To keep up with what’s going on in our communities we might flick through the local newspaper or visit its website. For the blind and partially-sighted keeping up with local news and information can be more of a challenge.

But for the past 43 years it has been made easier for hundreds of people In East Sussex thanks to the efforts of a team of hard-working and committed volunteers in Heathfield. And another new chapter in the history of Wealden Talking News means the amount of news, features and information made available to the blind and partially-sighted in the county has expanded even further.

Humble beginnings

It was in October 1975 that Wealden Talking News (WTN), then called the Heathfield & District Talking News Association, produced its first tape recording of stories from local newspapers. Very soon up to 200 tapes were being created each week and distributed to those who now had a way of listening to the news stories from their local papers, the Kent & Sussex Courier and the Sussex Express.

Fast forward more than 40 years and what began in a caravan and a dining room, now operates out of a permanent recording studio in Heathfield High Street. Memory sticks have replaced tapes and the news service has expanded to include editions from the Observer and Gazette series of local newspapers. And the service has just expanded even further.

Each week listeners, who have been equipped with a special playback speaker, receive a memory stick with five editions of news on it for different areas of the county. Heathfield and district, Crowborough and Uckfield, Hailsham and Polegate, and Seaford and Newhaven are covered.  The fifth edition contains features from across the county. Each edition lasts 30 minutes so each stick contains 2.5 hours of news. And all of this, free of charge.

Dedicated volunteers

This is only possible thanks to the efforts of people like Dianne Steele, who has been secretary of the group for 25 years, and other members of WTN’s Board of Trustees. But without the army of 70 volunteers who support the service as readers, recording engineers and fulfilling other roles, the work would be impossible. On a weekly basis they are selecting stories, reading and recording those stories, copying them onto 170 memory sticks and then distributing the news to listeners across the county.

Dianne said: “Many of our listeners are elderly and have other disabilities as well as being blind or partially sighted. For them this can be a real lifeline to the outside world, to the community they live in, and therefore it’s invaluable.”

2017 was a big year for WTN with the launch of an online service allowing anyone to access the news recordings through its website. It was also the year grants from the National Lottery Fund, Sussex Lions Clubs, and other donations paid for a refurbishment of its recording studio.

Expanding service

But far from resting on its laurels, WTN is now expanding its service even further with the launch of a new free service. A new additional monthly memory stick promises stories from Sussex Life magazine, Sussex Living magazine and a selection of other features about local history and wildlife. And included in this monthly feature round-up will also be some of the stories from our very own Your East Sussex website.

If you are blind or partially sighted, or know someone who is, and want more information on Wealden Talking News, including how to subscribe to either (or both) of its weekly news and monthly magazine services, visit www.wealdentalkingnews.org.uk, phone 01435 862304 or email secretarywtn@gmail.com