South Tyneside’s Talking Newspaper is set to close after 30 years

The talking newspaper at Perth Green CA comes to an end after 30  years. Front Lynda Sharpe and Ethne Brown
The talking newspaper at Perth Green CA comes to an end after 30 years. Front Lynda Sharpe and Ethne Brown

A recorded news service for the blind and partially sighted in South Tyneside is facing its final broadcast after 34 years and around 800 episodes.

The Talking Newspapers initiative will record and distribute its last bulletin next month, with a sharp decline in its audience being blamed for its demise.

Twice a month since December 1985, volunteers have read their favourite stories from the Gazette and other media into a microphone.

Originally on tape and more recently using digital memory sticks, their words are then posted to subscribers free of charge.

But listener numbers have dropped from a high of 272 in 2011 to just 44, meaning it is no longer a viable service.

The project’s volunteers say technological advances and changes to the way people access news, are contributory factors to what they admit is its sad and regretful end.

Marian Stead, Talking Newspapers’ chair, said: “We are recording our final edition on April 8, and it will be a sad moment for us all.

“As a charity, we have to move with the times and adapt, and sadly the number of people using this service has fallen dramatically.

“One of the good things about Talking Newspapers was that people got many different newsreaders over the years, they would hear the readers and they became friends.

“People can get their news much more easily now, there are even applications that allow your computer or tablet to talk.

“It’s a little bit of history coming to an end, but it is a service that has perhaps had its time.”

The South Tyneside Talking Newspaper Association was set up and run by the Harton and South Shields Rotary clubs.

Members of the Harton branch were spurred into action after being given a talk by South Tyneside social worker George Rennie in 1984.

He spoke of the need for a news service that the visually impaired could access in their homes.

Choice newspaper stories were selected and their words read into a microphone in a recording booth with a producer present.

The first base was a room in a church in Derby Terrace and later Cleadon Park Community Centre, both South Shields.

Readers now record at Perth Green Community Association, in Inverness Road, Jarrow, organising themselves into two teams of around six.

In its early days, they collected enough audio material to fill both 45-minute sides of a standard tape.

But they moved with the times and technology and now put their words onto digital memory sticks.

Each reader records around 10 minutes of stories, which are combined to make up the final recording.

The South Shields Rotary club has ceased to exist and Talking Newspapers is no longer the preserve of Rotary members.

The charity, which was founded solely to manage the project, is expected to be wound up by the end of May.