– in the Scottish Parliament on 19th February 2013.

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Photo of Elaine Smith Elaine Smith Labour

The final item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S4M-04877, in the name of Jim Eadie, on Lothiansound talking newspaper celebrating its 25th anniversary. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament congratulates Lothiansound on its 25th anniversary on 18 February 2013; applauds the dedicated work of all the volunteers at Lothiansound who bring talking newspapers to people who are blind or partially sighted; understands that it serves over 600 listeners, providing them with news and current affairs taken from the Edinburgh Evening News; commends Lothiansound on its work to provide high quality recordings from its recording studio in Newington; recognises that recordings are provided in different formats to suit the needs of individual people, and wishes Lothiansound well as it continues what it considers its valuable work, providing a lifeline service directly to people in the community.

Photo of Jim Eadie Jim Eadie Scottish National Party

I begin by saying how delighted I am to have secured the debate and by thanking members from across the chamber who have supported the motion that congratulates Lothiansound on its 25th anniversary. It is a fantastic achievement and a significant milestone that we will celebrate later this evening at a reception in Parliament.

Twenty-five years ago—almost to the day—a group of like-minded people came together to hold the inaugural meeting of what is now a much-valued service to hundreds of blind and partially sighted people across Lothian and beyond. I know from my mum, Helen Eadie, who was registered blind in her later years through age-related macular degeneration, just how much she appreciated her talking newspaper and I know that the service, which has been pioneered by Lothiansound, is cherished by people across Scotland.

Of course, none of it would be possible without the volunteers who give up their time for the benefit of others, so I take this opportunity to pay tribute to all the volunteers, and to thank them for the work that they carry out. I am pleased that so many have joined us in the gallery to listen to the debate. I also pay tribute to one special lady—Susan Wallace—who is with us in the gallery and deserves particular recognition. Susan was a founder member of Lothiansound 25 years ago and is still an active volunteer today.

Lothiansound has delivered much in the time since 1988. The charity has produced more than 12,000 editions and has distributed them to hundreds of listeners. The service is delivered free of charge and is distributed through Royal Mail’s Articles for the Blind, and I know that it brings much enjoyment to many people in my constituency and across Lothian.

Lothiansound has worked hard to ensure that its service reaches as many people as possible. Back in 1988 it sent tapes to 40 visually impaired people; now its listenership is in excess of 500 and is composed of people who live in Lothian and people who live further afield who still keep an interest in what happens in Edinburgh and Lothian. I understand that one of the original listeners—Jennifer Meiklejohn—is with us today and that she still receives her recording with great anticipation.

Recordings are taken mostly from the Edinburgh Evening News and aim to keep blind and partially sighted people up to date with what goes on in their city and around Lothian. As an MSP for an Edinburgh constituency, I am happy to report that it is not just the Edinburgh Evening News that listeners enjoy; Lothiansound also records a popular Scottish quiz and it is keen to ensure that blind and partially sighted people do not miss out on the rich variety of cultural experiences that Edinburgh provides during the festival and throughout the year. For example, through the Federation of Scottish Theatres it advertises audio-transcribed descriptions of productions that take place in Edinburgh and in theatres further afield, including the Brunton theatre in Musselburgh.

The value of the service should not be underestimated. In the words of the Royal National Institute of Blind People:

“Listening to a Talking Newspaper is one of the things that people can enjoy without having to rely on anyone else. That feeling of independence is so important.”

The service plays an important part in fostering that feeling of independence, because it allows people the chance to feel connected to the place in which they live, does much to lessen the isolation that they can feel, and allows them to connect to the world around them.

The service is not just about keeping up to date with news or current events.

Stephen Fry is a well-known supporter of the medium of talking books and is patron of the Listening Books charity. What he says about the value of such a service could apply equally to talking newspapers. He has said, with his characteristic eloquence:

“The companionship and delight of a voice telling stories is incomparable. It distributes pure, undiluted pleasure and friendship. Not many schemes can make such a claim.”

Or, as one listener to Lothiansound put it simply:

“The readers are just like friends to me, visiting my home every week.”

There are five different reading teams made up of seven people. They are all volunteers who work together to achieve the professional standard that Lothiansound listeners enjoy. Reading takes great skill, especially as the readers do not see the articles until they are about to read them. Of course there can be moments when readers are caught off guard, but their professionalism always shines through.

Lothiansound has always moved with the times, and in 2008 it made the change from analogue to digital recording. I understand that that has increased the quality of the recordings as well as allowing use of compact discs. However, as ever, the charity is alive to the needs of its listeners and still offers cassette-tape recordings to those who prefer them.

During April 2012, Lothiansound moved to a property in Newington that is owned by the Royal Blind Asylum and School, where it has the use of a quiet and tranquil environment for each week’s recording.

As a charity, Lothiansound is funded by donations and through fundraising. Directing the organisation is a committee of trustees that is headed up by a very able chair in Janelle Scotland. The role of a trustee is important, so I take this opportunity to thank them, too, for the work that they undertake on behalf of Lothiansound.

