Giving Voice

Saturday, 15 October 2016

Learning to Laugh

Voice Box season is upon us and I am enjoying encouraging schools to be involved again this year. I am now settled in my new job back home in Northumberland and have spent time since the beginning of term encouraging my new schools to join in. I’ve presented at a few staff meetings over the last few weeks to share information about Voice Box and how staff can get their students involved. Prior to the staff meetings I created a resource sheet summarising what Voice Box is and the benefits of getting involved along with some information about how to support the children with Speech, Language and Communication Needs (SLCN). I also used this opportunity to summarise what makes a joke funny and why this can be difficult for some of the children with SLCN. We discussed how to use the joke telling as a way of exploring vocab and also incorporating it into wider school events such as No Pens Day.

In a few weeks we are having an inter-campus final where the winners and runners up can tell their jokes on stage in front of an audience at one of the schools. Planning for this is going well and I have sent invite letters to local MPs to be on the judging panel.

I am really looking forward to seeing and hearing the winning jokes and hearing how each of the schools are getting on. It’s been lovely that a couple of people have contacted me about Voice Box following my article in Bulletin last month too. I always love hearing from other SLTs!

It’s not too late to get your school involved. Check out the Giving Voice website for the Voice Box toolkit and further information. Happy joke telling!
Tilly and Tom

Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Love to Laugh? Voice Box is Back!

After the success of Voice Box last year, I’m excited it is happening again this autumn term. Whether you are a parent, a teacher or a Speech and Language Therapist I’d like to help you inspire your local school to get involved in Voice Box.

Communication is a fundamental part of our daily lives and these skills begin to develop from birth. Humour is something that connects us and allows us to share in experiences with others, building friendships and providing joy. I love that Voice Box brings together the importance of communication and how fun language can be. Humour is used a lot throughout our lives and I think it’s a great way to explore language.

Last year I inspired a number of Leeds schools to get involved in Voice Box (2 of which went on to represent their schools at the final in London with one becoming the overall winner!) Read about the school competition, Leeds final or National Final at Westminster.

We were excited to get involved in Voice Box but it really did exceed our expectations, even before we knew who had been shortlisted. Everyone loved taking part right from the beginning and it was lovely to see how enthusiastic the children were throughout. It was lovely to see the children grow in confidence and they enjoyed sharing their jokes with their friends and on stage. Some of the children required additional support from a Speech and Language Therapist (me) and then delivered their jokes with confidence.
Tilly and Tom enjoying Voice Box

If you work in primary schools I’d encourage you to get involved in Voice Box as it was so much fun! I’ve devised a list of things I did last year to inspire you as a starting point but I’d love to hear any of your own ideas as I’m hoping to get schools involved again this year, and what works for one school may not work for another. This is not an exhaustive list but hopefully will inspire you to help get schools involved.

1.       Inspire Schools and gain a key contact

It will be useful to mention Voice Box as early as possible to begin to plant the seeds. I’ve just started a new job and have already begun to mention it ready to remind them again in the Autumn term. It can be a busy time and it is worth planning it in as soon as possible. If you work in a number of schools, have a discussion with a key person in each who will be enthusiastic about taking it forward. Last year I was really lucky that both the SENCO and Head Teacher thought it was a brilliant idea and we joined together to make a brilliant team to make it work.

2.       Help Staff identify which children may need support
Voice Box is open to all children on primary school age. Some children may have Speech, Language and Communication Needs (SLCN) and need additional support to be able to understand and deliver their joke. Last year I did a number of additional rehearsal sessions with some children with SLCN to ensure they were able to learn and deliver their joke confidently.

3.      Set a date and share with whole school

With the competition dates in mind, think about when your school will hold your competition and how you plan to do it. Are you going to have a whole school event on stage? Per class etc?

Once you’ve decided on a plan, share with staff and students. I shared this with the children during an assembly and it also went out in the school newsletter so parents knew it was happening.

