January 2024
Nic Maddy
Nic Maddy
Speech& Language Therapist Nic Maddy attended the 2022 STAMMAFest conference. Here’s what she made of it…

Stammafest has brought so much more than I ever anticipated both personally and professionally; why then do I struggle to put what I gained into words? What I’ve learned somehow seems to transcend words and it’s more about a depth of feeling: Stammafest evoked real, raw emotion. I’ve known for a long time, the benefits of community, of pride and of identity: I’ve always known that there is beauty in stammering but at Stammafest , I really felt it. I felt completely immersed in it, welcomed, connected. It has further fuelled my passion for my job and made me think deeply about my practice, the service I lead and how I can do things differently with (and not for) my clients. It’s made me want to be better and do better.

Hanan Hurwitz

Every workshop or session was an enjoyable opportunity to learn, reflect, and share. From the opening plenary by Hanan Hurwitz which really resonated with me emotionally and set the scene for the remainder of the conference to the final open mic session: the sharing and celebration of voices, one of the most moving and poignant moments. I felt privileged to be a part of it and see how the beauty touched each and every soul.

But my learning was far beyond the scope of the classroom – it was in every interaction, every voice heard, every conversation had, going out to the bars, a chat over coffee at breakfast, listening to stories. These connections brought warmth, joy and motivation, and have enriched my life. It is this that I hope to capture in this article. I have made friends for life, both within the community and like-minded SLTs and we, together, have developed a network where we can chat, gain advice and support which continues to be invaluable and I’m tremendously grateful.


I came away with an overriding sense of the power of community, way beyond anything I have ever read about. There was a joining together, a connected-ness and the benefits shone at Stammafest. Connection - ‘the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard and valued, when they can give and receive without judgement’ - was huge in Liverpool! There were connections, real connections, strong bonds born from deep understanding and it seemed that there was a real honesty and openness between the exchanges of SLTs and PWS that promoted learning, (sometimes uncomfortable) and motivation for change.

I loved meeting up with John, a Stamma supporter and volunteer wearing his actual t-shirt from the 2003 conference in Leeds which I also attended as a volunteer and student SLT. What a long way the community and I have come from then to now!

Scroobius Pip and Hannah Tovey - 'Is there Beauty in Stammering' plenary session


Stammafest has given me the confidence to admit that I find beauty in stammered voices. And at Stammafest, there were lots of them! I’d always felt that I shouldn’t be permitted to see it this way since I don’t stammer. The sense of PRIDE in stammering was tangible and just so lovely to see. But also, I saw first-hand the seed starting to sow in those who didn’t feel proud or see the beauty. Being surrounded with this sense both challenged people and gave them the courage for it to be explored, reflected on and considered as a concept. I knew too, that pride and beauty needed to be considerately interwoven into therapy that I offer, as an invitation, using the wealth of resources available within the community.

Now, more than ever, I believe that children need to hear that their voices are beautiful and that it’s ok to stammer and am endeavouring to do this from the start. It dangles something before their eyes, even if they don’t know it or believe it; that it is a possibility. We can let them know that we accept them fully, that they have a safe space for stammering. It’s something that needs to be demonstrated, practised, and reinforced. There’s a real delicate skill in being a therapist and bringing beauty and pride into the therapeutic space so that it lands gently or resound sat the right time, whilst also allowing for and validating feelings and lived experiences. I’m also seeing the benefits of doing this in therapy, talking about it with children. As a therapist, I always thought that the most I could hope for was that a person felt neutral about their stammer but, increasingly, I am realising that it can be much more.

Recently, a teen told me ‘I used to really hate my stammer, I just wanted it to go, but now, I wouldn’t change it, it has brought me so much’. I invite my children to look at ‘it’s ok to stammer’ stickers, ‘it’s how I talk’ wristbands, ‘Stamma’ badges or the stuttering pride flag, and I love it when they request to take something away, wear their badge with pride, ask their teachers to buy books about stammering for their library and suggest that posters should put up in schools, as they are for other differences or disabilities. I love it when they vehemently challenge the editing out of stammering in the media. I’m loving seeing that they are starting to value and cherish their voices, opening themselves up to conversations about stammering with others, conveying that they’re ok with being who they are, and developing a sense that it can be ok to stammer.


I valued every conversation at Stammafest. It has made me want to collaborate more, to be guided by the people I work with and those within the stammering community. I’ve started to initiate changes within my service delivery, the therapy I’m offering and want to be able to shape it to what people want, need and feel is helpful. Listening and chatting to people and their experiences of stammering and speech therapy were highly motivating for inspiring change and thinking about what I could do differently. But equally, those conversations, that had nothing to do with stammering or speech therapy were just as important to me.  


I came away from the conference with a warm joy that I wanted to hold on to forever. I quickly realised that those at Stammafest, were the lucky ones, yet I hoped for this feeling to be shared by people who didn’t/wouldn’t/couldn’t come along. So, for a while after and back at work, faced with the reality of my clients’ experiences, I had a sense of deep sadness. How far removed are they from this beautiful community? How can SLTs bridge the gap? How can we gently encourage people to engage, share in the support whilst appreciating/acknowledging how difficult it can be? (I loved what Stamma did for the ‘first-timers’ at the conference to support this too!) And I couldn’t stop thinking about how I could personally support/hold out a hand to others(albeit at a very tiny/local level). I wondered whether there was a way that community can exist from the early stages of a child’s life, before awareness of societal stigma takes hold, people having their community and growing up in it before they ‘need’ it, almost to prevent the isolation, negative thoughts and feelings? This is still something that keeps going over in my mind about how it could work and whose role is it? My ideas are not fully formed, and I’ve not considered the complexities. And of course, if society were more understanding, we wouldn’t need to be thinking this way. Stammafest made me consider how to bring children and young people together locally without having a speech therapy focus. I’ve been thinking about drop ins, stay and play, coffee mornings, bowling trips, fun runs, etc.  

I’ve always struggled to run groups in the area that I work due to the numbers. Since Stammafest, I’ve been bringing my clients together more than ever before, in 2s, 3s or 4s and have been less ‘clinical’ about how to ‘group’ people, often being astounded by the results (for e.g. a 16 year wrapping his arm around the shoulder of a10-year-old when he said he was scared about going up to high school and giving him such profound and meaningful advice that couldn’t have been given by me). I feel like there is a bit of gap for children and young people in the area of self-help and many are reliant on the parent/carer to help them access this.

Messages left at conference


I came away from Stammafest feeling less judgy and more understanding of the differing journeys that people need to take when navigating a world where fluency is preferred. One person shared that he would never have been able to attend Stammafest, would never had the confidence to have had our conversations if he had not completed a specific programme. He said he did not feel proud, did not feel a sense of community, and certainly saw no beauty in stammering. Yet, the sense of isolation decreased, the notion of community shifted, there was a little bit of green in a field of brown, and there was a definite shift in attitude, The programme was very much a necessary part of his journey: a bridge, or a little stepping stone. It made me reflect upon how, as therapists, we like to open doors for people, yet sometimes we can shut someone more firmly inside (by offering things like fluency techniques),but that sometimes, the thing we think is most unhelpful could be the thing that opens a new path?

One thing I’m certain of is that Stammafest has opened new doors for me (in my thinking, learning, connections). I’m so glad I decided to attend. It was amazingly and thoughtfully put together and organised. The single most and biggest learning experience of my life! So, for those who are passionate about learning about stammering, I’d definitely recommend a visit in2024!


This article was first published in SIGNAL, the magazine of the National Stammering Clinical Excellence Network. Reproduced here with kind permission from Nic Maddy and Kate Clements (SIGNAL editor).