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Macclesfield Talking Newspaper

A GOOD friend who calls in at your home every week - that's how the listeners of the Talking Newspaper describe this invaluable community lifeline. Read about its work, see our video report and listen to the latest editions of the Talking Newspaper here ...

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A GOOD friend who calls in at your home every week - that's how the listeners of the Talking Newspaper describe this invaluable community lifeline.

Set up in 1974, each week the Macclesfield and District Talking Newspaper for the Blind becomes the eyes of the town for nearly 300 people.

Crammed into small rooms above Macclesfield Eye Society on Queen Victoria Street, an army of volunteers work tirelessly to produce 80 minute tapes and CDs to keep receivers bang up to date with all the local news, events and goings-on for free using articles from the Macclesfield Express.

Lynn Hilton, who will have been editor for six years in June, said: "If you are blind or partially-sighted you can get national news very easily from TV or radio but local news is very difficult.

"Blind and partially sighted people are almost exiled from the local community because they don't know what's going on.

"We have been told by someone who listens and lives on their own we are like a friend who visits them every week. They count on us and we never miss a week."

Putting together an edition is a beautifully crafted chain of events made possible by the newspaper's dedicated bunch of around 55 volunteers.

It kicks off very early on a Thursday morning when the used tapes and CDs are retrieved from the Royal Mail sorting office - who deliver the issues free to registered blind or partially-sighted people - to clean and rewind them ready for that day's recording.

From 8.30am, the editorial team of 12 spring into action, each with different news-gathering roles. It is Lynn's job to pick which big news stories are used, either in full or edited down.

In the evening, four teams of five people then read all the items selected, on a weekly-rota basis, while technicians operate the studio's recording equipment.

Four teams of three people, also working on a four-week rota, then copy the master recording on to about 280 cassettes and CDs, place them in individually-addressed pouches before ensuring they get to the sorting office late Thursday night.

Editions are then delivered on Fridays and Saturdays.

Lynn said: "I pick up the Express on my Wednesday lunch break and go through it to see what's important that week.

"We like to reflect the Express style but try to get the maximum amount of stuff on the tapes and we always include news from Prestbury, Bollington and Poynton.

"Just over half of our listeners use CDs and we are hoping that more convert because we can divide the items into tracks and they can skip easily to get to what they want to hear.

"Each edition starts with a welcome to any new members and birthday greeting to listeners who may be celebrating. We always include what time sunset is because it is important for blind people to know when to put the lights on in their house.

"We like to think of our listeners as family - that's why we try to add personal touches."

The Talking Newspaper was the brainchild of Marjorie Snow, who as general secretary of the Macclesfield Society for the Blind in 1973, reviewed services for the blind and partially-sighted.

She thought a weekly taped news service would be of great benefit and despite the costs and work involved in starting the project, the go-ahead was given.

A working committee was set up but despite months of planning and rehearsals the first edition did not quite go as planned - that very week workers at the Macclesfield Express went on strike, leaving the editorial team of the Talking Newspaper to race round the town searching out stories for themselves, with the assistance of some Express journalists.

Nevertheless on Thursday, April 4, 1974, the first edition was produced. It was the first in the north west of England, and the editor was Clifford Rathbone - a newly retired editor of the Macclesfield Express.

There have since been five editors including Lynn and similar projects sprang up in Wilmslow, Handforth and Congleton inspired by Macclesfield's success.

An advert in the Express persuaded Lynn to take on her much-loved editor's role, which she combines with her full time position as publicity manager at Sisis.

In 1998, the new studio was constructed on the second floor, in 2002 it was refitted to replace outdated equipment and in 2004, the CD was introduced.

Lynn took this opportunity to expand the service into two issues - the first dedicated to news and the second a magazine including the Express' Letters Page, sports reports, bygone days, Vic Barlow's column, births, marriage and deaths, thought for the week from local clerics, and general information for blind and partially-sighted people to help them with their day to day lives.

As well as What's On, a Culture Corner features poems, Silk Threads, Water Rail and excerpts from parish magazines.

Special editions are also produced at Christmas.

Lynn, from Bollington, added: "We have such a special, brilliant team of volunteers and former editor Richard Stringer computerised everything which made such a difference."

CLICK HERE to hear the latest edition of the Express, courtesy of the Macclesfield Talking Newspaper

  • As a registered charity, the Talking Newspaper is utterly reliant on donations and they need volunteer copiers and recording technicians. If you could spare a couple of hours or pounds or would like the newspaper delivered for a relative or friend contact 01625 435283. Technician Steve Twigg said: "We are not looking for experts, if you are not afraid of a computer you will do for us."
  • To raise much needed funds, the Talking Newspaper has produced a CD of poetry by Cheshire poets, read by its readers and the poets themselves. The 42 poems are an eclectic mix chosen to suit all tastes. The poets include three Cheshire Poets Laureate and Michael Symmons Roberts who won the Whitbread Prize for Poetry in 2004. "Voices & Verse" costs just £5 and is available from The Macclesfield Eye Society on Queen Victoria Street (weekday mornings).
 
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Journalists

Rhiannon McDowall
Education reporter
Mike Glendinning
Sport reporter
Chris Slater
News reporter
Stuart Greer
Crime reporter
Karen Britton
Wilmslow and Alderley Edge reporter
Ben Turner
News reporter
Vic Barlow
Columnist