4.       Invite MP and other judges

Once you’ve decided on a date decide if you want to have a judging panel. This can be a really good way to link with MPs or others. We wrote to the local MP and then I followed this up with a visit to his surgery and invited him in person. We chose to have the event on a Friday so that the MP would be in constituency and more likely to be able to attend. Even if you don’t need the MP to be a judge it can be a good idea to write to them and tell them it is happening as the final will be taking place in Westminster.

5.       Lunch Time Joke Clubs

We had a number of lunch time joke clubs in the weeks leading up to the event. These proved hugely popular and were so oversubscribed that each class could only attend a lunch time joke club once in order to allow everyone who wanted to be involved to have the opportunity to do so.

The joke clubs consisted of looking at joke books and thinking of our favourite jokes. I also prepared some jokes for the younger children with the answers separate to the question to encourage the children to match them according to what made them funny. These were popular activities which inspired the children to think of jokes.

6.      Joke Workshops (No Pens Day)

On No Pens Day I led some joke workshops in each class which wanted them. For the younger children this was reading jokes from children’s joke books and talking about which ones they liked best. With the older children (year 3 and above) we looked at what makes a joke funny (creates a funny picture in your head, uses double meaning (pun) etc.) I then showed them jokes and the children had to decide why it was funny based on what we had discussed. These were popular sessions and encouraged the children to think about jokes. They were really nice sessions to have on No Pens Day as it was a good speaking and listening topic and the children were already enthusiastic at not having to write for the day.

These sessions could be led by the class teacher and wouldn’t need to be done on No Pens Day.

7.       Other:

a.       Goody Bags – we gave each of the judges a goody bag with a range of nice Giving Voice treats (as well as some chocolates!) This is a good way of reminding the judges about Speech and Language Therapy after the event. My dad created some small calendars for 2016 (as the events were in December) with a range of nice photos and facts about Speech and Language Therapy.

b.      Posters – The Voice Box toolkit has a poster you can print and use but school decided to have a poster design competition over the holidays which was also very popular. This allowed children who prefer to be artistic to be involved in the whole school event even if they didn’t want to enter a joke.

c.       Prizes – if you have a whole school event on stage you could get medals etc. We got a trophy for the winning joke (which read ‘I made people laugh’) and all the children who told a joke got a medal. There are certificates to print from the toolkit too which we also gave the children.

8.       Size of event 
Our event was quite large and the whole school was involved, those who didn’t enter a joke watching the show. I know of other school events that took place that were much smaller and just as successful. Even if you don’t have much time you can still get your school involved. My niece wrote to her Head Teacher and was then asked to present the idea in an assembly. The children then had over night to think of a joke for the competition the next day. A winner was chosen from each class and then an overall winner was chosen to enter the competition.

Why should I get involved in Voice Box?

-          Language is fun!

-          Develops speaking and listening skills

-          Opportunity to link with local MPs

-          Spread awareness of Speech and Language Therapy

-          Develops confidence and self-esteem in children

-          Appeals to a wide range of children (and staff alike)

-          Chance of being shortlisted to the National Final in Westminster!

-          Create healthy competition between children and between schools by organising a wider event

I hope you found this interesting and feel inspired to get your schools involved. If you have any questions about how I got involved last year or want to share ideas I’d love to hear from you @pinkjules_16
Voice Box is a joint initiative between RCSLT and The Communication Trust. For further details please see the official website

