Those who operate the free Morpeth Talking Newspaper (MTN) service are hoping that a change for the better with the recording format will lead to an increase in membership.
Every two weeks, a group of volunteers from various organisations in the town meet at the Contact Morpeth Mental Health premises in Oldgate to record an audio version of the Morpeth Herald for the previous two weeks.
Until recently, they were distributed to blind and partially sighted people on cassette tapes that the MTN team said were ‘unreliable, difficult to use and increasingly difficult to obtain’.
Now the service is entirely digital, with listeners receiving the readings on flash drives. Custom-made flash drive players are provided for listeners who require them.
In addition, there is a catch-up offering on the talking newspaper website – www.morpethtn.org
Simon Foley, who manages MTN, said: “The improvement in the quality of the recording since we made the change has been incredible.
“We are really hoping that this will reverse the decline in our membership.
“It’s now possible to listen to the talking newspaper being read from anywhere in the world using our website catch-up facility.”
The talking newspaper had its beginnings in a local service project undertaken by Katey Rescigno as part of her Duke of Edinburgh Award while she was a student at King Edward VI School in December 1990. Her father, Frank, is one of the current recording technicians.
When she left school in 1992, there was a need for MTN to seek a different way of producing its recordings.
Katey had been nominated for a youth community award by Morpeth Lions Club and one of the judges was Joan Appleby of the Business and Professional Women’s organisation.
She formed a committee, raised funds and with the support of Northumberland Hospital Radio established a recording facility at Morpeth Cottage Hospital.
The concept of establishing reading groups was an early initiative and seven organisations continue their involvement.
Contact Morpeth Mental Health made an area of its premises available for the recordings when the closure of the cottage hospital made it necessary for MTN to find another home.
A generous grant from the Big Lottery Fund enabled the volunteers to move away from cassette tapes and record each edition digitally, as well as circulate the recordings to listeners on memory sticks.
Anyone who would like to receive recordings of the talking newspaper or knows someone that would benefit from this service is asked to call Simon Foley on 01670 514673 or use the Contact Us section of the website.
MTN would also like to hear from anyone technically minded who might like to volunteer as a recording technician or any other local organisation or group that would like to provide content and readers.
Mr Rescigno said: “When we first got started with this project, we did not realise the positive impact it would have on blind and partially sighted people.
“The difference it makes in allowing them to keep up-to-date with local affairs, their community and people they know is truly remarkable.”