A MAN whose childhood stammer saw him ridiculed to the point where he sabotaged his own schoolwork to avoid speaking in class has become an inspirational ambassador for a suffers' support group.

Former Cumbrae Primary and Largs Academy pupil James Stewart put his own crippling experiences to good use to found the Scottish Stammering Network, which has received praise from politicians and BBC newsreader Jackie Bird.

James, 33, is hoping through the charity to raise awareness of the condition and provide greater understanding.

He says: "Stammering can deeply affect how a person feels, thinks and acts.

"It can lead to social isolation, bullying, depression, anxiety, as well as many other secondary conditions.

"The group aims to stop people feeling embarrassed and worried about the negative reaction they may receive."

Since being founded, the network has grown and now has groups in Edinburgh, Fife and Glasgow - but none in James' home town.

He added:"I would like to get one locally, perhaps covering the whole of North Ayrshire. We speak about our own experiences and we have workshops on confidence building and stress management."

James, who used to live in Nether Kirkton Farm on Cumbrae, found leaving the smaller confines of Cumbrae Primary to Largs Academy challenging and took drastic action to avoid contact with others.

He told how he was even fearful of ordering train tickets and going on nights out when at university.

James said: "I remember in class avoiding all eye contact with the teacher, fearing the dreaded moment that I would be asked a question.

"Jokes were often made by other pupils about my stammer, which only made matters worse.

"My behaviour soon became destructive. My class was asked to take part in a work shadowing competition were the top ten reports would be selected and the winners were expected to give a presentation in front of everyone. I couldn't think of anything worse.

"I took matters into my own hands and purposely sabotaged my report by adding in mistakes to ensure that I wouldn’t be picked."

James says he set up the group because of a lack of support for people living with a stammer.

He added: "People from all walks of life attend and share their stories.

"At one point, speaking situations were the first thing on my mind in the morning and the last thing on my mind at night. Now I work for the NHS in a job where I’m required to speak in public and give presentations. I’m at a stage where I often find that I actually enjoy public speaking, which is something I never thought I’d say."

However James feels there is still a stigma associated with the condition, adding: "Stammering must be the only disability which is still made fun of.

"It can affect all walks of life and even BBC newsreader Jackie Bird has been in touch with our group as she had a stammer. She has spoke about the difficulties that she has overcome and we are looking to see how she can become more involved with the network."

The charity is pushing for school teachers to receive training in relation to dealing with pupils who have stammering difficulties.

More details about the support group can be found at www.stammeringscotland.org or on Facebook at Scottish Stammering Network.