End of an era as Lisburn’s talking newspaper folds

After almost 46 years in production the Lisburn Leo Talking Newspaper has finally come to an end.

The decision was taken by trustees and listeners at the annual general meeting held in Hillsborough Village Centre.

The plummeting decline of listener numbers has brought about the decision to close the charity which provided, free of charge, a weekly audio version of The Ulster Star to visually impaired members of the wider Lisburn community. The recording, which was originally in cassette tape form, later progressed to CDs.

During Covid restrictions, it has been made available to listeners via an app provided free of charge by the British Wireless for the Blind Fund. Listeners were able to download the app on to their mobile phone or tablet and listen to the weekly recording online when it suited them. However, some of our listeners had difficulty with this service and have no longer been listening to the recordings.

The Talking Newspaper first featured in The Ulster Star on October 21, 1976 and was produced by The Lisburn Leo organisation, the junior club of the Lisburn branch of Lions International.

The tapes were recorded and copied in The Old Lisburn Infirmary in Seymour Street and initially delivered by hand to the listeners. Later, Royal Mail provided a concession that they would deliver, free of charge, envelopes labelled ‘Articles for the Blind’, thus making the work easier for the volunteers.

Lisburn Leo was a youth organisation and therefore with young members heading off to university, jobs out of the area, getting married etc the ‘paper’ went into decline.

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Rescue came from The Y club, which was again a youth club. The ‘paper’ moved from Seymour Street to The Y Club premises around the late 1970s – early 1980s. Reggie Barr, a Past President of Lisburn Lions International was instrumental in keeping the ‘paper’ functioning and had the assistance of several members of The Y Club, and several members of social services. One Y Club member was Michael Heaney, who read the stories after his day’s work as a school janitor. Harold Patterson of Smyth Patterson shop was involved behind the scenes and assisted in providing The Y Club accommodation. In later years the tape included a magazine section which was organised by Albert Wilson, ably assisted by several ladies who read the articles.

Over the years Talking Newspaper has been honoured to have very close contacts with the Lisburn Mayors, many of whom have assisted with the readings. Some councillors have also taken part. Lady Mary Peters has helped with the reading and boosted the morale of the volunteers.

David Anderson, who was the household manager at Hillsborough Castle gave the listeners a very interesting insight into the activities and personalities at The Castle.

One very generous member of the cast of the 1950s radio programme, The McCooeys, was Audrey Bell who told everyone about her time as cast member Bella McCoubrey.

There have been talks on drug testing of athletes by Wendy Gray, Morse Code for the blind by Jim Henry, The Royal Ulster Agricultural Society by Bill Yarr and Reverend Bert Tosh gave a very interesting interview about his work as religious affairs producer at the BBC. Gordon Galloway gave a fantastic talk about the characters and families memorialized in the windows and plaques in Lisburn Cathedral.

Robert Apsley, vice chairman, Lisburn Leo Talking Newspaper said: “It is very sad to come to the end of an era, but we must face reality and accept that the demand for print news in its various forms is on the decline across the board. Unfortunately several other talking newspapers in the province have ceased operation and now The Lisburn Leo TN has reluctantly been added to that list. To all our faithful volunteers and listeners over the last 46 years - thank you.”