A RICHMOND man has overcome a severe stammer to further his career prospects and boost his confidence.

Stephen McCoy, of Ham, can seen on a television documentary about stammering, and says he hopes his story will encourage others to seek help.

Stephen, 36, is now a member of a public speaking club and regularly gives presentations as part of his job as an IT systems engineer, but just six months ago he used to dread speaking on the telephone.

He said: "I've had a stammer most of my life and I remember seeing a programme about Gareth Gates, and how he overcame his stammer. I did some research about the programme and, after spending about a year wondering if it would be right for me, I decided to give it a go."

Stephen signed up to the McGuire Programme and took part in an initial four day course. "After that there is a network of people you can talk to on the telephone and lots of meetings you can attend."

Footage from the four-day course, in Cardiff, can be seen on the Channel Four documentary, The Stuttering School. As part of the course Stephen had to talk to 100 people in the city centre and then give a speech on a 'soapbox', something he described as "very tough".

Stephen moved to South Africa as a child but moved back to Richmond with his wife Nicola eight years ago. He said: "There are lots of theories about how and when stammering starts. It could be genetic, or there could be a traumatic event that triggers it. I remember moving to South Africa at six, and it being very different, but that's pure speculation."

When people have graduated from the course, they have the chance to stay involved, acting as a coach. Stephen spent last weekend in Wigan, again speaking to strangers in the city centre and giving a speech, and shared a room with a coach and former student, musician Graeme Duffin, who plays with Wet Wet Wet.

"It affects every part of your life," said Stephen. "One of the guys was saying he used to cause chaos at the petrol station because one of the words he knew he could say was 'six', so he'd have to wait for that pump to become free."

Although proud of his progress, he admits he has a long way to go. "It's not a cure, and it's very hard work. For example, every Thursday I go to Leicester Square and ask people for directions. One of the words I struggled with was 'Carnaby Street', so I walk around asking people for the way there.

"But I feel much more confident now. In the past I might have ignored opportunities to become a team leader or move into management. Now when the time's right I feel I could do it."

The Stuttering School can be viewed online at www.channelfour.com/programmes/4od