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Volunteers bringing local news to Bromley's blind

PUBLISHED: 11:07 19 October 2012

Talking newspaper
John Ilson reading

Talking newspaper John Ilson reading

Archant

For more than 35 years a group of Bromley based volunteers have met each week to provide a service many would never have considered was necessary.

The Bromley District Talking News provides a spoken collage of the week’s local newspapers to more than 300 visually impaired people across the borough.

They work throughout the week to edit, read and package the news into envelopes containing a small memory stick that is then posted to the homes of their subscribers.

President Dick Groves is registered blind and has been listening, as well as contributing features, for around nine years.

He said the idea of the visually impaired not having access to a newspaper was a problem a lot of people didn’t understand “let alone think of finding a solution”. But the service could prevent loneliness among the blind community especially elderly people.

“One of our key aims is actually telling people we exist because unless you know it’s not something you would necessarily look for.”

Graham Towills has been a Talking News member since 1989 and is now secretary. After being urged to join by his blind mother, he has seen the group evolve from tape recordings, to CDs and now on to digital recordings stored on memory sticks.

“This week will be the last time we ever send out CDs, but they were only brought in as a temporary stop gap,” he said.

“We give all our listeners the option of a memory stick player which is designed for them with big yellow buttons. The cost is all covered by us through generous donations mainly from our listeners.”

The week truly gets going on a Thursday morning at the group’s former school building base, in Freelands Grove, where they collect the week’s newspapers, including the Bromley Times.

Scripts are then passed on to a team of three readers and one presenter who record the news, as well as a feature and any important notices that may affect listeners.

Graham added: “There’s usually two ladies and a gentleman for the reading, or the other way round, to keep a balance and a change of voice to keep people interested.

“We get two or three calls a month from people who have just retired and want to be readers. It’s the most popular role. We have a waiting list and most people usually drop out when they hear you have to audition. Not everyone can do it as we need very clear pronunciation. Most people join the copying team while they wait for a reader role.”

The copiers meet on Wednesdays and Thursdays to wipe returned memory sticks and load the new stories on, which are then delivered free of charge by the Royal Mail.

At one point the Talking News had more than 700 listeners, but in the last 20 years numbers have dwindled to around 300 which Graham puts down to technology. “People are so often computer literate now so they can find their news on there, though they tend to struggle to find localised stuff.”

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