Making sure everyone is kept in the ‘news loop’

CELEBRATION Lord Mayor Lynne Stagg cuts the birthday cake to celebrate the 40th birthday of the Portsmouth Area Talking News. Picture Mick Young (132648-02)
CELEBRATION Lord Mayor Lynne Stagg cuts the birthday cake to celebrate the 40th birthday of the Portsmouth Area Talking News. Picture Mick Young (132648-02)

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Keeping up with the news is something that people nowadays can do quite easily.

With 24-hour news channels, the internet and smart phones, news from around the world is always available.

But, if you are blind or partially sighted, you can often feel left out.

However, a dedicated team of volunteers makes sure everyone can be kept in the loop with what’s going on in their area.

A total of 50 people make up Portsmouth Area Talking News, a charity which records stories published in The News and other publications for residents with sight problems to listen to.

This year, it is celebrating its 40th anniversary with members and the users of the service.

The group met at its recording studio, in Stubbington Avenue, North End, Portsmouth, at the back of Portsmouth Association For The Blind.

With a cake and a big celebrations the team is hoping to carry on for another 40 years.

Stuart Waterman, who became a member of Portsmouth Area Talking News in 2003, has risen through the ranks.

He is a team leader of the blue team which records The News.

The 36-year-old, who lives in Bramshott Road, Southsea, said he was over the moon the group has managed 40 years although he isn’t surprised.

He says: ‘There are so many people who use our services so I am not necessarily shocked that we have reached it.

‘People are always saying how much they love our services and how we keep them up to date with their communities.

‘One lady even said when she listens to our tapes it is like having a friend round her house.

‘She sits down, makes a cup of tea and listens to the news.

‘When I hear stories like that, it really inspires me to carry on. It’s pretty amazing to think the group has been going for this long.

‘It makes it only a few years older than me.’

Stuart has no personal reason for joining but thinks being a volunteer is important.

‘I am a firm believer in doing some voluntary work,’ he adds.

‘This line of work is a bit different and unusual and that’s what attracted me to it.

‘This service is something that is extremely beneficial for the people that need it,

‘I also love to talk a lot which is obviously useful, so it seemed like a no-brainer.’

Every week different teams of volunteers meet at the charity’s base.

In the studio, they record their readings of the different articles.

The recordings are then put on a computer and transferred to a USB stick, before they are posted out to people who use the service.

Users listen to the audio files and then send the computer devices back so teams can erase and reuse them.

Portsmouth Area Talking News reaches out to around 400 people with sight problems.

As well as The News, members read and record editions of Navy News, Women’s Choices magazine and other local titles.

It also carries out quarterly recordings of Yesterday magazine and produces The Wren magazine for blind ex-Wrens and female naval personnel three times a year. And the volunteers love it.

Jennifer Pierce, a reader of the Navy News, says it is like being part of a family.

She says: ‘Doing what we do means we spend quite a lot of time together and we have grown close over the years.

‘To reach 40 years is amazing and I have no doubt we will reach another 40.

‘Our users love our service and we are more than happy to carry on.’

Chairwoman June Mundy from Titchfield agrees.

She adds: ‘What we do is of a huge benefit to people.

‘It brings a little ray of sunshine into their lives because it helps them connect to the outside world.

‘Local radio is great, but it doesn’t tell them what is happening in North End or what is happening on their doorstep. It’s great to be able to keep them up to date with current affairs.’

At the 40th anniversary celebrations, Lord Mayor of Portsmouth Lynne Stagg cut the cake and made a toast.

She paid tribute to the group and congratulated it on its success.

Councillor Stagg said: ‘It is a wonderful service and keeps people from feeling isolated.

‘Having seen the studio and all the hard work that goes into it, I think it is just amazing.

‘They serve the people in Portsmouth and further afield in such a unique way and to have done it for 40 years is amazing.’

· The Portsmouth Area Talking News is always looking for volunteers. For more information on the group contact (023) 9269 0851 or visit patn.org.

JOHN WILKINSON

As one of the founding members, John Wilkison, has been with the Portsmouth Area Talking News every step of the way.

The 68-year-old, from Fareham, is now the president and he is pleased with how big the group has got.

He says: ‘It is wonderful that this year we are celebrating our 40th anniversary.

‘It is such a great feat for a group of people who are just reading news.

‘We help so many people who might feel as though they are left in darkness.

‘Giving them the chance to see what is happening right on their doorstep is satisfying and I would not be surprised if we made another 40 years.

‘We have grown as a group and it is wonderful how close we all are and how we can work as a team to bring our users some ray of light in their lives.

‘When we first began, I wasn’t sure how big we would become but all we cared about was serving the community and we have done that.’

PORTSMOUTH AREA TALKING NEWS HISTORY

The Portsmouth Area Talking News began in 1973.

Founding members, including the current president John WIlkinson, decided to set up the group when the government decided that there was a need for visually impaired people to be able to access local news reported in the papers.

The group has always worked out of its Stubbington Avenue studio and has upgraded its equipment with the times.

Originally, the recordings were made on to audio cassettes and they were sent out in this format for 30 years.

But, in 2008, the group had to upgrade and it moved on to memory sticks.

This change made it one of the first in the south of England, and it involved their listeners learning a new technique.