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Award presentation for 2000th issue

The picture on the right was taken on the occasion of the presentation to Elmbridge and Runnymede Talking Newspaper (EaRTN) by the Mayors of our two boroughs of a certificate in recognition of our 1,500th issue, and shows from the left Councilor Carol Jones, Mayor of Runnymede, EaRTN members John Dickson, Mary Cobham, Anne Drevost, Editor Hugh Read, Sid Stone, Chairman Heinz Vogel and Councilor Martin Schofield Mayor of Elmbridge. EaRTN has now produced over two thousand issues.

When the Talking Newspaper Association of the UK was formed in 1974, the Rotary Club of Weybridge and Byfleet decided to start a talking newspaper for blind and partially sighted people in the area.  Hospital Radio Wey offered to join the project by providing recordings of their Friday evening News Digest, resolving the problem of providing the news that would fill side one of the proposed 90-minute cassette.  Side two was to be a magazine.

The Thames Valley Talking Newspaper (TVTN), as it then was, first reached 35 listeners in the Weybridge and Byfleet area on 21st December 1975.  The early cassettes were edited and copied on Sunday mornings on a single machine in the home of Pat Cole, of Radio Wey, for more than two years.

In June 1976 Walton Rotary joined the project, bringing 40 more listeners.   TVTN grew in strength, with Esher Rotary joining in May 1977 and Chertsey Rotary following in 1987.   As word spread so TVTN increased its weekly circulation, and by the end of 1990 reached more than 200 blind and visually impaired people in the boroughs of Elmbridge and Runnymede.

In 1995 it was decided to take over side one and speed up the weekly cycle, so that the news could be recorded on Thursdays, enabling listeners to receive their weekly cassette on Saturday rather than Tuesday the following week, as was inevitable under the arrangement at the time.   An appeal went out for volunteers to take on the much bigger task of editing, reading and recording the weekly news from the local newspapers. Following a feature article in the Surrey Herald, some 50 people answered the call and TVTN's own first news (on side two) reached its listeners by April 1997, though still alongside Radio Wey on side one.  The re-launch was completed by November, when TVTN finally took responsibility for side one and the new, Saturday morning, weekly all-news cassette started - under the name of Elmbridge and Runnymede Talking Newspaper (EARTN).  The magazine section became a separate monthly magazine, and was the sole responsibility of Heinz Vogel.

EARTN's successful rebirth was recognised later that year when the Surrey Voluntary Association for the Blind voted it 'Surrey Talking Newspaper of the Year' and the Runnymede Disability Liaison Group gave it their award for 'Services to the Disabled'.

Egham, the last remaining Rotary Club in the two boroughs, joined EARTN in 1998 and the original magazine side was reinstated in the form of the EARTN Monthly Features Supplement, now better known as our Talking Magazine.

Although the magazine ran successfully for 33 issues, it was too much for one person and was discontinued in November 2001. It was revived under the joint editorship of Hugh Read and Sid Stone, with its first edition in February 2002.  The success of the new format was recognised by an award for Achievement and Contribution in enhancing the lives of disabled people in 2003 by the Runnymede Access Liaison Group. Due to a shortage of volunteers to continue production of the magazine, this service to listeners was suspended from January 2011.

In December 2004 the Talking Newspaper Association of the U.K awarded a certificate to EARTN in recognition of its 1,500th edition. 

In 2005 the 30th anniversary of its launch was marked with tributes from Michael Aspel, Bernard Cribbins, Nerys Hughes and the Mayors of Elmbridge and Runnymede.

In October 2006 EARTN received £100 from the Glaxo Smith Kline Local Health Awards Scheme.   Receiving this award was the retiring Chairman and Editor, Heinz Vogel, who was succeeded as Editor by Hugh Read, winner of one of the Elmbridge Community Awards for 2006 “In recognition of the voluntary support he has provided to the community”.

Faced with the failure of one of the machines used for cassette copying and the knowledge that the others would all need major repair, in February 2008 EARTN launched an appeal for £13,000 to replace the six copiers.   The target was reached in April thanks to generous support from Elmbridge and Runnymede councils, local charities and the public and the new machines were installed in May.

In October 2008, the work of the Elmbridge and Runnymede Talking News was again recognized, when volunteers Mary Cobham, Anne Prevost and Sid Stone were presented with Elmbridge Community Awards.

Following the closure of Weybridge and Byfleet Rotary Club in 2008 and Esher Rotary Club in December 2009, EARTN lost 40% of its funding.

In 2013 EaRTN converted from recording audio cassettes to producing mp3 digital audio files on USB memory sticks and providing "Boom Boxes" where needed for listeners to play the memory sticks.

In Setember 2014 EaRTN was awarded The Bob Davies Award for achievement by a Group or service in serving the needs of Disabled People in Runnymede. In November 2014 EaRTN will publish its two thousandth edition.

EARTN is now producing mp3's recorded onto USB memory sticks at the rate of some 15,000 copies a year, reaching nearly 130 blind and visually impaired people in Elmbridge and Runnymede.  These recordings consist of the weekly news, which reached issue number 2,000 in November 2014, and the Monthly Magazine.  The service is, and always has been, completely free of charge, the participating Rotary Clubs providing the bulk of the funding.  Some 50 volunteers provide the labour for this weekly operation.

As in all such undertakings, EARTN is entirely dependent on the services of willing and unpaid volunteers, who give whatever time they can each month – not less than three hours.   Anyone who wishes to volunteer to work with the team should ring our Helpline:  01784 435622.   This is also the number to ring if you know of anyone who would like to receive the Talking Newspaper.