Tuesday, 8 March 2016

International Women's Day

Being in a profession consisting of more women than men, I felt inspired to write a post on International Women’s Day. I don’t know why it is that there are more women than men train for Speech and Language Therapy but it’s definitely a profession with more females! (But I do know some brilliant male SLTs too!)
I work, and have worked with, many inspirational Speech and Language Therapists who are dedicated to making a difference to the lives of the people they work with. Whether it’s helping children to say their first words, use their speech sounds correctly or to make more sense of the world around them… and that’s just the children we’ve seen before lunch!
There are so many women who have inspired me throughout my entire life, before and during my career as a Speech and Language Therapist - and men too but today is International Women’s day so we don’t need to talk about the men today! ;)  
I love quotes and I have many favourites. My love of quotes also reminds me how important language is to be able to understand others and express ourselves and to find our place in the world. I feel so privileged to be part of a profession that offers support and intervention to people struggling to develop effective communication skills (or regain these skills if they’ve been lost).
I thought I’d share some of my favourite quotes (so hard to choose only a few!)
-          If you think you are too small to make an impact, try sleeping with a mosquito in the room – Dame Anita Roddick (I love this one and use it whenever I am talking to people about campaigning)
-          The question isn’t who’s going to let me. It’s who’s going to stop me – Ayn Rand
-          No one can make you feel inferior without your consent – Eleanor Roosevelt
-          If you don’t like something change it, if you can’t change it, change your attitude – Maya Angelou
-          Anything is possible if you’ve got enough nerve – J.K.Rowling
Some of the most inspirational women in my life are those the closest to me. My mam, my sister and my grandma have all played a huge role in my life. My grandma always used to say ‘You’ve got to laugh or else you’ll cry’ and this gets me through many situations (sometimes daily!) I know I am a better person because she was in my life. All of my family (and friends) are so supportive of me and everything I do and I feel so blessed each and every day.
My sister Joanne, mam and grandma with a cool little Julie!
Thanks for reading. Be proud of who you are <3
Speech and Language Therapy Transforms Lives!

Monday, 7 March 2016

Laughter with a Lord

Thanks to everyone who has read, shared and re-tweeted my blog in the last 24 hours! It's been great to see that a number of the MPs who were at Voice Box last week have retweeted it. Gary Northfield, one of the judges (and children's author and illustrator) also retweeted it to his followers.
Today I got some official photos from RCSLT and I thought it would be nice to share some of them here as an additional post.
Tomorrow morning, Chris Dyson Head Teacher and TJ are going to be on BBC Radio Leeds between 8.15 and 8.30am and on BBC Look North after 6pm. I look forward to listening and watching!
Richard Burgon, Leeds East MP, Chris Dyson and TJ
Photo Credit: Geoff Wilson

Richard Burgon, MP with Abigail from Seacroft Grange
Photo credit: Geoff Wilson
TJ telling his winning joke (complete with potato prop!) with Nick Smith, MP
Photo Credit: Geoff Wilson

 Gary Northfield and TJ with his certificate
Photo Credit: Geoff Wilson

Kamini Gadhok, CEO of RCSLT with Lord Quirk
Photo Credit: Geoff Wilson

Lord Quirk pictured above was President of RCSLT between 1987 and 1991. In addition to this, in the late 1960s/early 1970s he chaired a committee of enquiry into speech therapy services (which fundamentally changed the profession!)
I have enjoyed being involved in Voice Box so much. I think it is a fantastic idea and I know that all the children have enjoyed it too. I look forward to getting involved again next time round. It's a great way to promote the communication skills and confidence of young people in a fun way.
Speech and Language Therapy Transforms Lives. To read more about the Voice Box final in London last week see here. Thanks for reading and thank you to RCSLT for providing the photos I've shared in this blog post! I'm sure you'll agree they are fantastic! :)

Sunday, 6 March 2016

Raising the Roof at Speaker's House

I travelled to London for the Voice Box final on Wednesday. I arrived a little early at Portcullis House so had a little walk along the Thames to take a few photos. Anyone that knows me knows I can never have too many photos of Big Ben or the London Eye! After brief sightseeing I joined the queue to get into Portcullis House. Once through security I was greeted with a buzz of enthusiasm and excitement from all the children waiting to go to Speaker’s House for the competition (and indeed the adults in the room too!)


Portcullis House, London

Voice Box was organised by the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists (RCSLT) and The Communication Trust. I had the pleasure of meeting the Director of The Communication Trust (Octavia Holland)on our way from Portcullis House to Speaker's House.

