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Hear is the news ... Newmarket’s talking newspaper is a vital link

Volunteer voices: Some of Newmarket Newtalk's volunteers, from left, Jan Davidson, Jan Rigby, Peter Soanes, and Sue Calvert
Volunteer voices: Some of Newmarket Newtalk's volunteers, from left, Jan Davidson, Jan Rigby, Peter Soanes, and Sue Calvert

Once a fortnight a small plastic wallet drops through the letterboxes of dozens of blind and partially-sighted people in the Newmarket area.

For many the computer memory stick inside is one of their most eagerly-awaited deliveries. Packed with recorded news and information it opens a window on the latest happenings in the town and beyond.

Kay and Chris Nunn from St Edmundsbury Newstalk make copies of Newmarket's master version
Kay and Chris Nunn from St Edmundsbury Newstalk make copies of Newmarket's master version

For anyone who can no longer see to read their local paper the talking newspaper produced by Newmarket Newstalk can be a lifeline.

Because while broadcasters cover major news stories it is easy to miss out on what is going on closer to home. For more than 20 years Newstalk has been providing a link to the local community which is treasured by those who receive it.

Recipients – there are around 30 at the moment – must be registered as blind or partially-sighted. The newspaper is free and players are also provided. Royal Mail does not charge postage under its Articles for the Blind service.

Everyone involved is a volunteer. “At the moment there about about 15 of us,” said the Newmarket group’s secretary Jan Davidson.

“Two do the technical side and the rest are readers. We urgently need more people to learn how to use the recording equipment. At the moment only two people, David Soanes our chairman, and Richard Penny, can do it.

“It’s a very basic system, and full training will be given to anyone willing to help.”

One of Jan’s jobs is working out the rota for volunteers.

“We meet once a fortnight in someone’s home. One of our readers will be the editor for that edition – everyone who reads takes a turn.”

The editor trawls through two weeks-worth of local newspapers cutting out items they think will interest their listeners.

If possible, they like to concentrate on the more uplifting news.

“We try to avoid too much doom and gloom, like stories about drugs and car crashes,” said Jan.

“The readers’ letters are particularly popular. If there is a news story and a letter that links in with it we read the news then the letter about it.

“We have to proof read everything we use because they can be getting recorded a week after they have been published. That means might have to take out dates if something is mentioned that is on before our version comes out.

“We also tend not to include long email addresses or phone numbers because they are not much use to our listeners.”

If something occasionally leaves a reader struggling not to laugh, no-one complains.

“They don’t mind if someone has to stifle the odd giggle – it gives a more human touch,” said Jan, who has been with Newstalk for five years. I joined because one of my friends was a reader, and my mother-in-law was partially-sighted,” she said.

“We used to do our recordings on cassette tapes but we’re digital now. The equipment we provide for our listeners also had to be changed.”

Their costs are met by donations by organisations including Newmarket Lions. Once each edition has been recorded it is sent to St Edmundsbury Newstalk to be copied onto memory sticks and sent out. Kay and Chris Nunn, from Barrow, are two of the processors who work at the group’s Bury studio.

They have been with Newstalk for 15 years since Kay retired from her library job, where one of her ex-colleagues ‘nobbled’ her into volunteering.

“I didn’t drive, so I nobbled Chris to join too, and our next door neighbour Wendy Morphew got involved as well.”

Their first job of the day is to collect the returned memory sticks from the Royal Mail Delivery Office. The whole recording process is now digital which saves a lot of time.

Retired electrician Chris makes the copies using a machine that duplicates 22 memory sticks at a time.

“We used to use cassette tapes and could only copy eight at once, and we had to wipe and clean the tapes first,” he said.

“It used to take us two hours, now it only takes 45 minutes.”

Once the recordings are done they put them back into the wallets, which have reversible labels for return posting, and post them. No-one knows the benefits of a talking newspaper better than Martin Chandler. He is not only on the St Edmundsbury Newstalk committee but also a regular listener.

“I lost my sight quite suddenly due to a type of macular degeneration,” said Martin. “It started when I was turning 70.”

He spent 34 years in the RAF, most of it as aircrew specialising in electronics.

After retiring he did community and charity work with projects including Dial-a-Ride and Shopmobility in Bury.

Martin’s sight loss is hereditary. His mother Florence was registered blind.

“Newstalk was very important to me when I lost my sight,” he says.

Now he is keen to spread the word to others facing the same daunting prospect. He takes Newstalk leaflets to West Suffolk Hospital, for patients who are losing their sight.