Saturday, September 13, 2008

Special friendship keeps the visually impaired well informed

IT has long been the talk of Moray, but now the area's very own talking newspaper is going nationwide.

As well as dropping through the letter boxes of hundreds of listeners in Moray, copies of the The Moray Companion wing their way to Devon, Bedfordshire and Kilmarnock.

The audio cassette has come a long way since its inception 29 years ago, when just 14 readers in Elgin received the first hour-long edition.

Now, around 200 people receive the twice-monthly cassette by Freepost, keeping them up to date with local happenings – and the 677th edition was recorded last night (Thursday).

The longevity of the service speaks volumes for the dedicated band of volunteers who ensure that the visually impaired get their fortnightly fix of local news and views.

And their efforts have been applauded by Elgin listener Fiona Kyle (33) who described the Moray Companion as a "lifeline" for the visually impaired.

The complementary therapist, who is registered blind, was full of praise for the local service, ahead of Talking Newspaper Week, which begins this Sunday.

She said: "I used to work for the Grampian Society for the Blind as a social worker and I have a lot of experience of referring people.

"A lot of people miss reading when they lose their sight and this is one way of keeping up with local news.

"People can read for you, but sometimes people want the independence and to read what sighted people are reading.

"It is a good thing for the community in general, it is really a lifeline for people."

A fan of the spoken word, Miss Kyle subscribes to national talking newspapers and magazines, but has to pay for those services, whereas the Moray Companion is provided free of charge.

Project manager Pauline Taylor scours Moray's local newspapers – including 'The Northern Scot' – for snippets of information to feature in the 90-minute tape, as well as going on-line to tap into other resources. When she goes on holiday, her newsagent in Glenmoray Drive keeps all her newspapers in a box under the counter for her to collect on her return.

"He says that if they were posted through the letter box, then I would never get in the door," joked Mrs Taylor, a retired nurse.

"The Moray Companion is more of a magazine and we have a policy of no bad news.

Moray Companion fan Fiona Kyle gets set to listen to the latest edition.

"Sometimes when people who have lived in Moray move away, they ask if they can get the tapes sent to them, so it goes out not just in Moray, but other points south."

As well as her research work, Mrs Taylor is also one of the readers who regularly goes to the Companion's recording suite at the Moray Resource Centre in Elgin to compile the master tape filled with local news and views, which is then copied, inserted into addressed plastic wallets and taken to the Post Office for delivery.

When the tapes are returned using the Freepost service, the next edition is issued for listeners to enjoy.

The Moray Companion is a best friend to many in other respects, too.

It offers a fast reading facility for print material, ranging from official forms, information leaflets or instruction manuals for household equipment.

There is a postal cassette lending library for a collection of 1,800 audio books. The library has outgrown its premises and would love to find a suitable home for what is a valued service.
The Companion team also record the audio version of the Thistledown newspaper for Glenlivet and Inveravon.

While both the Pensions Service and the Grampian Society for the Blind are very good at recommending suitable people, there may be others in the area that would appreciate the tapes.
The committee would also like to form a small bank of volunteers who could stand in for readers absent due to holidays or illness.

For more information, contact Mrs Taylor on Elgin 01343 541885.


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