HENLEY’S Talking Newspaper turns 40 this weekend.
A special birthday cake will be cut when Mayor Michelle Thomas attends her annual meeting of volunteers and listeners at the 60-Plus Club tomorrow (Saturday).
Founded in 1982, the charity provides a vital service to visually impaired people by recording a weekly audio version of the Henley Standard to bring them all the local news.
Started by members of the Henley Lions Club and other city service organizations, it began with a group of readers around a single microphone in a living room with recordings sent to tape.
Over the past four decades, the charity has grown to have around 50 volunteers who take turns working to record an hour of Henley news every Thursday evening.
A studio is set up in a room in Townlands Memorial Hospital by a controller and four readers who record the week’s news from the first copies of the newspaper. In all those years, not a week had been missed despite bad weather, equipment failures and missing drives. Even the coronavirus pandemic has only caused a temporary disruption in service.
Chairman Richard Hodgkin, who has been involved with the association for 22 years, said: ‘During the major lockdown I didn’t want to stop sending records so I brought all the equipment home and my wife Liz and I did it all.
“For about six months, we did everything at home the whole time. We received a lot of thanks from the listeners, because many of them really depend on it to stay in touch.
The association sends around 50 recordings each week, both to the visually impaired but also to anyone who cannot read on their own for other reasons.
Several care and nursing homes also receive recordings for residents, so the charity estimates it has at least 100 listeners.
Most live in or around Henley, but some have moved away from the area but like to keep in touch with what’s going on in their former home town. The Talking Newspaper stopped using cassettes about 12 years ago when it switched to digital technology.
Once recorded, the news is copied onto USB sticks and sent to listeners in special resealable envelopes which are used to return them to Henley College who collect them all for reuse the following week.
The charity is also providing an easy-to-use player free of charge to listeners who don’t have a device to play the recordings on.
The service is free for listeners. There is an agreement with the post office that no postage is charged for any mail to someone registered as blind or partially sighted and the charity currently pays postage for listeners outside this category.
The association is always looking for new listeners and also wants to recruit more male readers for a wider range of voices.
If you would like to start receiving recordings from the Henley and District Talking Newspaper, or would like more information on how to get involved as a volunteer, please call Richard Hodgkin on (01491) 573192 or email [email protected]