This voluntary group produces a weekly talking newspaper and quarterly magazine for visually impaired people. Based on their listeners’ interests and selected by the producer for the week, the newspaper includes stories from the Solihull Observer, Solihull News and occasional articles from the Birmingham Mail. It’s a popular and successful service with a regular listener base across Solihull which has grown to more than 200 people, ranging in age from 55 to 95 years old.
Solihull Borough Talking Newspaper Association (from left to right) John MacDonald (Treasurer), John Hill (Producer), David Carrington-Porter (Listeners’ committee rep), Marion Canning (Chair) and Derek Bush (Information Officer) with Cllr Bob Sleigh OBE, Leader of Solihull Council.
65 volunteers are currently involved in activities including promoting, recording, producing and distributing the newspaper. The slick operation, based at The Core, sees the volunteers work in teams to record the newspaper each Friday evening. The recording is saved onto USB sticks (to play on listeners’ dedicated playing devices) and distributed early the following week in a special mailing wallet. All this is free of charge.
Between January and July 2017, the Association distributed almost 3,000 wallets and added 23 new listeners to its service. It’s already an impressive total but they are keen to keep raising the Association’s profile and attract new listeners to the service.
Everyone working for the Association is a volunteer, like Derek Bush, the organisation’s Information Officer. Derek also provides hands-on support for new listeners to operate the playing devices and is a sound engineer when recording the weekly editions.
Derek became involved with the Association when he retired. He takes up the story: “Teamwork is a major factor in the Association being able to work as well as it does. Our volunteers are always willing to help one another and provide additional support when needed.” The fact that they complete and distribute an edition every week, without fail, is testament to strength of that teamwork and collaboration.
The Association started more than 35 years ago and initially distributed the talking newspaper on tape cassette. Since then it has embraced the opportunities offered by technology and now offers the service on USB sticks. These plug directly into dedicated players which are provided to all listeners and allow for quick and effortless access to the recorded material.
But the Association’s ambitions don’t stop there. Derek explains: “we are keen to continue making the most of the opportunities offered by new technology. We are exploring the possibility of listeners streaming the newspaper from a website, eliminating the need to distribute USB sticks.”
Derek reflects on the Solihull Together Award Ceremony. “It was a great experience and we were amazed to see just how many people are involved across Solihull. It was lovely to have some recognition for the work of the Association and for the volunteers to be recognised for their time, effort and enthusiasm which makes the organisation such a success!”
Another positive outcome of the award has been the Association’s group photo. “It was the first time we’ve been able get such a large number of the volunteers all together at the same time,” says Derek.
The Association is always on the look out for help and hopes that the volunteer base will continue to grow. It is also looking for support to promote their service, particularly to care homes, and to develop a Safeguarding Policy so that they can qualify for other opportunities. In the meantime, this dedicated group will continue their work to keep sharing the news in Solihull.