Worldwide appeal of the newspaper for the blind

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Calderdale Talking Newspaper Association is 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 have sent over 1,300 editions out to hundreds of listeners completely free of charge.

“We never ask for a penny from our listeners and the postage is free,” said Norma Willoughby, secretary of Calderdale Talking Newspaper Association.

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, in 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 recording 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 Ann Kendall, one of the six editors.

“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,” she said.

“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 by means of a cassette tape, but today they are sent out on computer memory sticks - no bigger than a person’s thumb - which can be plugged into a home computer. 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 My Week, 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 is looking to recruit new volunteers to read the newspaper as some of its current roster of readers are looking to stand down.

Volunteer are asked to dedicate a few hours on one Wednesday evening in six to give blind and visually impaired people access to local news. To find out how to get involved contact Norma on 01422 237939.