I was particularly excited that two of the Leeds schools had made it to the national final and chatted with both finalists while we were waiting. Both children from Leeds were particularly excited for their first trip to London and couldn’t wait to tell their jokes! My niece took Voice Box to her school last term too and the winner from there also attended so I introduced myself to him and his guests too :)                                                                                                                                                                                                                           
The event was officially hosted by Mr Speaker, John Bercow MP and it was held in Speaker’s House. It was an honour to be invited and have lunch with all the competitors and their families/teachers/SLTs before listening to all the jokes.
Richard Burgon MP for Leeds East attended for part of the event and was able to chat with both the Leeds children before they told their jokes. I was really pleased that he was able to attend and it was brilliant that he was able to see it through to the end after having been the judge at both of our Leeds events.  You can read more about the Parklands Voice Box and the Leeds final here.
After lunch we took to our seats for the competition to begin. Nick Smith, MP for Blaenau Gwent was the Master of Ceremonies. Nick was RCSLT’s Director of Policy and Partnerships between 2006 and 2010. He kept the event running smoothly including a few jokes of his own. I had the pleasure of meeting Nick at the 2011 Giving Voice awards but unfortunately didn’t get the opportunity to speak to him on Wednesday.
Nick Smith MP, me and Sharon Hodgson MP at the Giving Voice Awards 2011
Eleven other MPs attended and some of them got up and told jokes alongside their constituent competitors! They did get laughter from the audience but I must say the children were definitely funnier than the MPs ;)
There were a range of jokes, some complete with props, and each and every one of the children had the room erupting with laughter. Some children used iPads to tell their jokes and all of the children were full of character - I definitely think there are some comedians in the making!
Ian Lavery, MP for Wansbeck attended part of the event and it was great to catch up with him again. I also chatted with him to get a quote for a press release for RCSLT to send out to local media. Ian took the time to talk to the child from his constituency and posed for a photo with him.  It’s always lovely to catch up with Mr Lavery. I’m so pleased that over the 4 years since I first met him to tell him about Giving Voice that he has been a continued supporter of Speech and Language Therapy and has attended so many events to show his support.

Ian Lavery, MP with me in Speaker's House
Lord Quirk also attended - he was President of RCSLT between 1987 and 1991. In addition, in the late 1960s/early 1970s he chaired a committee of enquiry into speech therapy services (which fundamentally changed the profession!)
The event was brilliant and the children were all fantastic though I have to say the Parklands potato joke (complete with props!) remained my favourite (and I’m not at all biased! ;)
We broke off for a cup of tea and some cake while the judges were deciding the winner. I saw that South Shields MP Emma Lewell-Buck was talking to her constituent child (the child from my niece’s school) so I went and joined them for a chat. I told her that my niece took Voice Box to her school and that I’m a Speech and Language Therapist working in Leeds. It was lovely to chat to her and to hear how passionate she is about South Shields. (My home away from home!)

It was also lovely to have the chance to catch up with Andrea Robinson, who is also a member of the Giving Voice Innovation (GIG) group. She was also supporting a child in the final :)

Me with Andrea Robinson, SLT
Once we’d had our fill of tea and cake we went back in to find out the all-important results. The judging panel comprised of Octavia Holland (Director of The Communication Trust), Gary Northfield (children’s comic author) and last time’s Voice Box winner Jack. Before announcing the winner Gary showed the children how to draw Julius Zebra (from his book of the same title) and he presented all of the children with a framed certificate and goody bag. Once all the prizes were given we found out the 2 runners up and the winner…
And I am delighted to announce that the winner was (insert enthusiastic drum roll here…)
TJ from Parklands Primary School!
He was fantastic and the title was thoroughly deserved. He also looked the part in the 3 piece suit the head teacher (Chris Dyson) bought him for the occasion! The winner from Seacroft Grange also did really well and I am proud to have been part of their journey to London. All of the children were inspirational and it was clear how much they all enjoyed the day.

Richard Burgon, MP for Leeds East, Chris Dyson Head Teacher and TJ - winner of Voice Box!
Richard tweeted about the event and shared this photo on Facebook and Twitter

After the competition we went on a tour of the Palace of Westminster and it was lovely to hear about the history of the building and to have a look around part of it. Unfortunately the House of Commons and the House of Lords were in sitting so we were unable to view the chambers.

