Listen Up, It’s Wealden Talking News
by Peter d’Aguilar
Bringing magazines and news to the sight-impaired, Wealden Talking News is at the forefront of innovation, as Peter d’Aguilar finds out
Back in 1975, Heathfield and District Talking Newspaper Association was a pioneer in providing audio news for the blind. In 1983 its founder, Ted Davis, set up National Talking News & Magazines to offer a subscription service across the UK. In 2013 the RNIB took over its management until financial problems and a reduction in listener numbers forced its closure three years later. Today, the dedicated volunteers of Wealden Talking News (WTN) are once more at the forefront of innovation by bringing mainstream magazines – free of charge – to the sight-impaired across Sussex.
In 2017 WTN secured a £10,000 National Lottery grant to rejuvenate its recording studios in Heathfield and this, together with an influx of ‘polished’ readers from the recently closed RNIB studio, enabled the setting up of the new initiative under the dynamic leadership of Dianne Steele. A qualified nurse, midwife and chiropodist with a passion for digital communication, Dianne first started as a reader twenty-five years ago after the death of her husband. Today, supported by technical manager Mike Hollis and a dedicated team of volunteers, Dianne is busy spearheading the new Sussex Wide Publications (SWP) initiative across both East and West Sussex.
“Many local Talking News services are in decline or closing, due to the lack of local news reporting and advances in treatment for the sight impaired,” explains Dianne. “WTN is once again leading the way, moving in the opposite direction and expanding!”
WTN produces a memory stick containing four thirty-minute news editions gleaned from the local newspapers each week, plus another thirty minutes of general interest features. In addition, it is now offering monthly audio recordings of Sussex Living and Sussex Life magazines, as well as a compilation entitled ‘Listeners’ Sussex’.
“While it’s great that medical science is reducing the number of people with sight impairment, there are still many – especially the very elderly – who feel isolated from the mainstream media,” says Dianne. “We have a wealth of talented readers generously giving their time, so we want as many people as possible to benefit. We are taking our message to the outside world by building links with local NHS Trusts, opticians, charities and clubs, as well as Sussex’s sight impairment officers.”
“Our audience numbers are increasing steadily and the feedback we’re receiving is very encouraging,” says Dianne. “Listeners speak of WTN opening up their lives. We want to reach as wide a demographic as possible, so plans are afoot to broaden our material to cater for more diverse tastes. We are using radio ads and flyers to spread the word but, as our ways of communicating are limited, we are keen for friends and relations to pass on information.”
WTN entirely depends on donations to maintain its valuable service, and all staff give their time for free. Anyone wishing to volunteer or support the charity with a gift can do so via the website, wealdentalkingnews.org.uk by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or by leaving a message on 01435 862304. Likewise, anyone who is sight impaired and would like to sign up to this free county-wide audio magazine service can contact WTN with their details.