Former Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls has spoken about stammering and politics during a visit to Harrogate’s Ashville College.
The Strictly Come Dancing star – and Vice President of Action for Stammering Children – made the visit to the independent school at the invitation of Sixth Former Thomas Grattoni-May, a key member of the charity’s Youth Panel, and a fellow stammerer.
At a fundraising cookery event in London last November, Thomas acted as Mr Balls’ ‘commis chef’ and asked the former Yorkshire MP if he would visit Ashville to help promote the work of the charity.
On being met by Thomas, Mr Balls visited the College’s Learning Support department, met staff members and spent 30 minutes chatting to several pupils with learning needs about their studies, interests and aspirations, as well as talking about the charity, its work and Thomas’ role within it.
This was followed by a question-and-answer session, where Ashville Sixth Formers, Year 11s, Scholars, and teachers – along with pupils from St Aidan’s in Harrogate and All Saints RC School in York – heard from and quizzed Mr Balls on a range of topics, from learning to live and work with a stammer, to his political experiences and views.
Leanne Norton, Assistant Head said: "I would like to thank Thomas for assisting with the visit, and of course to Mr Balls for being so generous with his time. It was a truly memorable day for all involved.
"He showed a real interest in our Learning Support department and how the team helps pupils like Thomas throughout their school life, and prepares them for the next stage in their careers, be it further education or into the workplace."
She continued: "It was also a fantastic opportunity for our pupils, plus those from St Aidan’s and All Saints, to hear from a former Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer about his own personal experiences."
Thomas Grattoni-May said: "I am incredibly grateful to Mr Balls for taking time out of his busy schedule to visit Ashville and to help promote Action for Stammering Children.
"He is a superb advocate for the charity, and it was fabulous having him here."
Last year, Thomas was named as a global winner of the inaugural Rise Challenge, a youth competition launched by Google billionaires to support exceptional young people in the service of others.
His ‘big idea’ that caught the organisers’ attention is to create a global stammering app to offer speech and language therapy to individuals around the world who currently have little or no access to support services.
Thomas hopes to bring together charities to share resources and expertise and create a global community of stammerers.