Friday, 19 August 2022

Henley and District Talking Newspaper

THE 40th annual meeting of the Henley and District Talking Newspaper took place on June 11.

Volunteers, listeners and Mayor Michelle Thomas attended.

Chairman Richard Hodgkin reported as follows:

“I would like to welcome you all here to our 40th annual meeting.

I would like to mention that I was very sorry to learn of the passing of Bruce Brown. He was a long-time friend and reader for the Talking Newspaper and will be very much missed by us all.

This year is the 40th since our foundation in 1982 and I was hoping that sisters Caroline Green, our former secretary, and Emily Parker, a former reader, would be here but unfortunately their father Ron is seriously ill so they cannot attend.

They are granddaughters of our charity’s founder, Arthur Hull, who was then also president of Henley Lions Club and with his energy and enthusiasm also founder and chairman of the Henley Talking Newspaper until his death in 1987.

From a group of readers around a single microphone in Arthur’s living room, sending out the first cassette tapes to about 20 visually handicapped people, the Talking Newspaper developed rapidly to what it is today.

Jim Corrall became chairman after Arthur served as chairman for 21 years. I succeeded Jim 13 years ago.

Out of interest, I understand that one of our earlier readers was John Humphrys who used to live in Henley at that time.

Until 2009 we used the old analogue recording equipment which started to become more and more difficult to replace or repair.

All the recordings were sent out on the old cassettes, which were difficult to use to say the least. They were 30 minutes long each side and as the tapes often stretched, before recording we had to time the length of the master cassette so we knew how long each side lasted.

We would start with some music then had to time the items read on side one to end with a bit more music, then turn over, more music, more items read, then time it again to end with music and sign-off.

We had a copier that took the master tape plus four tapes to copy onto as well as a slave copier to take another four. This process took two of three people up to two hours to complete.

In 2009 we went digital, using memory sticks instead of cassettes. We raised about £10,000 in two months and bought all new equipment.

The saving in time was instant. The copying, for example, from a master memory stick takes a maximum of 15 minutes for just one person. The recording itself is usually done in just one hour with music only at the beginning.

We were delighted not to lose one listener as we provided new digital players for anyone who needed one free of charge. Although some listeners were a bit wary of the new technology, they soon got the hang of it and away we went.

For 35 years we used to store all our equipment and record in the old Maurice Tate Room, which was built in the Seventies and made available for the use of local organisations and charities free of charge. This building was pulled down when the new Townlands Memorial Hospital was built and stood where the road is now at the front of Chilterns Court care centre.

After negotiations, NHS Property allowed us to use a room, free of charge, in the new hospital where we remain to this day.

So thanks to Townlands and in particular Steph Greenwood, who looks after all the hospital facilities and is extremely flexible, allowing us to use the new “Maurice Tate Room” as it has been named.

For 40 years we have exclusively been using the Henley Standard for our weekly material. It has been very supportive of our charity, so thank you.

We currently have more than 40 volunteers working for the Talking Newspaper and I would like to say a huge thank you to all our committee, readers and controllers.

Until covid struck, we had not missed one week’s recording in spite of occasional problems with the weather, equipment and reader shortages.

Similarly, The Henley College has been our reliable “post office” for the past 40 years where all returned wallets and memory sticks are sent each week once listened to. The reception ladies are always very helpful and chatty when we call to collect the wallets.

I do keep in touch with all the other Talking Newspapers in Oxfordshire and also nationally through the Talking News Federation, of which we were founder members.

Like them, we have seen a steady drop in our listener numbers over the past few years. I think a lot of this can be attributed to the internet where information is so readily available to everyone nowadays.

But there is still a need for our service to keep, primarily, visually impaired people in touch with local news and issues. Some while ago we approached local care and nursing homes to see if they would be interested in getting our recordings and at present we send recordings to eight local homes, which certainly increases the number listening but this is unquantifiable.

So, after all the problems we have had over the covid period, I am delighted that we are now getting back to normal and I look forward to the next 40 years (but not as chairman, I hope!)

Finally, I would like to say a big thank you to the 60+ Club for free use of their building today. This is really very much appreciated. The Henley Festival is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year and has very kindly agreed to donate two tickets to the Talking Newspaper to use as it wishes.

The committee agreed that these tickets should be used in a free draw for all our volunteers as a small recognition of all their hard work for the charity.

The draw was made by the Mayor and the winner was Jeni Wood. We are very grateful for the festival making this kind offer.”

The Mayor said: “I first became aware of the Talking Newspaper when I moved to Henley 17 years ago.

My then 85-year-old neighbour Dave Beck, who sadly died last year, was Henley born and bred and relied on this vital service to keep him connected with the town he loved.

He was no longer physically able to walk around the town so looked forward to his weekly catch-up very much.

Let’s remind ourselves who uses the service. As of today, the charity sends out about 50 recordings every week to both the visually impaired and also anyone who cannot read for themselves for other reasons.

For example, many people have dyslexia and if not already registered to use this service, I would urge you to do so. Several care and nursing homes also receive the recordings for their residents, so the charity estimates it has at least 100 listeners.

The charity also provides an easy-to-use player free of charge to listeners who do not have a device on which to play the recordings.

Let’s remind ourselves that the Talking Newspaper is a charity and relies on the help of its 50-strong volunteer network, ably led by the chairman Richard Hodgkin, who has now been involved with the charity for 22 years along with his wife Liz.

This is in itself a huge commitment and our thanks goes out to you and all your volunteers. Richard and Liz, thank you for your service and particularly for continuing on your own during the very long lockdowns we had during the pandemic.

As a charity, the Talking Newspaper relies entirely on donations, so please do get in contact directly if you think you are able to make a donation of whatever size.

I will be delighted to join you for a guest appearance as a reader.

On behalf of myself, Henley Town Council and all who rely on your service, thank you and here’s to the next 40 years and beyond.”

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