Palace of Westminster

On Thursday my niece won cadet of the year at South Shields Girls Venture Air Corps and I tweeted Emma Lewell-Buck to say it was lovely to meet her on Wednesday, reminded her that Toni had took Voice Box to school last term and had just won Cadet of Year. She tweeted back on Friday and when I told Toni that her MP had tweeted to say well done she was over the moon.
RCSLT had their official photographer there on Wednesday and once I have access to these photos I’ll share some of them on here too.
Thanks so much for reading and well done again to everyone who was involved in such a brilliant event, we all made memories that we’ll treasure forever. I am looking forward to getting involved again next time round!

Wednesday, 30 December 2015

Laughter in Leeds

On Friday 11th December we hosted the Leeds Voice Box final at Parklands Primary School. It went really well and I was so proud to have been part of it. Three schools competed for the Leeds title and all the children told great jokes. The two visiting schools brought their schools winner and runner up and we show cased a few of our runners up from our November competition. Chris Dyson, Head Teacher, gave a very warm welcome to our visiting schools and started the afternoon off brilliantly.

It was our delight to welcome Richard Burgon, MP for Leeds East to join our judging panel once again (this time after spending the whole afternoon with the school council). He was joined by Janet Addison, Head of Speech and Language Therapy and CAHMS (Leeds Community Healthcare) and Maureen Carr (who was invited following lots of generous donations of Christmas gifts to the school).
Tilly and Tom also joined in the afternoon by sitting with the judging panel, looking very festive in their Christmas jumpers. They enjoyed listening to the jokes and meeting the judges (and posing for a few photos too!)
The judging panel with Tilly and Tom
During the build up to the big day I decided it would nice if each of the finalists had a trophy so I ordered two more and kept my fingers (and toes!) crossed that they would arrive in time. On the Friday morning I received an email stating that the trophies would arrive between 14.26 and 15.26 that day! Voice Box was taking place 2-3pm so I asked the lady in the office to alert me if they arrived while we were still in the hall.  Half way through the show I saw her waving at me from outside the hall with two trophies in hand! I was so excited and quickly left the hall to get them from her.
One of the winners trophies
I was delighted that we were able to give each of the winners a trophy for making it to the Leeds final. Following the jokes from all of the children, the judging panel deliberated the important decision of overall Leeds winner while we listened to Year 4 sing Mamma Mia.

Richard Burgon made an inspirational speech and talked passionately about Leeds, the people living there and Parklands Primary School. He also announced that after spending the afternoon with the school council that he would like to invite them to visit the Houses of Parliament at Westminster. He also took the time to write to each of the 41 children from the November Parklands Voice Box competition. Richard then announced the winner, as decided by the judging panel. While he was talking each of three finalists were sat on the stage, fingers crossed, looking very hopeful they would be the lucky winner. I felt so proud of our team effort to make the afternoon so enjoyable for everyone, and was glad that each of the 3 children would leave with a trophy. Richard announced the winner and then presented each of the three finalists with a trophy, followed by the runners up with a medal.
One of the letters from Richard Burgon
Our year 5 Parklands winner, won the Leeds title with his brilliant joke about Princess Potatoes. Each of the winners from the three schools have been individually entered into the national competition and we look forward to hearing whether we have been shortlisted for the Westminster final.

I have received lots of positive feedback from the schools that took part and those who attended the Voice Box final. One of my SLT colleagues from one of the other schools said that their 2 girls were buzzing all the way home and their winner was telling everyone who would listen than she came second and showing them her trophy.

I have thoroughly enjoyed being involved in Voice Box, from the lunch time joke clubs, joke workshops, rehearsals and live performances. It has  also been a fantastic opportunity to work even more closely with the schools fabulous SENCO (Laura) and Head Teacher (Chris), both of whom worked tirelessly to ensure Voice Box ran smoothly. It has also been great to get other schools involved and have the support of the local MP.

