October 22, 2021

I’m a stammerer

By Paul Gerrard, Campaigns and Public Affairs Director

My name is Paul Gerrard and I stammer. My Mum and others in my family stammer too. My stammer is most acute when I’m nervous, worried or stressed – but there are also words that I struggle over, of which ‘Hello’ can be particularly troublesome!

In many ways, the job I do is a nightmare for someone with a speech impediment. As Campaigns and Public Affairs Director, I’m making speeches, doing interviews on TV and giving evidence to Parliamentary Select Committees. Speaking is literally my job! I’ve spoken at the UN and to audiences of 500 and more. I’ve been live on BBC, ITV and Sky and appeared in Parliament to give evidence. For someone with a stammer, every single one is nerve-wracking and, frankly, terrifying. What if I hit a block? What will people think of me? Will I mess it all up?

But I was lucky because Maureen Ann Gerrard was my Mum and she instilled in me from being small that my stammer did not define me. It was part of me, but it wasn’t who I was. 

She was constantly pointing out people who had stammers like Einstein or George VI showing they had been successful, and she never let it stop me doing anything. She wouldn’t let it because she was a force of nature. She also pushed me to do things that worried me. 

As an eight year old, I did the first reading at Mass. In the village I grew up in, just about everybody I knew in the world was in that Church on that Sunday and I was terrified. Look at me, Mum said, and shout the first word. It worked and I got through my first public speaking engagement! Although neither me nor Mum thought about the microphone when shouting that first word … it woke everybody up let’s say. 

The same applies now when I make speeches. Last week, I was on a panel at the Labour Party Conference alongside Rachel Reeves MP, the Shadow Chancellor and needed to make a short speech before taking questions. Senior politician beside me, 100 people. 100 people in the room. Important moment for the Co-op. 

But it was just the same as St Joseph’s Church in 1978. Focus on an individual, attack the first word and just, most of all, be me. If I stammer, I stammer. And?

I like to think my Mum would be proud of me, not so much for what I do, but because of the fact that, like her, my stammer hasn’t defined me. Disabilities don’t, your character does.

Our Disability Network, Represent, provides a supportive community for disabled Co-op colleagues and promotes fair representation and equal opportunities. Contact Disabilitynetwork@coop.co.uk for more information.

Join the conversation! 9 Comments

  1. Thanks for sharing Paul. The messages you share are all the more powerful for the commitment and belief behind them.

  2. Love this “It was part of me, but it wasn’t who I was”. inspirational. thanks for sharing Paul

  3. Your Mum would be proud of you for sure Paul. I know I’m proud to have worked with. In the many media interviews you’ve done you always get the Co-op’s message across so eloquently.

  4. Wow, what a lovely article! I really love the ‘it was part of me, but it wasn’t who I was’ line, I think that should inspire us to not let the aspects of ourselves that challenge us define us. Sounds like Maureen was a fabulous Mum! 🙂

  5. It is essential that we see senior leaders talking about what they have overcome to be who they are. I believe managing personal issues effectively make you stronger. Ultimately,we are responding to the whole person. Paul is a never give up person, a tenacity born of managing his stammer from an early age and valuing inclusion warts and all.

  6. What a great story, and beautifully written Thank you so much for sharing that – it was really inspiring

  7. This is great. My partner has a stammer and is in a leadership role with another company, she also presents at conferences. She has her fears and I do my best to support her through them, but she never let’s her stammer overcome what she is trying to achieve. I am a firm believer that a disability should never be the defining character of an individual, or a blocker to someone reaching their goals. Thank you for sharing your story, I will be sharing this with my partner

  8. An important and very human story. Thanks Paul

  9. My youngest son Alfie, who is 10, has a stammer, and at times his frustration at not getting his words out, leave him angry and aggressive. With today being International Stammer Awareness Day, I’m wearing my ISAD badge in recognition to the millions of people out there who struggle to converse. People need to be patient and the key is to NOT finish their sentences.

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