My parliamentary colleagues from other parts of the country will be aware that there are other talking newspapers across Scotland. In fact, colleagues have been keen to let me know about organisations in their constituencies, so it is right that our national Parliament gives recognition to this vital lifeline service.

The Association of Talking Newspapers offers help and guidance to all 65 talking newspapers across Scotland. It provides training opportunities and hosts an annual conference at which volunteers pick up tips from colleagues and learn about recent developments in recording. We can all be proud that our own Dennis Robertson MSP will be one of the guest speakers at this year’s conference in October.

On this, the 25th anniversary of Lothiansound, it is entirely appropriate that we recognise the invaluable contribution that this remarkable organisation—and others like it—has made to enriching the lives of thousands of blind and partially sighted people across Lothian and throughout Scotland.

We all have the right to enjoy the acquisition of knowledge and to participate in the world around us. That is a right that Lothiansound has made—and continues to make—a reality for many people, so we thank it for that tonight.

Photo of Malcolm Chisholm Malcolm Chisholm Labour

I join Jim Eadie in congratulating Lothiansound on its valuable and remarkable work. It is a newspaper, as Jim Eadie has told us, for the blind and partially sighted, and it was established in 1988. At present, the paper, which is run by a group of more than 60 dedicated volunteers, is distributed, at no cost to the listener, to 550 people throughout the region. Even the postage is free, thanks to the Post Office’s Articles for the Blind, although there are of course running costs that require funding from generous donors.

Tapes giving news updates and features are distributed 50 weeks of the year, helping listeners to keep on top of current affairs. As politicians, we like to keep in the loop. We value the ability to remain connected with what is going on in the world around us, so none of us would underestimate the good that such a resource can do in keeping blind and partially sighted people in touch with the issues of their localities and further afield.

I am sure that most of the population who have full sight would be quick to complain were their newspapers, magazines, periodicals and other sources of information that are so important for ordinary day-to-day living to be suddenly withdrawn. There cannot be any just reason why those who are partially sighted or blind should have to make do without material that is available to others in the era of digital communication and enhanced connectivity.

What is so wonderful about the resource that is supplied by Lothiansound is that it is delivered direct to the individual. Many people live in properties that do not as yet have access to the internet, and although some listening papers and blind resources have rolled out online at United Kingdom level—for example, the National Talking Newspapers and Magazines charity—services are still required that bring the news on tape direct to people’s front doors. The benefit that such a vital link brings to individuals who would otherwise be cut off is immeasurable. After 25 years of building and strengthening its exceptional service, Lothiansound indeed has much to celebrate.

In addition, Lothiansound regularly runs social events that bring together listeners, volunteers and professionals from the blind community who give informative talks. That is all part of the process of keeping blind and visually impaired citizens informed and linked in with others who have direct experience of issues that are of mutual concern. Above all, the inclusive process is not only enjoyable and sociable, but contributes to a greater sense of belonging and wellbeing. Being in the loop not only benefits the intellect; the added social element of what Lothiansound does increases mental wellbeing for those 550 listeners. Direct contact between the senders of the tapes and the listeners strengthens the relationship between both groups and reminds them why the work is so valuable.

Anyone who wonders about the psychological benefits that speaking newspapers bring and the positive impact on individual wellbeing that results from regular listening need only glance at the feedback that has been given to the RNIB to understand how valuable such services are. When asked what they had gained through being included in mailing lists, people gave the following responses:

“I love talking newspapers ... Now I can no longer read, they are my lifeline.”

“Your service brings in to my living room, a local newsagent.”

“It’s so accessible and totally portable; you sit on the bus and plug in your headphones and you’re reading your magazine like anybody else.”

“A lot of those magazines I took in print form, I had to gradually give up. To have them back again is great! It re-opens a world I thought was closing.”

Those quotations go to the heart of why we are celebrating Lothiansound today. For 25 years, Lothiansound has provided a lifeline to hundreds of residents in the region. Driven by the work of dedicated and inspirational volunteers, Lothiansound’s success over the years is reflected in its accolades: it has won the Scottish tape competition newspaper section in 1994, 1996, 2000, 2002 and 2006. Surely that is something that we all applaud. The charity and its volunteers should feel rightly proud of their accomplishments.

In conclusion, blind and partially sighted people have the same rights and needs as fully sighted people as far as their ability to communicate with the wider world is concerned. We now know that 550 individuals have that ability, thanks to the work of this wonderful group. I am delighted to congratulate Lothiansound and I congratulate Jim Eadie on lodging the motion.

Photo of Fiona McLeod Fiona McLeod Scottish National Party

I thank Jim Eadie for bringing this incredibly important issue before Parliament today and for his eloquent and informative speech, which I am sure everyone enjoyed and got a lot of added information from. I congratulate Lothiansound on its 25th anniversary, but I hope that it will not mind my using this opportunity to highlight talking news provision within my constituency.

Members will not be surprised to learn that the ability to provide access to information and recreational reading for those who are finding it difficult to read print is incredibly important to me as a librarian. I first came to know about talking news in a personal rather than professional capacity. When I was an MSP way back in 2000, Strathkelvin Talking Newspaper Association, which covers Kirkintilloch and Bishopbriggs, invited me along to read. As Jim Eadie said, reading for the talking news requires a very professional ability—I was not invited back, so I do not think that I was that professional.