I am changing my NHS role in Leeds from January so I will no longer be working in Parklands Primary School. It has been a fantastic project to be involved in during my last term there and I hope that there will be opportunity to visit them again soon! I also hope that there will be opportunity to get schools involved in Voice Box again next time round!
Chris Dyson (Head Teacher), me, Tilly, Maureen
I can’t believe we are almost at the end of another year. It’s been another busy one and I’ve loved every minute! I started the year on a temporary NHS contract and am delighted that I am ending the year on a permanent contract – looks like I will be in Leeds longer than planned after all.

I enjoyed talking at the RCSLT Webinar on Political Engagement in July and then building on this further by developing links with the Leeds East MP through Voice Box. I have put feelers out in my team about us raising awareness of Giving Voice and SLT and we will be following this up in the New Year.

I am looking forward to seeing what 2016 will bring and wish you all lots of health and happiness for the New Year.  

Thank you for reading – see you in 2016!

Monday, 30 November 2015

Jolly Jokers Shine

I was so proud of the staff and students at school last week. Voice Box went really well and everyone enjoyed it! The children have worked so hard to learn and rehearse their jokes and all did brilliantly on stage! 41 children performed their jokes in front of a hall packed with children, parents, staff and the judging panel. Our judges included Michael Harvey from Business in the Community, Trevor Frost from TD Stockbrokers, Richard Burgon, MP for Leeds East and Harry Gration from BBC Look North!

The week leading up to Voice Box was busy with helping children to prepare and practice their jokes. I did some additional rehearsal sessions with some of the children on my caseload who needed a little bit more specialist support with practising.

Over the half term holidays there was a competition for the children to design a poster advertising the event. There were lots of creative entries and the winner got a £10 gift card. All the posters have been displayed around school in the week leading up to Voice Box and the children were eagerly counting down to the big day!

On the Thursday afternoon we had a complete run through of all the jokes, to check the children were happy with what they were doing and to help them with projecting their voices etc. We also wanted to check that no one had changed their joke from the original entry (which only happened a couple of times!)

On the morning of Voice Box Laura (SENCO) and I decorated the hall ready for the afternoon. Laura bought some lovely star bunting and I had blown up some balloons. We put the medals and winner’s trophy on a table at the front and I put the Giving Voice pop up banner in the middle of the stage.

We set up a table for the judges near the front of the hall, decorated with vases of fresh flowers, Giving Voice goody bags and chocolates! Each of the judges also had a record sheet to score each of the children’s jokes to help them remember when they were choosing the winner!
My dad made calendars for each of the judges with facts about SLT on each month and some fab photos that he has taken himself.
All of the children were brilliant and so enthusiastic. The rest of the school enjoyed watching and it was a really lovely afternoon.

Harry Gration talked about how welcome we’d made him feel and how much he enjoyed the tour of the school before the competition began.

Before the winner was announced Chris (Head Teacher) said Thank You to me for bringing Voice Box to school and Harry Gration presented me with a beautiful bouquet of flowers! I thought this was very sweet and the flowers are still looking lovely now.

The winning joke was brilliant and performed with enthusiasm (and props!) I submitted this to RCSLT earlier in the week and wish him lots of luck in making it to the Grand Final at Westminster.

Tilly and Tom enjoyed meeting the judges!
Judges L to R: Trevor Frost, Michael Harvey, Richard Burgon MP, Harry Gration
Following the event there has been a lot of Twitter activity including from the judges. Harry Gration also mentioned the school on BBC Look North that night which was very exciting for us all!

Laura posted on Facebook that night and mentioned that Speech and Language Therapy Transforms Lives! I thought this was lovely and every mention helps to get the message out even further.

I love how much of a team effort it has been and it would not have been possible without the enthusiasm of the head teacher and SENCO Laura. The children have loved it and are still telling jokes. It’s brilliant how it has got everyone communicating in such a positive way.

One of the teachers made a fab video slide show and I love how Tilly and Tom even made an appearance!

We are hosting the Leeds final on Friday 11th December and are looking forward to doing it all again! It’s not too late to get your school involved – my niece’s school did their whole Voice Box competition in a day so it doesn’t have to take a lot of planning. Further details can be found on the RCSLT Giving Voice website.