The introduction of a Talking Newspaper in Cambridge was largely down to the efforts of Dorothy Matthews, the then Manager of the Blantyre Home for the Blind in Glisson Road, Cambridge. This home was set up and run by the Cambridgeshire Society for the Blind, later known as Cam Sight.

With energy and determination she gathered a high powered group of Cambridge academics, professionals and business men and women to become the Trustees including the late Roy Hewitson, the Cambridge solicitor, who dealt with the legal side of setting up the Trust and, obtaining Charitable status for the new Cambridge Association.

The first meeting of the Trustees was held on March 25th 1974 in the Master’s Lodge of Sidney Sussex College – the Master, Professor J W Linnett, being another Trustee.

Much equipment was donated by Pye of Cambridge, a valuable benefactor of the Trust, which also made substantial donations to CTN each year. At first the recordings were made in Blantyre House or in a studio on university premises. Since then the recording “studio” has been located in a number of places including Chesterton Hospital, and most recently Kingsway Clinic in Campkin Road. We were obliged to leave Kingsway Clinic in 2017 but were delighted to find a home with Cam Sight on Green Road – back with the organisation we had started with.

Here are some pictures of CTN volunteers in earlier days.

CTN volunteers in the early days.

Camread and CamMag

At the same time as Cambridge Talking News was getting off the ground, Gerry Sproston was in charge of the Lending Library in Cambridge Central Library in the mid 1970s. He began to supplement the range of large print books provided for people with visual impairment with books recorded on to cassette tape -“talking books” – which were then being produced commercially for the first time.

Shortly afterwards, the idea was mooted that the tapes could be supplemented with home-made recordings of books of local, Cambridge and Cambridgeshire interest. So volunteers were found to begin to record such books, slowly and one at a time.

Shortly after this Gerry Sproston was approached by Nigel Taylor who was then a social worker with the City social services and himself visually impaired – saying that the tapes were a good idea but that he thought the Library Service and his department between them could and should be doing a great deal more for VIPs in terms of reading and information services. Gerry and Nigel began to record very local newsletters which Nigel could distribute to his clients. The first two newsletters were Chesterton Challenge, the parish newsletter of St George’s Church, Chesterton (whose curate then was Rowan Williams, later Archbishop of Canterbury) and The Voice of Arbury, a newsletter covering North Cambridge.

But Nigel had wider ambitions. The library had a duty to make available books and information in a format accessible to visually impaired people. The library was facing serious financial restraints and it was obvious that funds were not going to be made available to achieve this objective. The answer had to be volunteers. So he and Gerry began to look around for people who would record books, articles, anything a visually impaired person might need, and also people who would visit the homes of VIPs and read to them anything they needed – letters, magazines, books or simply the Gas Bill.

Finding volunteers was not difficult, but finding the time to organise and co-ordinate them quickly became a problem, and it soon became clear that a paid co-ordinator would be essential to allow the service to grow. Of course a paid worker needs an employer and that was why they invented Camread in 1985.

As part of its wider remit to provide services for visually impaired people, Camread established the audio magazine CamMag which was distributed every month at first, and later 8 times a year. In December 2012 Camread closed and CamMag came under the wing of Cambridge Talking News, providing a different, complementary service. We like to think of CamMag as the colour supplement to Cambridge Talking News!

 “My mother enjoys listening to the magazine which brings back memories and stimulates conversation.“