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Language: English / Gàidhlig


Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Thursday, September 14, 2017

Meeting of the Parliament 14 September 2017

Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Borders Talking Newspapers, Community Justice, Food and Drink Strategy, Decision Time


Borders Talking Newspapers

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Linda Fabiani)

I ask those who are leaving the chamber and the gallery to do so quietly, please, because business is about to start again.

The next item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-06818, in the name of Rachael Hamilton, on the 25th anniversary of Borders Talking Newspapers. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament recognises and congratulates the Borders Talking Newspaper on its 25th anniversary; considers that the newspaper, which is based in Duns and Hawick, is a vital resource for people who are completely blind or have visual impairments and want to keep up with local news and issues; believes that it is a simple yet effective measure to counteract the social isolation that can occur as a result of sight problems; considers that the 180,000 people across Scotland who, according to the Royal National Institute of Blind People, have sight problems would benefit from this or a similar service; recognises the numerous volunteers who give up their time to help keep this service available every week for listeners, and wishes the volunteers, organisation and listeners all the best for the future.


Rachael Hamilton (Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire) (Con)

It gives me great pleasure to bring to Parliament a debate on a motion that recognises and congratulates the hard work of Borders Talking Newspapers, which recently celebrated 25 years of providing a service for blind and visually impaired people and those who cannot read or hold a local newspaper. I thank the people from Borders Talking Newspapers who have joined us today, although I do not think that they have actually made it to the gallery yet.

During the summer recess, I was delighted to join those who intend to join us in the gallery today at a celebration garden party. The sun shone and there was much happiness, and Carrick McClelland entertained us by playing the fiddle. We raised a glass to the volunteer editors and readers who give up their time to make the talking newspapers a success, and to all those who work tirelessly to ensure that deadlines are never missed, no matter what.

I am told that one of those individuals made Borders Talking Newspapers possible—the founder and patron, Matilda Mitchell. Matilda’s dedication to the project has made Borders Talking Newspapers possible, so she should be extremely proud that it continues to thrive 25 years on. I understand that Matilda learned from a friend about a similar project in Hampshire and, on finding that there was nothing comparable in the Scottish Borders, made it her mission to deliver a talking newspapers service for blind and visually impaired people.

Of course, it would be remiss of me not to thank my colleagues for supporting my motion, which has made the debate possible, and I look forward to hearing their speeches.

Borders Talking Newspapers provides a free local weekly news and information service that plays an invaluable and vital part in many people’s weekly routine. The organisation relies on the generosity of its supporters to deliver a seamless service. The focus of the service is to provide Borders residents with news items from the weekly local papers The Southern Reporter, The Berwickshire News and the Hawick News. Although the emphasis is local, the 90-minute audio news programme is sent to listeners on USB sticks and is streamed worldwide free of charge so—literally—the world can find out what is happening in the Borders. Moreover, around 160 Borders residents receive memory sticks and specially designed players, so that they can access local news.

Access is key. Without the hard work of Borders Talking Newspapers, many people would have no access to their local news. They would be at risk of not knowing what had happened and what was going to happen. The service helps to ensure that everyone is informed, whatever their circumstances.

At the summer garden party, Clova Reid told me that Borders Talking Newspapers customers love hearing the sounds of different voices. They start to recognise speakers’ tones and inflections and they take comfort from hearing a human voice.

We must remember the impact of not having access to local news publications. A person’s being without access takes away their opportunity to discuss local news, to stay informed about what is happening on their doorstep and to speak to a neighbour about the headlines that matter to them or the local sports teams that they support. It risks isolating people in their communities.

It is also important to remember that many of us will need services such as a talking newspaper in the future. None of us is age proof, and some of us will suffer eyesight deterioration. For now, because of the efforts of Matilda Mitchell, Wendy Moss and the many volunteers, we need not worry about not being kept informed about local issues in the Borders.

The Royal National Institute of Blind People promotes services such as Borders Talking Newspapers as a means to help people who have sight issues. I hope that the debate will raise awareness of talking newspapers, which are invaluable in the lives of so many people, and will become invaluable to people including us.

