While the Wisbech & District Talking Newspaper for the Blind was officially founded on October 3rd 1978, its real beginnings go back further in time.
In the mid-1970’s a few members of the Cambridge Newsletter, one of the first Talking Newspapers in the country, suggested the idea of local Talking Newspaper projects to the Ely Society For The Blind. The Society’s president, Ted Rigg was so enthused that he felt that one of the projects should be started in Wisbech. Unfortunately the project initially suffered setbacks, mainly due to the high start-up costs to buy in the necessary equipment. After a kind donation of £2000 from the late Lance Hunter-Rowe to Ted Rigg, along with the instruction to use it to benefit the blind community in the Wisbech area, Ted set about starting what is now the Wisbech & District Talking Newspaper.
The first home of the WDTN was at The Isle College, who granted use of their recording studio facilities for the purpose of recording and copying the tapes. Using an antiquated reel-to-reel tape recorder, Ted Rigg and a small group of other volunteers created the first recording and painstakingly re-recorded this ‘Pilot Episode’ Master Tape to fifteen or so regular tape cassettes. These were delivered to a test audience who listened through and were asked their opinions. With the exception of one recipient who described the tapes as ‘…an absolute disgrace to Wisbech’, the Pilot was a resounding success. And thus the Wisbech & District Talking Newspaper was truly born.
Recording continued at The Isle College for a short while until Ted Rigg and Les Sims, another volunteer, realised that they didn’t need to use the large, expensive and cumbersome reel-to-reel tape recorder to achieve a good quality recording. So the decision was made to become self-sufficient and the Talking Newspaper moved to The Octavia Hill Centre. Les Sims personally funded the purchase of a lot of recording equipment, and the use of the equipment too expensive to purchase was offered by the Cambridge Newsletter team – namely the high-speed tape copying facilities.
The Wisbech & District Talking Newspaper was very fortunate to have some knowledgable volunteers, including Vivien Thomas who was at the time a staff member at the Wisbech Library, and in her youth had alongside fellow students at Aberystwyth University set up the very first Talking Newspaper in Britain! The early editions of the Newspaper were very different to what they are today. Initially the tapes were only 30 minutes long. This was soon extended to 60 minutes, and included news written for the tape rather than cut from the physical newspapers, interviews with local personalities including the Town Mayor, annual segments about the Operatic Society’s Spring Performance and also a special Christmas themed tape (A tradition carried on to this day!)
In 2006 the Wisbech & District Talking Newspaper to their new premises at Peckover House on North Brink. The ‘Garden Room’ at the rear of the house overlooking the famous Peckover House Gardens provided a full-time base for our operations.
In 2016 the Wisbech & District Talking Newspaper made the decision to move from Peckover House, over the river to the Octavia Hill Birthplace Museum, in order to help some of our less physically able staff to continue volunteering with us. The second floor Garden Room at Peckover House was a brilliant facility for us but the narrow steep stairs leading to it proved troublesome for some volunteers. Our new base at the OHBM finds us on the ground floor, with step-free access from the street meaning easy access for everyone.
Throughout it’s life so far, the Wisbech & District Talking Newspaper has helped to found other local Talking Newspapers, including productions in Downham Market, March and King’s Lynn. A lot has changed since the early days of the WDTN, this includes our recording methods. Technology and a handful of very generous donations have allowed us to progress from Tape Cassettes, to CD’s and now to USB Memory Sticks, allowing greater flexibility and speed in both recording, duplicating and distribution.