PEOPLE with visual impairments have been enjoying their favourite local newspaper once again.

With thanks to digital assistance from the Hexham Courant, charity Tynedale Talking Newspaper, which records a weekly audio edition of the paper to those with sight problems, has returned to the airwaves.

Because of lockdown, recording wasn't a possibility as volunteers were unable to meet at its weekly base at Hexham's West End Methodist Church to do the recording, particularly as many of the readers fell into the vulnerable category.

In addition, the USB sticks the charity send out on a weekly basis are handled by postal workers and many more along the lines meaning it would not be safe to deliver to people's houses.

To ensure the group could get back to recording after a few week's absence, the team at the Courant downloaded pdf copies of the pages and sent them to volunteers, allowing the recording to resume via online video conferencing site Zoom.

Following the recording, a well-thought out rotation and disinfection scheme was utilised to ensure the USB sticks and plastic envelopes could get out to charity users.

This ensured all materials would be quarantined for up to two weeks once returned, far longer than the science suggests that Covid could remain viable on hard, dry surfaces.

Tony Newton, the charity's chairman, said: “As it became evident that even if lockdown eased, it was going to be some time before we could resume our normal recordings, the pressure to find a solution grew, with the necessary push to action supplied by a detailed proposal prepared by long-time talking newspaper recording engineer and registrar Ed Turnbull.

"I’d used Zoom and Webex teleconferencing for both NHS and RAF work during lockdown, and I knew that if we could get acceptable internet connection speeds, good enough microphones and quiet home environments, then we could make remote recording work.

"The audio quality of our Zoom recordings may not be up to that of our normal recording set up, but ‘needs must’ and it’s clear from listener comments that they are pleased that Tynedale Talking Newspaper is back in action.

"It’s been an expensive exercise for a small charity as we’ve had to invest around £1,200 in a new USB stick copier to make this work, and we’re certainly feeling the cancellation of our annual Flag Day event in Hexham this year, so expect to see us on the fund-raising trail soon.”

With co-operation from the Courant, the charity received the latest edition hours after going to print to allow the usual Thursday recording slot to be met.

Tynedale Talking Newspaper is free to visually impaired listeners. For an application form, contact registrar Ed Turnbull on 07400 096937.