However, I was invited back in 2011 to celebrate the Strathkelvin Talking Newspaper Association’s 30th anniversary—I promise that I am not trying to do a one-up on Lothiansound. I thought that I was going along to present certificates for long service and to thank the volunteers for what they did. However, as well as doing that, I had to spend the next two hours serving tea at the coffee morning to make up the money so that the association had funds to continue. Of course, I did not mind doing that.

We have a fantastic team at Strathkelvin Talking Newspaper Association. Our new chair, Sandra Ketteringham, is doing a fantastic job in taking over from the past chair, Alistair Aitchison. More than 100 recipients in Kirkintilloch and Bishopbriggs now receive the Kirkintilloch Herald since we went digital in 2011, so the association provides a much-valued and well-received service to my local community.

Although the Strathkelvin Talking Newspaper Association is the group that I know best, in my constituency we also have BEAM, or Bearsden and Milngavie Talking Newspaper Association, which since 1990 has been recording the Milngavie and Bearsden Herald for more than 40 recipients in the area. Of course, I have spoken before in the chamber about Cue and Review Recording Service, which is based in Bishopbriggs in my constituency and which was established in 1982 by a young man when he was still at school. In 1991, it became a company and now more than 5,000 people across the United Kingdom receive audio tapes or digitised media for boom boxes, or whatever they are called. More than 5,000 visually impaired people across the UK benefit from that company in my constituency.

I thank Jim Eadie and congratulate Lothiansound. I add my voice to those saying that it is an important resource and that we must all do as much as we can to support it.

Photo of Michael Matheson Michael Matheson Scottish National Party

Like other members, I congratulate Jim Eadie on securing time for this important members’ business debate. I add my congratulations to Lothiansound talking newspaper on reaching its 25th anniversary. I am sure that members will recognise that services such as Lothiansound are only as strong and successful as their volunteers and those who work for them. I congratulate all the workers, volunteers and those who have supported Lothiansound over the past 25 years, some of whom have joined us in the public gallery.

The world has moved on rapidly since Lothiansound was started in 1988, as can be seen from the way in which people listen to newspapers today. In 1988, tapes were sent to users of the services in the way that Jim Eadie mentioned but, some 20 years later, compact discs were being sent out. However, any good organisation listens closely to its service users, and Lothiansound has continued to provide a taped version of news, but in better quality through a digital recording.

In the world of eyecare and vision loss, technology has also advanced rapidly since 1988. New eyecare technology and techniques mean that people who in 1988 would have experienced sight loss can now keep their sight longer. Throughout that period of advancement in technology and techniques, Lothiansound has continued to thrive and has increased its listeners by more than 10 times.

At times, people with sight loss can feel isolated and withdrawn. Although they can listen to the national and international news on television or radio, they cannot always get the same level of detail about local news. Lothiansound exists to allow people with sight loss to keep up to date with their local news and about the things that happen in their communities, outside their doors and in their local streets.

Over the past few years, the Government has been working closely with organisations that represent people with sensory impairment to improve those people’s lives. Since 2009, the Government has provided funding to pilot a number of sensory impairment one-stop shops across the country from the Western Isles to the Borders and from Moray to Dumfries and Galloway.

I have visited some of those one-stop shops and seen the work that is done there. Like services such as Lothiansound, those one-stop shops provide local services that are appropriate to the needs of the local population. The services might be started from nothing, as I saw in Stornoway. They might involve reaching out to black and ethnic minority communities, as was explained to me in Glasgow. Alternatively, they might allow people who previously felt isolated and lonely to meet and discuss what is important to them, as I experienced in Galashiels. Like Lothiansound, those one-stop shops are about providing local people with services and support that mean something to them and continue to involve them in their communities.

However, that is not where Government investment ends. The Government has also provided funding for the development of the first lip-reading tutors course to be held in Scotland for more than seven years. That course was oversubscribed, and we have already identified students to begin the second course later this year, which will, again, be funded by the Government.

I have also recently approved funding to provide training to front-line staff in local authorities to allow them to improve their skills in providing rehabilitation services to people with hearing, vision and dual sensory loss. Along with that, I have provided funding to third sector partners to work with, and deliver training to, staff in care homes to allow them better to identify and address hidden sensory loss, such as a loss of visual function. That will allow them to make contact with organisations such as Lothiansound and make use of their services.

The Government will shortly issue for consultation the Scottish sensory impairment strategy. The strategy will look to improve, and make more appropriate use of, sensory services and how they are delivered in Scotland. It will take individuals right through from childhood into adult services. It is important that we use that opportunity not only to build on the progress that has been made but to continue to deliver the best possible services for those who have a sensory loss.

I again congratulate Lothiansound. Passing on 25 years’ worth of news, information and a sense of community is a great achievement. Lothiansound is a great example of a small, local organisation that represents and supports its local community. I am delighted to hear about the benefit that many individuals have received from the service over years and the way in which MSPs recognise the value of Lothiansound as a key part of the Lothian community.

Meeting closed at 17:27.