Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Features: Talking newspaper with a worldwide appeal

The Calderdale Talking Newspaper Association has been a vital local news source for blind and visually impaired residents across the district and beyond.

For the past 35 years volunteers have read pages from Calderdale’s four local newspapers - Halifax Courier, Brighouse Echo, Hebden Bridge Times and Todmorden News - and sent over 1,300 editions out to hundreds of listeners completely free of charge.

“We’re free at the source - we never ask for a penny from our listeners and the postage is free,” said secretary Norma Willoughby.

A team of approximately 25 dedicated volunteers are involved in putting together the weekly Talking Newspaper including six editorial teams who select and read the stories, the sound engineers who record and edit the stories and the two admin teams who prepare approximately 180 envelopes each week for distribution to individuals and organisation all over the world.

“We don’t just distribute to listeners in Calderdale - we’ve got listeners who used to live in Calderdale who now live on the Isle of Man, Germany, Spain, Australia, and New Zealand - it is worldwide” said volunteer Roz Jowett, who gives up one Tuesday morning a fortnight to ensure the editions are sent out on time.

Each Talking Newspaper is recorded on a Wednesday night at Halifax Society for the Blind on Clare Road, by one of six editorial teams that rotates on a weekly basis so each episode has a different set of readers and editorial styles.

“We get the papers on a Friday for free from Shoesmith’s newsagent on Commercial Street,” said one of the six editors, Ann Kendall.

“I take them home and go through all the stories and tear out pages which I think will have something I can include, and then I neaten them up and sorting them into categories.

“We all aim for between an hour and an hour-a-half worth of stories to read.
“All of the editors do it differently, but we all try to do what the listeners have asked for.

“We know the listeners all seem to like a quiz, so we all include a quiz.

“I like to include nostalgia items, others include poetry readings - we all have our own way of doing things,” she added.

When the organisation was founded in February 1979, the Talking Newspaper was sent to listeners on cassette tape, but today they are sent out on computer memory sticks which can be used in home computers and on MP3 players and shared online through the Courier’s website.

Listeners who do not have access to a computer are sent a device with attached speakers that allows the memory stick to be played directly.

Alongside the Talking Newspaper, volunteers also put together a fortnightly sports episode and a quarterly magazine featuring articles from the Yorkshire Post

Magazine, Down Your Way and the Dalesman among others.

“For those of us who put together the quarterly magazine, we are a bit less constrained by news and we do choose what we record,” said Norma.

“We try and give a broad spectrum, and try and keep away from the news unless it’s a really hot topic.

“On the last stick we did a bit about the Tour de France and the First World War.”

The organisation has said is looking to recruit new volunteers to read the newspaper as some of its current roster of readers are looking to stand down.

Volunteers are asked to dedicate a few hours on one Wednesday evening in six to give blind and visually impaired people access to local news.

[Roz's story]

Roz Jowett went from being a listener to a volunteer following a pioneering operation that restored her sight loss.

Roz was diagnosed with Myopic Macular Degeneration - a degenerative condition which affects a part of the eye essential for seeing straight ahead and seeing details.

“I couldn’t read, I couldn’t recognise people - I couldn’t recognise my own family’s faces,” said Roz.

“I used to have to remember what colour shirt my husband was wearing if we went shopping in case I got lost.

“I thought I’d never be able to see my grandchildren grow up - it broke my heart.”

Roz was told by doctors that there was no cure for the condition and as her sight reduced, she became a listener of the Calderdale Talking Newspaper.

“A surgeon phoned me up and told me an Italian researcher had come up with an experimental operation,” said Roz.

“You never know what’s around the corner - they categorically told me there was nothing they could do and I would eventually go blind.”

Roz was only the second person in the UK to receive the procedure known as an IOLVIP, which stands for intraocular lenses for visually impaired people

The experimental operation, which isn’t readily available on the NHS, was carried out by Shafiq Rehman at the Yorkshire Eye Hospital, Yeadon.

“I’ve got telescopic lenses in my eyes,” said Roz.

“The back of my eyes were damaged and irreparable, so they put a new lense in where you would have a cataract lense and another telescopic lense beside it where there had never been a lense before.

“They work together and move the image to a different part at the back of my eye where I can see.”

With her eyesight restored, for past five years Roz has given one Tuesday morning a fortnight to help to make sure that all of the admin is carried out for the Talking Newspaper.

[Ken's story]

Ken Campbell has been a volunteer at the Talking Newspaper since its inception in February 1979.

“When I first started doing the Talking Newspaper I was asked to do five minutes of sport on the normal tape,” said Ken.

“35 years on, I now produce a sports edition on its own, which is still an arm of the Talking Newspaper.”

The sports edition of the Talking Newspaper is recorded fortnightly and is sent out at listeners’ request.

“We have a lot of people who don’t like news and a lot of people who don’t like sport, but it’s there for everybody if they want it,” said.Ken.

Putting together the sports edition of the Talking Newspaper provides a different set of challenges to produce than the news edition.

“Sport is not so easy as reading a newspaper article, because sport has got to have some ‘oomph’ to it,” said Ken.

“If you’re reading out a match report it’s got to be concise and have all the elements to keep the people roused in their seat while they listen.

“Sport is happening every day, and sometimes it’s not easy to keep up with.
“I particularly highlight all of the local football teams in the area - Halifax Town, Huddersfield Town, Leeds United, Burnley, Bradford City and anything else of interest.”

Ken’s voice will already be familiar to blind and visually impaired people who attend Halifax Town games, as Ken provides live commentary during the matches at the Shay.

“One of the advantages I have is that every home match at the Shay, I do commentary for blind and visually impaired people, so I know how to paint a picture live as well,” he said.

“The important thing for me is that it has got to come across like it’s not being read.”

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