere in the world.
The event provided everyone with the opportunity to share their personal experiences, and began with accounts from the network’s founding members:
Cpl Emmanuel Ottih, a logistics specialist currently serving with 2 Medical Regiment, explained:
Back in 2013 my aim was to set up a small online group for other soldiers who stammer, and I am amazed by how quickly it has grown and expanded across the other Forces and the MOD civil service. I am humbled by the support that I received from the Army when dealing with my condition through therapy. I hope that we can now give something back through this network, particularly by supporting young recruits who stammer during the challenges of their early Service life.
WO1 Jimmy Lang, the Regimental Sergeant Major of 243 Field Hospital, said:
Service life is not for everyone, and it is certainly not for everyone who stammers. At times in my career I have really struggled with situations and the reactions of others, but I have also had a lot of support and encouragement from colleagues at all levels while progressing through the ranks. I am determined that nothing should prevent a military recruit or civilian who stammers but has the will, the commitment and the technical calibre to succeed, and that is what the Defence Stammering Network aims to support.
Walter Scott, an assistant head of the Defence Reform Unit in MOD Head Office, added:
Stammering is an elusive and misunderstood condition which I know from personal experience often leads to suffering in silence. The more that people who stammer can speak up about their condition and share their experiences, the easier it should become to identify where changes can be made, workplace barriers removed, and extra support put in place. Our strength is that we represent both military and civilian interests, underpinned by digital platforms, and it is hugely reassuring and exciting to be among this fast-growing community.
The Defence Stammering Network offers open and closed discussion and support forums; post-therapy mutual support via online channels; professional employment advice channelled from the BSA and its employers network; stammering awareness, publicity and communications across Defence, and engagement with wider government and other UK employers. It operates on the internal Defence social networking platform, as well as on Facebook, and is fully supported by the Defence Board as part of the MOD’s Defence Diversity & Inclusion Programme.
Mark Lancaster MP TD, the Minister for Defence Personnel and Veterans, said:
I know from my own experience that stammering can bring with it challenges in everyday situations and in work life – and particularly in military activity – so I am pleased to see this network up and running for the benefit of Defence personnel who stammer. I hope the community will continue to grow, and that it can be used to generate better awareness of the condition and enhance how we look after our people.
Lt Gen Andrew Gregory, the Chief of Defence People, said:
I greatly welcome the addition of the Defence Stammering Network to our growing stable of employee networks. Supported by digital technology, these organisations offer a low-cost but highly effective mechanism for support, for building specialist knowledge and expertise, not least among those with protected characteristics, and for removing misconceptions and myths. Stammering presents real challenges in the workplace; I hope this network will continue to grow and to deliver lasting change.
Stammering affects about 720,000 adults and children in the UK, and 1% of adults worldwide. It is a neurological condition, but environmental and emotional factors can have an influence, and it is recognised as a disability under the Equalities Act. People who stammer are no different to the rest of the population in terms of intellect, nervousness and anxiety.
The MOD believes that it is important to have a workforce, both uniformed and civilian, that is drawn from the breadth of the society that we defend; gains strength from that society’s range of knowledge, experience and talent; and welcomes, respects and values the unique contribution of every individual. Diversity within the MOD is vital because operating in multinational environments, the department’s success will be improved by being able to understand and respond to different types of situations and people.