NEWS: Marks & Spencer becomes first UK employer to offer dedicated name badges for staff who stammer

July 13th, 2022 – Marks & Spencer has become the first UK employer to offer dedicated name badges for staff who have a stammer. Thanks to a suggestion by Colleague Representative Megan Tomkies, a new name badge is available on request to all employees at M&S who have a stammer or have another speech difficulty. Megan has written a guest article for Action for Stammering Children about her stammer journey, time at The Michael Palin Centre and the inspiration behind her great idea:

My name is Megan and I have had a stammer since the age of 5. My stammer effects me in many ways everyday and as I have grown older, how I feel about my stammer has certainly changed. 

When I was younger I hated the fact I had a stammer, I would get frustrated with myself and others because I simply couldn’t say what I wanted to say. I would choose alternative words instead of the words I really wanted to use, in fear of stammering. I would choose to not put my hand up in class, despite being desperate to answer a question or share my opinion. I wouldn’t answer my name when it was called on the register, I would simply nod. 

My parents had to fight for me to receive support throughout junior school which eventually resulted in speech therapy sessions at my local health centre. These sessions were catered for children aged between 2-5 years old, by which time I was 9 years old. My parents felt helpless as this was unacceptable. But there was no catered speech therapy for children like me who hadn’t ‘grown out of it, ‘ as many people believe is the case for people who stammer. 

It wasn’t until year 7 that I started to really notice my stammer, it was a combination of starting a new school with new people that consequently made it more apparent. Within that year I had multiple people mimic my stammer, both fellow students and teachers alike. Thankfully, I have the most amazing loved ones who have always supported me and the mimicking didn’t continue. I was 12 years old at this point and my parents continued to fight for me to have better speech therapy and more support.

We then found The Michael Palin Centre in London, a specialist centre for stammering children and young adults. Me and my Mum took part in an intensive two-week course and it changed my speech completely. I began the course not being able to speak fluently, so much so I would write what I wanted to say on a piece of paper, this has a negative impact on me mentally too.

The Michael Palin Centre for Stammering, London

Through two weeks of comprehensive speech therapy, exploration of techniques and lessons for both me and Mum, I finished the two-week course by giving a fluent speech to all of the other children and parents on the course. I can’t thank The Michael Palin Centre enough for what they did for me, it was genuinely life changing.

I realised that there are people like me and I was not alone. It was exhausting at times both physically and mentally, but I am so grateful for The MPC. Since then, I have worked on controlling my stammer and managing to speak fluently most of the time. I still have days where I stammer significantly more, particularly when I’m tired, anxious or overwhelmed. It is a reminder that I need to slow down, focus more on relaxing my muscles and not let my stammer get in the way of what I want to say. 

I am now 22 years old and I have accomplished so many things that show that just because you have a stammer, you can do anything. I graduated in 2021 with a First Class Honours Degree in Fine Art at Solent University, something I am immensely proud of. I am also a colleague representative at Marks and Spencer, where I have worked for 4 years, I take great pride in this role. I now see my stammer as a positive as it is part of me and it has taught me to have patience and always listen to others.

Which leads me onto some exciting news. As colleagues of M&S we have the opportunity to suggest ideas to our CEO that will benefit colleagues and customers alike. I decided to submit an idea to create a symbol for name badges for people like me who have a speech impediment. There is no universally recognised symbol to indicate that a person with a speech impediment may need time and patience, nor is a speech impediment considered a disability. I wanted to change this as I feel it would not only help people with a speech impediment but help others understand it too. 

Megan’s idea has now been approved by Marks & Spencer

I have had continued support from my amazing colleagues and loved ones throughout the idea process and not long after I submitted the idea, I found out that my idea had been accepted, it was a YES. 

I have created the first ever symbol within any workplace for people who have a speech impediment. This badge symbol can be ordered for my fellow colleagues who have a speech impediment, it indicates that they need time and patience when speaking. 

I have been overwhelmed by the reaction from M&S as a business, this is a world first and my aim is to implement my design and idea throughout all workplaces and ultimately spread awareness of stammering. This is so important to me and I hope I can continue to help people like myself.

Stuart Machin, M&S Chief Executive, said: “This is just the latest brilliant idea submitted into our Straight to Stuart scheme: a simple change that will make a real difference for colleagues all over the country. I want every colleague to feel comfortable at work and empowered to bring their whole selves with them – so I’m grateful to Megan for sharing her story, raising awareness, and inspiring meaningful change.”

Ali Berquez of The Michael Palin Centre, said: “The team at the Michael Palin Centre want to congratulate Megan on her wonderful initiative to develop dedicated name badges for employees who stammer. Not only is Megan living life as she wants to alongside her stammering but she has also chosen to support others around her and to make a difference in the wider world.”

Ria Bernard, Action for Stammering Children Chief Executive, said: “I’m delighted to see M&S recognising the importance of supporting individuals who stammer, and we are very grateful to Megan for raising awareness about stammering with this symbol. I look forward to seeing more employers following suit.”

Guest article by Megan Tomkies | Edited by Connor Tregunna

For media enquires relating to Action for Stammering Children please contact [email protected]

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