FOR OVER 30 years, ‘The Lakeland Echo’, has been delivered to homes of the visually impaired across Fermanagh – and it all started thanks to the forward-thinking of one man.
When Eugene Kelly, originally of Queen Street in Enniskillen, first came across the talking newspaper phenomena, it was through renowned rugby commentator Jim Sherwin, whose RTE programme ‘Listen and See’ featured a Mid-Ulster talking newspaper.
“So after that we chased it up through Jim Sherwin, and through RTE and found out what the background was of the newspaper, how it operated and that,” explained Eugene.
“It was volunteers who recorded the local paper, put it on a tape and sent it out to visually impaired people. I thought to myself – that would be a good idea,” he added.
That was in 1978, and in September, Eugene realised that he needed a helping hand.
“I was only one individual. So I canvassed around and got support from one or two other blind people. Namely and notably, a man called Arthur Mitchell, and we approached social services and the director of social services decided to refer it up the ladder – and we soon gathered the information to have a public meeting to decide what public support there was.
“In September 1978 we had a public meeting in the library – there was over 60 people at it, and a steering committee was set up to launch the talking newspaper.”
It was the second week of December that year when ‘The Lakeland Echo’ 11 copies were hand-delivered to the visually impaired.
“We’d take mostly the news and important items, we’d also take obituaries. Our main source of material is the local press – they are the backbone of it,” Eugene went on.
“In 2009 we converted to digital format, and abandoned the tapes. The tapes were becoming less and less used so we switched to memory sticks.”
The talking newspaper generally comes out on a Saturday each week, and is recorded on a Thursday evening at the studio at the Drumcoo Centre.
“And we send them post free to 160 addresses. The actual number that would listen would probably be at least double that. Because they go to care homes and that as well.”
Eugene noted that he felt it was important that people are kept in touch with what’s going on in the county.
And, with the AGM taking place on Tuesday, May 14, Eugene acknowledged that he can’t continue forever – and that it was important that the charity continued to get support.
“Because of health reasons I know I’m not going to be able to continue on and on forever,” he said. I would be concerned that that we might not get the new members.
“The only thing I can say is that it’s very worthwhile. It’s a very popular charity, it’s very well thought of – we get full co-operation from the Western Trust and the Library services, as well as the Fermanagh District Council. They all support us.”
“It would be greatly appreciated if they came along to support the committee.”
The AGM will take place in the Drumcoo centre, Drumcoo at 7pm, on May 14.
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