Thousands of people in the UK are forced to radically change their lifestyles and behaviour to cope with the fact they have a stammer.

But having the problem does not always mean people have to restrict their lives. Siobhan Ryan speaks to a woman who has managed to teach hundreds of people to control their problem.

Being asked the time by a stranger when you're wearing a watch is for the majority of people a relatively mundane incident that is quickly forgotten.

Going to the post office and asking for stamps or sitting down to tell your child a bedtime story also seems nothing to worry about.

But if you have a stammer, these simple, run-of-the-mill situations can be a major problem.

Anne Blight, from Hailsham, says there are a series vocal exercises that can be taken which can help people speak more clearly and improve self confidence.

She said: "Because it is not visual problem people don't tend to think that much about it but it can be crippling psychologically.

"I have dealt with cases where people will get off at earlier bus stop because the destination is easier to say then the proper one.

"When someone is in a restaurant they can find themselves ordering the same as the person next to them rather than go through trying to pronounce what they want."

After seeing the devastating effect speech defects can have Mrs Blight decided to set up the Starfish Project three years ago.

She organises and runs specialist short courses for people with stammers, teaching them a breathing technique that helps control their speech and communicate clearly.

The aim is to teach stammerers to breathe as if they are singing when they speak.

Instead of gasping and gulping for air they are taught to inhale deeply and speak using the breath they have just taken.

The technique requires agreat deal of concentration and self-discipline but has had impressive results.

Mrs Blight often takes her group to fast food restaurants to see how they cope with noise, stress and busy staff.

She said: "In modern society everyone is in a rush. But the most important thing for a person with a stammer is time.

"Taking them into busy shops means they have to avoid the pressure to speak quickly. They must take control of the situation, keep their breathing slow and only speak when they feel ready.

"I encourage people to tell others they are a recovering stammerer as this often helps others understand their actions."

Mrs Blight looks upon her treatment as a way of helping people to cope rather than as a cure because they have to work hard all the time to make sure the words come out the way they want.

So far more than 300 have completed the course and 80 per cent have found it helped them to control their stammer.

Pupil Simon Penfold is one of Mrs Blight's success stories.

After years of having a stammer that stripped him of his self-confidence despite all his efforts to improve his speech, Mr Penfold has managed to bring his speech quickly under control.

He said: "I enrolled on a Starfish course and went in stammering, embarrassed by my inability to speak and came away with confidence I never believed possible.

"I spent my life hiding from the world. As a kid I avoided any kind of social scene as I found it difficult to make friends.

Mr Penfold, 31, eventually gave up hope of losing his stammer because all the available treatments such as speech therapy and counselling failed.

He said: "It was no use. All the psychological stuff made sense but I was sure it was a physical problem. I felt I didn't have enough air in me to get the words out."

Within three hours of using the Starfish method, he managed to say his first whole sentence without stumbling over a single word.

He now goes back for refresher courses to remind him of the techniques used but is mainly able to get on with his life.

For more details about the Starfish Project call 01825 767268 or contact Further advice is also available from the British Stammering Association on 0845 6032001 or at