Bringing the news to life

This year Talking Newspapers Islington (TNI) received a grant from the Greater London Fund for the Blind to help fund their mission to bring news to life. We sent Andy Naylor, our volunteer journalist, along to see the difference the grant is making to blind and partially sighted people in Islington. Here is his account of the day…

It’s six o’clock in the Outlook rehabilitation Centre and Liz Jones is hard at work. 86 year old Liz, the founder of TNI is hard at work. Between making piles of sandwiches for hungry volunteers and assisting the editors preparing tonight’s broadcast, she is also trying to clue me up on what’s going on. Many people would find this much multi tasking extremely difficult but as I am about to learn; there’s not much that stops Liz.

After being registered blind a few years ago, Liz was dismayed to find the only local news offered to her was from the weekly newspaper dropped through her door. Being unable to read she felt that she was missing out on local news and information and decided to do something about it.

“I rang the council and told them I couldn’t believe they didn’t have a news service for blind people! I kept ringing them until they agreed to send me an audio tape. After more pestering they began to send me a few tapes which I duly passed on to other blind people I knew. The problem was with a limited amount of copies we had to keep sending them on when we had finished with them. “

Not content with this, Liz decided to rope in a few friends and in September 2007, Talking Newspapers Islington was born. Alan Coyne, an old friend of Liz and her late husband was one of the first on board.

“I was at a function, when I felt a tap on my shoulder” remembers Alan, “it was Liz. She fixed me with a determined gaze and said “You know about sound recording don’t you?” I laughed and told her I did and with that she told me I had a new job!”

After realising that you don’t say no to Liz, Alan quickly became an indispensable part of TNI. Sharing sound recording duties with his son Lewis, Alan is also the paper’s resident comedian. After making sure the recording is running smoothly Alan chips in a few jokes to add a lighter side to the monthly broadcast.

“Blind people know all about what Obama and Gadaffi are doing” he says “They listen to the BBC and get all the national news that way. What they miss is the local chitchat. They want to know what’s going on in their area, who was arrested, who was seen in Upper Street wearing just their underpants, that sort of thing!”

At Outlook the dedicated team of volunteers work together to ensure the broadcast runs smoothly. With stories from local newspapers selected and edited carefully, the readers take turns to sit in the studio and record them. The readers are usually finished within two hours but it takes a further eight hours of twiddling and tuning from Alan and Lewis until the CDs and tapes are ready to be sent out. As relaxed as the atmosphere may be, a serious amount of time and effort is put into each recording.

Originally broadcasting to 19 listeners TNI now has over 100. In December The GLFB gave TNI a grant of £1000 to keep up their sterling work. I asked Alan what difference the grant had made.

“Getting the grant was absolutely fantastic news” he says, “with most of our listeners now using CDs we have to spend a fair bit of money on them as well as posting them out and maintaining our recording equipment. Having the Outlook centre free of charge is brilliant but we still have certain overheads and the grant has helped us immensely.”

I sit on the newspaper being recorded and am impressed by the dedication of the volunteer readers. After racing down from their day jobs, they sound check and then work with Alan and the team to make sure the broadcast is pitch perfect. Some of the readers have already been at the centre for a couple of hours, carefully editing and preparing the stories that will be read on air. I managed to grab two of the readers to ask them how they came to be involved.

Retired health care professional Sue Huggett was inspired to volunteer after seeing a similar service thrive in Nottinghamshire.

“My sister began volunteering at a Talking Newspaper in Nottingham.” Says Sue: “Up there the talking newspaper is produced in the same office as the local newspaper. I saw an advert for the Islington Talking news and was very interested, especially after having a bilateral cataract operation myself. I come down every month and am proud to be part of such a great service.”

At 29 Georgina Fox is the youngest volunteer by quite a margin but says she has always felt part of the team.

“It’s such a friendly place to come and volunteer” says Georgina a law firm employee, ”I always wanted to volunteer but found it hard to fit in around full time hours. The Talking newspaper is perfect as I can come down straight from work and record my reading. It’s wonderful to be able to give something back to the community.”

Police Community Support Officer Alan Krylacou is on hand to deliver a monthly safety briefing on behalf of the local police force.

“I am able to give the listeners valuable information on any scams or criminal activity that is doing the rounds in Islington. Blind people are often house bound and can be vulnerable. Hopefully I can make them feel a little bit more secure.”

As I leave, Liz is still going strong and is making sure none of the volunteers leave without a sandwich or five. With the number of listeners growing every month, they are going to need their strength!

If you would like to volunteer at Talking News Islington, or another talking newspaper closer to you, get in touch with Liz and her team at TNI by calling 020 7272 5481.

Raj Bhayani

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