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Blackpool N-Vision celebrates 40 years of news making - & pulls off a Royal coup

N-Vision has run a Talking Newspaper for 40 years - but keeps hitting the headlines itself (by royal appointment...)

Blackpool N-Vision celebrates 40 years of news making - & pulls off a Royal coup

"I read the obits more than I used to - but that's life! "
Joy Killip

We all need a little Joy in our lives - and Joy Killip,  90something, is just one of the veteran news readers of Blackpool's Talking Newspaper which celebrates its 40th birthday on Friday June 30.

The indomitable former operatic player and fundraiser supported the Blackpool based society for the blind 10 years before the newspaper was launched -  born of the vision of then general manager Ted Marshall and Blackpool's blind war hero Bill Griffiths.

Both knew it was easy to feel socially isolated, cut off from what was happening on the doorstep, let alone the world if you had lost your sight.

This rare insight led to one of the oldest and one of the best talking newspapers in the country.

Four decades on the recordings now average up to 12 hours a week and still go out to hundreds of subscribers - a broadsheet in a very difference sense.

Countless more download the newspaper online via SoundCloud.

And now it's time to celebrate. 

If June 8 rings  a bell it's probably not because it was the official birthday of the Talking Newspaper run by 150 volunteers on rota at N-Vision, the Blackpool Fylde and Wyre Society for the Blind.

The hastily convened (repent in leisure) General Election put paid to the society's own party central - with the social hub Sharples Hall, set aside for a volunteers' celebration,  used as a polling station instead on the big day.

It even overshadowed Blackpool Tower lighting up all-white (to avoid any hint of political partisanship) on the night - although in truth it was rather pinkish ... and that's not a political statement either.

 So fast forward - on your old recorders and compact disc players - to the Talking Newspaper's party on Thursday and Friday this week.

 Blackpool Tower's doing the charity proud - lighting up (we hope...) in blue and white, the charity's own colours, on both nights.

Thursday's thank you lunch for more than 100 of the several hundred volunteers who help out right across the society's operation  is being attended by comedian Johnnie Casson, hailed the comedians' comedian, one of the many celebrities to have been interviewed by the Talking Newspaper. 

 On Friday the charity throws open the doors from 10am to 4pm at N-Vision's HQ at Bosworth Place, Squires Gate, so that visitors can drop in on the digital recording studios and see all the other elements of the society's work on site - and sight.

    Visitors will also be able to try on glasses to simulate the effects of eye conditions and check out aids and appliances  and high tech devices at the Low Vision Centre to help people live with sight loss. There's even enough talking clocks there to keep Beauty and the Beast aware of time passing...

  There's a flower festival thanks to former members of the now defunct Lytham Flower Club and guests will be able to visit the Growing for Life project run by social enterprise Urban Organics who encourage residents at the Princess Alexandra care home to help pot up plants or feed the hens.

 A wooden owl will soon be roosting on site too.  A  'owl' bench will be carved  by Kirkham based Acorn Woodcraft chainsaw sculptor James Shelliker, a DIY SOS and horticultural show regular, out of that most tactile wood - larch. 

  Of course, the headline star is the Talking Newspaper.   Some 320 blind and partially  sighted subscribers  listen to the free weekly newspaper presented and produced by 150 volunteers on a 30-team rota (including many from businesses, such as Beaverbrooks, in the area) and many more hear it online.

A rather poignant news clip has been produced by the charity which features just some of the intros to the news bulletins over the years - with Joy sounding as distinctive as ever.

The big name interviews conducted by Blackpool businessman Keith Gledhill and others have long gone but hours of recordings now include consumer news, sport,  a Best of British nostalgia programme presented by former teacher Peter Jebson, county magazines Lancashire Life and Lancashire Magazine with the main local news from The Gazette, Fleetwood Weekly News and Lytham St Annes Express on digital audio plugs - in place of the old cassettes and discs. 

 Friday's open day features memorabilia, a picture gallery of interviewees, including Margaret Thatcher  and the late Duke of Westminster, royal visitors - including Princess Diana - and that compilation of clips featuring, surely, some of the longest standing news readers ever. (They may well be adding another picture by Royal appointment too - after a bit of an international scoop this week - but more of that to come.)

One, Johnny, describes himself as a 'mere apprentice' at 20 years at the mic.  As for Joy, she admits, as with many of the readers, she's more interested in the obits than she used to be. "But that's life. I'm in two, three days a week. It gives me real satisfaction to know I've put something back. I started because I was a good fundraiser. When we started the Talking Newspaper we sat around a tiny home domestic type recorder with one master and four slaves. It's all very different now. We're very proud of our digital recording studio. We record up to 12 hours a week."

The charity itself dates back to 1910 and helps 2400 severely sight impaired (blind) or partially sighted people in the three  local boroughs. Chief executive officer Ruth Lambert calls the N-Vision 'the best kept secret' on the Fylde coast - and staff, trustees, volunteers and clients are out to change that perception. 

 Particularly one Brian Casey, the charity's specialist  Low Vision worker. He's 51, and lost his sight to sports injuries 27 years ago (28 if you count the first injury when he didn't notice he'd lost the sight in one eye).

Brian's been hitting the headlines locally, regionally,  nationally and now internationally after becoming the first European to trial Canadian-made eSight glasses which enabled him to see for the first time in -  28 years.  He's had to borrow the glasses until recently when a fundraiser at AKS School Lytham featuring soccer pundit Trevor Sinclair raised £7k towards the £10k needed for the charity to purchase a headset. Brian, who works so hard to help other sight impaired people retain their independence and mobility, now has use of a headset in his own right. 

Not only was he featured by the Daily Mirror the othe day and picked up the phone to the New York Times  while posing on London Bridge in his Trekky like specs - the day after attending a conference there for N-Vision - he's just met royalty. Princess Margriet of The Netherlands , no less - who even donned an eSight headset herself to chat to him -  at the international Vision 2017 convention in The Hague. 

Back at base, a  specialist fundraiser has recently been appointed by the charity. Outreach cafe clubs are already regularly taking place in the heart of all three borough communities  - going out to those who may find it hard to get into the centre, itself a hive of social activity as well as housing the Low Vision Centre.  And there's a charity shop, again manned by long standing volunteers, at Highfield Road, Blackpool. 

  The public face of the charity - the Princess Alexandra Home - has also been in the news.  It was  opened by HRH Princess Alexandra of Kent in 1962 as a care home for 'the blind'.   It now offers respite and residential care for all and has just won Platinum Hallmark Status in the Gold Standards Framework accreditation programme, a benchmark for excellence in later/end of life care.     More than 50 care homes in the North West achieved accreditation after completing rigorous training this year but only two care homes on the Fylde coast clinched Platinum - the other being The Willows on Midgeland Road, Marton.  Accreditation lasts three years. The GSF programme is backed by all four leading care home trade associations and is used in many primary care, hospital and other settings to improve quality of life care and reduce 'crisis' hospital admissions.

To learn more visit http://nvision-nw.co.uk or call Judith Harrison, community services manager, on 01253 362696. If you're heading over on Friday or any other time the address is N-Vision Princess Alexandra Home Bosworth Place Squires Gate Blackpool FY4 1SH

Come and 'see' for yourself...

* Pictured Jean Wild, a subscriber to the Talking Newspaper and one of the team designing a flower festival to mark the birthday

Jacqui Morley