Bullied at school and tormented for years about his severe speech disability, Paul Allman was unable to say even his own name.
As a youngster he fell behind at in lessons and out of them he struggled to lead a normal life due to his stammer.
The speech condition led to almost 40 years of anguish for Paul. But now he has opened up about the struggles he has faced in life and how he overcame his biggest fear - talking.
The 46-year-old, of Gateshead, said: “It got to a point where I would not answer the phone or not speak to anybody out of embarrassment. I could not even say my own name.
“I used to struggle at school when teachers would go around the classroom asking you to read from a book.
“I got bullied for having a stammer and I could not do normal things, such as ask a bus driver for a ticket.
“I would have to write down where I was going out of embarrassment so the people could not hear me talking.
“I would also avoid the phone at all costs or not socialise, even with my partner’s friends. Now, I can do all of those things and more.”
But things are looking a lot brighter for Paul these days.
With the help of the McGuire Programme, a course which helps people overcome their speech difficulties, he is now able to get on with his life.
He has started a successful pest control business and is looking to the future with girlfriend Angela Ballatyne.
“The McGuire programme built my confidence up so much and I’m proud of what I’ve achieved. It has given me a new lease of life.
“All through my life I became withdrawn. I didn’t like to go out and socialise and I always had an excuse.
“Now I can have a life and start living it the way I want to and not hide behind this black cloak any more.
“I still have to work hard at my speech today but the programme has given me the confidence and boost that I need.”
Through his business, Problem Solved Pest Control, Paul has also discovered a different side to life.
He is now actively arranging meetings and conference calls with clients, something he would never have dreamt of just a couple of years ago.
Paul said: “Over the years the countryside has been my passion and my love in life.
“I helped out at a local shoot in Morpeth, Northumberland and my passion grew for pest control so I worked in the industry gaining experience.
“Sadly my auntie passed away with cancer and I was left in the will.
“One year on I’m now running my own business which is growing steadily with some fantastic client reviews.
“I enjoy speaking to new clients and I attend business meetings. The whole experience has changed the way I look at life.
“I would like to share my experience with others so they know they can do it and never give up on your dream.”
The McGuire Programme is a unique therapy approach for people who stammer or stutter.
It was founded by Dave McGuire, an American, in 1994 and regular meetings now take place across the UK.
Iain Mutch, regional director for UK North, said: “Everyone involved in the programme, at whatever level, is a person who has experienced stuttering themselves and, at some point, decided enough was enough and did something about it.
“I went on my first course in Bournemouth in September 2000. The first step is to apply for and attend a first intensive course.
“The courses we run are very intense, last for four days and are residential.”
Students like Paul stay in a hotel where the course is run from Wednesday evening until Sunday afternoon, working long hours.
“The courses are very practical and address the physical and psychological aspects of a stammer,” added Iain. “Work in the hotel conference room is taken outside into the real world and practiced on the streets of the city where the course is held.
“The courses are suitable for adults and also for highly motivated teenagers who stammer.
“Everyone is given the opportunity to try our methods for two days without charge to see if our approach is suitable for them.”
Every year a course is run the Royal Station Hotel in Newcastle, with the next one planned from March 11-15.
There is also an annual staff training weekend taking place this Friday to Sunday.
Iain said: “The weekend is devoted to training people who have already attended our courses to be coaches and instructors on the programme.”
Overcoming a disability is no easy feat but, like Paul, others are doing their all to better their lives.
Two tenants from Durham housing provider, Derwentside Homes, are on course for brighter futures after overcoming serious medical conditions and retraining for new careers.
Lynne Stafford and Sara Monaghan have both enrolled on NVQ Level Two courses in business administration after accessing education opportunities through the association’s Brighter Futures programme.
The pair were both employed before illness put them out of work for several years.
Now they are looking forward to a new lease of life thanks to the courses which have equipped them with essential new skills.
Lynne, 47, from Stanley, is married with four children and worked in retail for almost three decades.
But in 2009, she was diagnosed with Peripheral Vascular Disease (PVD), which restricts blood supply around the body.
After having a seizure, she scratched her foot and contracted septicaemia which required an above the knee amputation to get rid of the life-threatening infection.
She said: “After losing my leg a lot of people thought I couldn’t go back to work or go to college to learn new things.
“I was devastated at the time, and housebound for four weeks afterwards, but after a while I realised this is just another challenge I had to overcome.
“The Brighter Futures programme has given me a new perspective on life and I’d like to see where it goes.
“The courses have kick-started my brain again, I’ve really got into it and enjoy it so much.”
Sara, 29, from Blackhill in Consett, had been unemployed for five years after doctors diagnosed her with fibromyalgia.
She worked in sales at a computer repair shop prior to the diagnosis but has always been interested in business administration and hopes to secure work in a secretarial role or in a position as a PA.
She said: “I’m enjoying all of it. The course has given me a massive confidence boost and I am confident I will now get back to work and get a job from it one day.”
Since it was launched in 2012, Derwentside Homes’ Brighter Futures project has helped over 420 people.
It offers clients information, advice and guidance based on their individual needs to helps them to find work and increase their skills and knowledge.
Michelle Graham, employment initiatives officer at Derwentside Homes, said: “Many residents have the potential to benefit from education and skills training which could help them find work again.
“Both Lynne and Sara are showing that with determination you can overcome serious health problems and open up new opportunities for yourself by learning new skills.
“We really value Lynne and Sara’s input on our scrutiny panel as they are giving up their time to help to make our services better.
“We wish them all the best with their courses and will continue to support them to help them find work.”
Anyone wishing to find out more about the above programmes can visit www.mcguireprogramme.com or call Michelle about Brighter Futures on 01207 524 205.