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Hear is the news – Diss’s talking newspaper spreads the word

Waveney Words talking newspaper volunteers Ollie Allen and Brian Dent standing, and from left Riana Halil, June Adams and Clive Sinfield
Waveney Words talking newspaper volunteers Ollie Allen and Brian Dent standing, and from left Riana Halil, June Adams and Clive Sinfield

Once a fortnight, a small plastic wallet drops through the letter boxes of dozens of blind and partially-sighted people in the Diss area .

For many, the computer memory stick inside is one of their most eagerly-awaited deliveries.

Packed with news and information, it lets them know the latest happenings in the town and beyond.

For anyone who can no longer see to read their local paper, the talking newspaper Waveney Words can be a lifeline.

Because, while broadcasters cover major stories, it is easy to miss out on what is going on closer to home.

Those snippets of local news and opinion can be a vital link that helps someone feel part of their community.

Talking newspapers have been around in the UK for almost 50 years.

The first one was produced in Wales in 1970.

There are now hundreds in all parts of the British Isles.

Waveney Words is Diss-based but its patch also includes Eye, Harleston and Beccles.

Close by, there are also talking newspapers in Thetford, Bury St Edmunds and Stowmarket.

Waveney Words began in 1986. The memory sticks are sent out free to listeners, who must be registered as blind or partially-sighted.

Royal Mail does not charge for postage under its Articles for the Blind service.

People can receive the newspaper on USB sticks, listen via the internet, or dial in by phone.

Trevor Freeborn, who has volunteered for Waveney Words for more than 20 years, explained how it started.

“In 1985, some people in the Rotary Club went to a talk about talking newspapers,” he says.

“They came back and said it was a good idea, and set up a public meeting to find out what organisations in Diss would be interested.

“Rotary raised the funds and got things going.”

The first edition came out on April 10, 1986. They are now on number 827.

“We had a few fundraising events at the start,” said Trevor, who is retired but used to teach at Banham Primary School.

“But since then, we’ve hardly had to do any fundraising. If we need money, we go back to Rotary.

“We had to do that when we went digital in 2010, instead of using cassettes.

“Our last bill for repairing equipment had been £1,200, so we though we might as well go the whole hog.

“We bought new equipment, a laptop and players for the listeners.”

Norfolk Community Foundation, which links donor companies to good causes, found a firm in Norwich to help out with the rest of the money.

Waveney Words is now at the cutting edge when it comes to offering its members alternative ways of tuning in.

As well as listening on the internet, or dialling in, it is now available through the Amazon Alexa device.

“Coming really up to date, you can now ask Alexa to play Waveney Words,” said Trevor.

“I think in the next few years that will be very common, and we are happy to be in on the ground floor of it.

“We got in touch with a man who does a talking newspaper service, who maintains our website for us and is very keen on that kind of thing.

“He was also the one who got us on to the system that lets people listen on their phone.

“We are just going to start telling our listeners about it in our next edition.”

Like all talking newspapers, Waveney Words is run by a dedicated team of volunteers.

Some read, some edit and others look after the technical side.

“We audition for readers, and get a panel of blind and partially-sighted people to listen and say which ones they like,” said Trevor.

“We have plenty of volunteers. Our biggest thing is getting new listeners.

“At the moment, we have 42. But if you are doing 42 copies on a machine, you can do 100 and only take five minutes longer.

“It takes nine people to produce each edition. We have something like 50 volunteers.

“There will be a reading teams of four, plus a technician and editor.”

The editors choose stories and letters for publication from local newspapers including the Diss Express.

They also include items from Infosound, a charity that provides information on living with sight loss.

“Sometimes, we’ll describe the Mere Quacks cartoon in the Express if the joke’s not too visual,” he said.

“We have four editors, which means you get a variety of different takes on things.

“Someone else collects the returned pouches, and a couple of people come in the morning after recording to do the copying.”

Trevor got involved because his mother-in-law was a reader for a talking newspaper in Downham Market.

“I thought I could do that, so I volunteered as a reader then became an editor,” he says.

Some volunteers have been with Waveney Words from the start.

“David Holland, our chief technician, worked on the very first edition,” he explains. “He does things like maintenance, and also goes out and does interviews with people.

“One of our readers, Charles Nevitt, was on the third edition.”

The group’s chairman, Audrey Moskowitz, also a listener, gives regular observations on the content.

And feedback from other listeners is always good, Trevor adds.

To contact Waveney Words, call Trevor Freeborn on 01379 608774.

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