'Friendly voice' says goodbye to talking newspaper after 30 years

Evelyn Rumsby has been making talking newspaper's for the local community Picture: CHARLOTTE BOND

At its peak Mrs Rumsby's papers reached 40 people - Credit: CHARLOTTE BOND

When Evelyn Rumsby talks, people listen – not just because she ran her district’s talking newspaper for more than 30 years, but because she truly cares about her community. 

Having watched her husband Ron start Leiston and District Talking Newspaper in 1983, she could not stand by and watch it disappear after he died in 1989. 

So, she took it over – narrating a digest of stories from the East Anglian Daily Times and Suffolk Magazine, to help blind and partially-sighted people keep up to date with the news and stay connected to their neighbourhoods.  

With help from her sister, Joan Smith, she would distribute digital memory sticks – or, in the days before modern technology, old-fashioned cassettes – to homes every Friday. 

Evelyn Rumsby has been making talking newspaper's for the local community Picture: CHARLOTTE BOND

Evelyn Rumsby has been making talking newspaper's for the local community - Credit: CHARLOTTE BOND

Having recorded the bulletins in her kitchen, bedroom or even the garden, she would visit every single one of her listeners to teach them how to use the memory stick. 

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The service delivered to about 40 people at its peak, with Mrs Rumsby saying that serving a smaller community allowed her to develop a personal connection with her audience. 

She said it allowed her to meet “some wonderful people, that have coped with no sight or are partially-sighted". 

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Mrs Rumsby added: “I think I have been so privileged dealing with smaller numbers, allowing for such close communication - compared with Lowestoft and Ipswich which have a big circulation and were not able to do it in the same way.” 

Asked what impact the talking newspaper had on its listeners, she said: “It is the importance of having a friendly voice, coming into your home. Especially for the readers that lived on their own. 

“They loved hearing the news and they were interested in hearing about the lives of the readers. 

“It has been such a major and enjoyable part of my life.  

“It was amazing going into the homes of these uncomplaining people and realise what you’ve got in life and how they make the most of what they have with very few complaints.” 

Yet she maintains it was very much a community effort, for example praising the postmen who did a “brilliant job” to make sure wallets with recordings inside were delivered on time. 

Mrs Rumsby added that her late husband "would be absolutely delighted that it has carried on, as he worked really hard to get it going”. 

She also praised the sterling efforts of treasurer Derek Wright, who has worked with the talking newspaper since it began in 1983. 

Yet despite three decades of devoted service to her area’s blind and partially-sighted community, Mrs Rumsby has now made the difficult decision to close the talking newspaper. 

With the majority of listeners being elderly and Covid restrictions making deliveries difficult, she believed it was no longer right to continue. 

While many will miss her friendly tones, she believes now is the right time because technology means there is so much more entertainment and news available to listeners. 

However, she and her sister do hope to continue to make some visits when able – particularly to those living alone. 

“It is with a heavy heart that I have decided to let this go,” she said. 

However, she is not ready to press pause on her community work just yet. 

Mrs Rumsby, who lives in Thorpeness, has agreed to become the coordinator for her village’s Neighbourhood Watch. 

She will liaise with the police to inform residents of important information in her area.  

“I’m really healthy and if I let this go, I’m not doing anything for anybody,” she said.  

“I am really privileged that I can carry on.” 

Her voice has become one of Leiston’s most recognisable over the years – but in her new role, Mrs Rumsby is truly giving a voice to others as well. 

If you know a community hero email community.heroes@archant.co.uk

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