The Colchester and District Talking Newspaper was the first in England to be started, prior to that four Talking Newspapers had been started in Wales.
In 1972 after a member of staff at the University of Essex, Phil Brew, who had been running a reading service within the University for blind students for a year or two, wondered if there was any way the service could help local visually handicapped people.
He approached Dorothy Hallett, then Secretary of Colchester Blind Society and was told about the Talking Newspaper idea and that King Coels Kitten's (a Colchester based charity fundraising group) had earlier expressed an interest in creating a Talking Newspaper in Colchester.
Contact was made with King Coel's Kittens who raised £1200 to buy the Telex 300 compact cassette multiple high speed copying equipment which were imported from the States. The Students Union at the University paid for an initial batch of cassette tape recorders. The studio was loaned free of charge by the Language Centre, which had recently had a new recording studio built to a high standard.
Volunteers from the University and the local community joined together to create the first Colchester Talking Newspaper on cassette tape on 20 JULY 1973.
From that time, over 500 similar organisations were created throughout the United Kingdom, including a national service, known as the Talking Newspaper Association of the United Kingdom (TNAUK) , which has now been absorbed into the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) under the service known as RNIB Newsagent.
As technology moved on the recipients of our service were moved from using cassette players to using memory stick players with memory sticks being supplied in place of cassettes to most people. In addition through this web site it became possible ot listen to the weekly recordings and the monthly magazine on-line. Later this option was supported by the British Wireless for the Blind Fund (BWBF) who provided uploading facilities making that process and the process used by listeners much simpler.
In due course at the request of the university a move was made to the Constable Building on the campus where a purpose built recording studio of broadcast standard along with an admin area were created. By March 2020 the talking newspaper was comfortable in this venue.
Then a tsui nami called corvid 19 struck. It became impossible to record in the accepted manner in the studio but through a combination of determination to continue the service and a certain amount of arm twisting the Colchester and District Talking Newspaper continued to be produced weekly alongside the magazine being produced monthly.
Initially the Director alone read the news to cassette length (90 minutes), this lasted for four weeks, a single voice is however difficult for those receiving the recordings. A variety of established volunteers and others then agreed to make readings of news items in their homes, mainly using mobile phone technology, and sending these by e-mail to the director who then assembled these readings into firstly daily then weekly sets. These sets are copied onto memory sticks and abridged versions onto cassettes. It was realised that with daily sets already prepared it would not be difficult to provide for Internet listeners 'todays news today' and so by week ten of the Covid crisis this was effectively carried out. Arrangements were also made for the daily output to be made available via Alexa and other smart equipment in the home along with the opportunity to telephone a specific number to be able to hear the output over the phone.
This leads to the trustees needing to consider how to proceed in the future. Watch this space.