Michael Palin to host fundraising gala for Finsbury stammering clinic named after him

The Gazette visits The Michael Palin Centre – the UK’s largest stammering centre – ahead of the Monty Python legend’s West End show

This time last year, Nadia Sahebdin was witnessing her young son Musa suffer a terrible loss of confidence brought on by his struggles with stammering.

While it had never bothered him before, all of a sudden Musa seemed to be retreating into his shell before her very eyes – often literally pulling his hood down and his collar up and never wanting to leave the house.

Mrs Sahebdin and her husband didn’t know who to turn to – until their GP referred them to The Michael Palin Centre for Stammering Children.

And within weeks, Musa had become one of the many success stories at the centre, in Pine Street, Finsbury – the UK’s largest and longest-running clinic dedicated to treating children and young people who stammer.

As it approaches it’s 20th birthday and embarks on a fundraising drive backed by the Monty Python star himself, the Gazette spoke to mother-of-three Mrs Sahebdin and visited the centre to hear from one of its therapists.

Mrs Sahebdin, 35, of Shaftesbury Road, Hornsey Rise, said: “Musa’s speech development was extremely worrying and I was on the brink of tears.

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“He was unaware of any issues until he was teased a year ago and that was it for me, I hit rock bottom. It had never fazed him to that point.

“He started to pull down his hood and put his collar up – he didn’t want to be seen. That was really horrible.”

Musa, now four, was referred early this year – and within weeks his parents saw a drastic improvement.

“I can’t stop singing their praises,” his mum said. “They have been absolutely fantastic and it’s great there’s a place out there like it. I just wish it was bigger and had the money to cater for so many more children. Musa’s life has turned right around.

“They gave us the tools to work with him at home. It really helped and we started to see a huge difference within two or three weeks.”

Mrs Sahebdin says the changes that brought about such a transformation were often very simple, including finding more time to play with Musa and giving him constructive praise.

She added: “We have opened a can of worms! He was a quiet child, but now he’s got this amazing confidence. He’s standing up in class and displaying his work. He still stammers at times but it doesn’t faze him. He will go right through it.”

The centre celebrates its 20th anniversary next year and over the years has worked with around 5,000 children, and takes on about 250 each year, with many travelling from far and wide.

It has borne the star’s name since it opened. His association stems from his father’s stammering, not to mention his famous character Ken in the 1998 film A Fish Called Wanda.

Specialist speech and language therapist Jane Fry, who has been with the centre throughout its time, said: “Michael Palin put his name to it and has given us a huge amount of support over the years. He comes to visit the families and the young people really enjoy meeting him. He has a very personal understanding of just how complex a problem stammering can be.

“His father stammered and he is very thoughtful about what that must have been like as a father.”

As an NHS facility, inevitably funding can be tight, but the centre also receives support from the charity Action for Stammering Children (ASC). This pays for free specialist assessments that are offered to all two to 18-year-olds – and are a costly business, taking eight hours each time.

On Sunday, December 2, Mr Palin will host a special evening at the Playhouse Theatre, in the West End, with all proceeds going to the centre, helping to fund those initial consultations.

Ms Fry said: “These detailed assessments are funded 100 per cent by the charity and are the cornerstones of each child’s therapy programme.

“Stammering has the potential to have a considerable impact on a child’s emotional wellbeing, educational success and quality of life, with a real risk, if help is not available, of young people becoming withdrawn and socially anxious because of their stammer.”

She added: “We help young people to learn strategies to manage stammering better and manage the emotions that can go along with stammering. Therapy can be about being less fearful and more open with it, and confident being someone who stammers..”

Ms Fry explained that while there is believed to be a genetic influence, there is still plenty of mystery surrounding the causes of stammering. She added that many children will grow out of it – but that is much more likely if therapy begins early.

“It’s a complex disorder and not the same for everybody so we tailor therapy to each child,” added Ms Fry.

An Evening with Michael Palin in aid of the centre is on December 2, from 6pm, at the Playhouse Theatre, WC2.

Palin will discuss his experiences shooting his latest BBC documentary series in Brazil and share some of his favourite comedy material, before hosting a reception for 100 gold ticket holders.

* Tickets are available at stammeringcentre.org/mpevening