Getting the Barking and Dagenham news through word of mouth

Every week for 35 years dozens of blind or partially-sighted people across the borough have settled down to listen to the Post.

Thanks to the Barking and Dagenham Talking Newspaper these residents have been kept up to date with what’s happening in their area – from missing snakes to brutal murders.

One of the six voluntary reading teams, Paprika, (they’re all named after spices) has invited me to their base – a tiny room at Galleon Hall, in Boundary Road, Barking – so I can learn a bit more about the charity.

I meet four readers, Pat Costin, Cate McCrory, Eileen Long and John Blake, who start off by reading a selection of articles from the Post while the group chairwoman, Iris Jameson, records them on to a tape. Later the tape will be duplicated and sent to each listener for free.

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Their voices are clear but relaxed: “You don’t want to sound like the shipping forecast – no one would enjoy listening to that,” Iris smiles.

“We try and put a little bit of our own personalities in to the pieces and obviously the tone of our voice changes depending on the article.”

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I listen – rather self-consciously – as Kate reads out a piece I’ve written about the funeral of former councillor George Brooker and find it sounds a lot better through her voice than in my head.

Asked how they choose what stories to record, John replies: “It’s pretty much the whole paper, apart from ads and sport – although some teams do read a bit of sport. We don’t censor anything.

“Our listeners want to know what’s going on in the community whether it’s good or bad, just like most Post readers do.”

The main focus of group is the Post, but the teams also read council-run paper The News, magazines and on some occasions short stories and poems.

They only use tapes, but there are plans to begin recording onto USB sticks: “Some of our younger listeners ask why we haven’t done this already,” says Iris.

“The reason is cost – we need �10,000 for equipment and at the moment we don’t have that kind of money as we receive no regular funding and rely on donations. If anyone can help cover the cost please get in touch.”

The team tell me most of those who volunteer for the charity only leave when ill health forces them to go. John and Iris have both been helping out for 23 years.

“Everyone just seems to enjoy it,” says Eileen, who joined 11 years ago. “It’s fun but also very satisfying to know you’re making a difference. Sometimes people put a little note of thanks in with the tape when they return it, which is lovely.”

One of their appreciative listeners is Dagenham resident Winnie Burpitt, 81, who suffers from a degenerative sight disorder: “I’ve been listening to the talking newspaper for 18 years,” she says.

“It’s so important for me as I like to know what’s happening in the borough.

“The volunteers who put these tapes together are terrific, dedicating their time for nothing and raising funds to keep it going. I don’t think people realise just how wonderful they are.”

If you would like to volunteer or donate to the group call 020 8591 4921 and leave a message. Readers must commit to at least one session every six weeks.

Technician and duplicator roles are also available.

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