UWE Speech Therapy Programme receives £1.2 million donation

Issue date: 15 March 2010

University of the West of England A donation for £1.2 million supporting speech and language therapy work undertaken by researchers at the University of the West of England has been donated by The Underwood Trust.

The money will be used to set up an endowment fund to secure the future of speech and language therapy research at the University. This research is conducted by the Speech and Language Therapy Research Unit which is a partnership between UWE and North Bristol NHS Trust, where the Unit is based at Frenchay Hospital.

More than 250,000 people live with disabilities following stroke, the most common of which is communication impairment and nearly 40,000 children every year enter school with significant difficulties with speech, language and communication difficulties.

The research programme works at improving outcomes for people with speech, language and communication impairments. Professor Sue Roulstone is delighted at the impact the donation will have:

“It's very reassuring that the endowment fund set up from this donation will support our work over the coming years and we are grateful for this very generous support that will enable the team to find solutions for people who experience speech, language and communication difficulties.

“Language and communication impairments stem from a wide range of developmental and acquired conditions including autism, learning difficulties, hearing impairment, Parkinson's disease, motor neurone disease, throat cancer and many others. Impairments in a person's ability to communicate effectively can impact on every aspect of their life – their education, relationships and their employment.

“We are committed to detailed analysis of what therapies work best, how technologies used by professionals working in this arena might be put to better use and to find out more about why some people with speech and communication difficulties cope better than others.

“The programme of research has been based at the Speech and Language Therapy Research Unit, hosted by North Bristol NHS Trust and we are delighted that this wonderful donation will enable the University to maintain and develop our links with the NBT and with the clinical speech and language therapy departments. We will use the endowment to establish The Underwood Trust Chair for Language and Communication Impairment.”

This donation comes on top of long term support of more than 20 years for speech and language therapy research from The Underwood Trust. Most recently The Underwood Trust funded research which has resulted in a film about teenagers with communication difficulties called 'the Bristol Project' that will soon be ready for distribution.

The film focused on the experience of five teenage boys and explored the research question 'What is it like to be a teenager with speech and language difficulties?'

Sue Roulstone said, “The answers to that question were not quite what we expected to hear. The young people challenged us to focus on their interests and their positive contributions rather than on their difficulties. The film portrays these teenagers with affection and humour and gives them a chance to share their enthusiasms. Although the boys' difficulties with communication may be apparent in the film, we are challenged to consider our role in defining their difficulties.”

Emma Sambrook, Director in UWE's Development and Alumni Relations Office, said, “The Underwood Trust was keen to ensure UWE's commitment to the programme of speech and language therapy research and to the links with the Speech and Language Therapy Research Unit (SLTRU). As this was a philanthropic donation we were in a position to apply to the Higher Education Funding Council (HEFCE) scheme that gives 50% matched funding to projects attracting donations which in this case amounts to £600k.

“This is good news for UWE as a whole, as of the HEFCE contribution we will ring fence £300k for the work of the STU but the remainder can be used for philanthropic projects organised by the University. This will include projects nominated by staff and students in a scheme to be announced soon.”

Steve West UWE Vice-Chancellor, said, “Securing a donation large enough to set up an endowment at a time when funding for universities is threatened with significant cuts is brilliant news and it reflects admirably the importance of the work that Sue Roulstone's team is doing. Well done to everyone and huge thanks to The Underwood Trust for supporting the programme of research in speech and language therapy.”

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