Hon President Theresa Villiers MP




 In January 1977 BBTN sent out its first 13 audio-cassettes to blind or visually impaired residents of the London Borough of Barnet. Produced by, and in the home of the wife of the Minister of Barnet’s United Reform Church, with the help of a dedicated team of volunteers, the Newspaper is now distributed to well over 200 listeners, from its own dedicated studio using the most modern digital technology that allows listeners to hear the local news on CDs.

The Talking Newspaper movement started in the UK in the early 1960s and there are now some 500 Talking Newspapers in the UK, each one operating as an independent charity serving its own local area; all are staffed and operated solely by unpaid volunteers sending their Talking Newspaper (TN) completely free of charge to residents. More than 400 of these TNs have associated together as members of the Talking Newspaper Federation (TNF) which addresses matters of common interest to them all.


So how does it work? How does a group of unpaid volunteers produce every week a free sound newspaper and send it across the Borough? 

Our primary news source is the local Times Group Newspapers, though other sources are also used. Every week our Editorial Team of 6 men and women, led by its Editor, reviews the news to make a selection of items of interest to fit onto a 60-minute CD. This selection is then sent to the Studio where a team of 4 Readers – two men and two women to give a mix of voices – read the items into microphones which are fed directly into the hard disk of our computer, under the supervision and control of a Producer and Sound Engineer


 who then produce a master CD from the computer and from these duplicate the required numbers of CDs which are packed into special wallets, taken to the Royal Mail which then delivers them, free of all postage charges, to the relevant addresses. Each recording team works for one week in four to minimise the demand on their time, so there are 24 people who make up these teams. Additionally we have at any one time a further 10-12 reserve readers ready on a stand-by basis to cover for anyone who may be unable to take his/her regular slot.

 When our Listeners have heard the news the discs are returned to the Studio in the same wallets, again free of charge, where they are checked in by the Administration Team consisting of, generally, 4 people working on either a regular or cyclical basis according to their circumstances. The single-use CDs are collected for recycling (for technical reasons it is not practical to use rewriteable CDs). The opportunity is taken here to update our records on the separate office computer.

 We are always interested in hearing from anyone who would like to volunteer their services. If you would like to know more, please contact us (Click here)


 BBTN’s commitment to the people it serves is illustrated by our acquisition of a computer with special software which enables a completely blind person to access and operate an otherwise standard computer. This was obtained at no cost from TNF’s predecessor group via a lottery grant which provided for forty five similar computers to be offered to TNs around the Country. BBTN was among the first to acquire one and, as far as we know, we are still the only TN within Greater London to have one. With the support of Barnet’s Library Service this computer is installed in the main library at the Burroughs and is available free of charge to be used by blind residents of Barnet. In conjunction with the Council we have also worked with a specialist training organisation to help people to learn to use it. 

           image005             'Sightline' demo pic

                                  The ‘Sightline’ computer being

                                         demonstrated to the

                                            Mayor of Barnet.

 When BBTN started thirty years ago the analogue audio-cassette had just established itself and proved to be an ideal medium for this service. Although it is still used it is now very much ‘last century’s clothes’ having been virtually replaced by digital technology and the CD. Now the CD is itself being talked out by rapid advances in digital hardware which will considerably simplify our procedures, be easier for a blind person to operate, and yet still use digital technology. With our current digital recording ‘platform’ we are very well placed to take advantage of these benefits and are working with TNF in bringing this to Barnet.


The Talking Newspaper is a completely free service, so there is no sales revenue. Everyone involved in the production of the Newspaper provides their services free of charge, so there is no salary cost; the special wallets are delivered by the Royal Mail completely free of charge under an ‘International Services for the Blind’ agreement, so this is another area of cost the TN movement doesn’t have to meet. Nevertheless there are all the usual office utilities costs of heating, lighting, stationery, etc; the studio building must be maintained, recording equipment and facilities have to be purchased and maintained, and so on. Our excellent relationship with Barnet Council and their appreciation of the service we provide in the Borough has given us a favourable arrangement on our premises which we lease from them. Nevertheless there are building maintenance costs to be met. Together these add up to a need for regular fund-raising. 

Over the years we have held exhibitions and co-operated on a mutual basis with other local societies and charities in their fund-raising efforts. We were awarded a grant by the Times Group Newspapers which essentially paid for our digital recording equipment; we have benefited from a large donation by a local Golf Club; we hold collections from time-to-time; we use our recording facilities and expertise to provide, for a small charge, recorded information for other Barnet organisations that have a need to communicate with blind or visually impaired people. And we maintain a list of Friends of BBTN who make small but regular annual contributions.  One way or another these self-help efforts have enabled us to pay our bills and have kept us afloat for thirty years.



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