Like many other people, I welcome the Big Lottery Fund’s award of £5,300 to Borders Talking Newspapers to enable it to expand. The service was also recognised for its important contribution to Borders life when it was awarded £500 by Asda in Galashiels.

Borders Talking Newspapers has come a long way. In 2012 it recorded its 1,000th show. The shows are no longer recorded on cassette tapes; they are on memory sticks, which are distributed and returned free of charge through the Royal Mail. The technology has enabled the service to reach more people by delivering the Hawick News and a longer recording. The recordings deliver the news as it is presented in the publications. Deviation from that and opinion giving are not permitted, as Matilda Mitchell’s husband knows too well. He was sacked for doing it.

I hope that today’s members’ business debate will raise awareness of the Borders Talking Newspapers service and its important and valuable contribution to communities throughout the Borders. I hope that it will spread the idea of a local talking newspaper to areas that do not have such a service, and I hope that it will encourage more volunteers to support such services by getting involved and helping them to succeed and grow in the coming years.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

Ms Hamilton, you might want to take an extra minute or so to welcome your guests to the gallery.

Rachael Hamilton

Thank you. I said earlier that we were happy to welcome people from Borders Talking Newspapers to Parliament. I do not know whether our guests were here in time to hear me speak fondly about the garden party that we had in summer, in the sunshine, at which entertainment was provided by Carrick McClelland. I am delighted that they could join us today, and I will speak to them later.


Christine Grahame (Midlothian South, Tweeddale and Lauderdale) (SNP)

First, I declare an interest, in that I am not age proof.

I welcome the people from Borders Talking Newspapers, and I congratulate Rachael Hamilton on securing the debate on her important motion. I, too, have lodged a motion about Borders Talking Newspapers, which underlines the service’s importance across our neighbouring constituencies.

I was lucky enough to be invited to Borders Talking Newspapers’ recent annual general meeting, which took place in the Focus community centre in Galashiels, in my constituency. I should have known from the congested car park how well attended it would be. When I went into the hall, I found it to be packed with a mix of volunteers and listeners and their partners. By the way, for a good attendance at an AGM, it does no harm to have a hearty supply of sandwiches, cakes, tea and coffee at the tables, and to let folk eat first before moving on to the AGM.

Voluntary organisations with household names hit the headlines, but talking newspapers are below the radar of most folk. However, they form part of the backbone of a local community. As Rachael Hamilton said, Borders Talking Newspapers was founded in 1992 by Matilda Mitchell and it relies on its 60-plus volunteers to translate from print to USB or flash drive—whatever that is—all the local gossip: the ins and outs, the hatches, matches and dispatches, who is in the jile, who is out of the jile, what events are on, who will be braw lad and his lass this year, and so on. It puts a stop to that feeling of being isolated and excluded from everything local.

Borders Talking Newspapers covers The Southern Reporter in my patch and its Peebles partner covers the Peeblesshire News, while in Midlothian there is Midlothian News and Views Talking Newspaper’s service. Borders Talking Newspapers has at least 200 listeners, and I had chat with a few at that AGM, including Graham Hanson and his wife, Margaret. She made it plain, as we scoffed those important cakes, that it is very important for her to keep on top of what is going on in her community and to be part of the local buzz.

Although local papers are having a tough time—like much of the national newsprint—they still matter in rural communities. They are bought and read because their news is very localised indeed. The Southern Reporter serves mainly the central Borders area—Galashiels, Lauder, Earlston and Melrose in my patch—although it occasionally strays west into Tweeddale. In that area, the most read is the Peeblesshire News; in Midlothian, it is the Midlothian Advertiser.

In Scotland, 188,000 people currently suffer sight loss or impairment, and that figure is set to double by 2031 because of the growing elderly population and an increase in diabetes, so talking newspapers will become even more important. The great thing about this Parliament is that this debate, as are all our debates and activities, is available online for people who have such impairments so that they can keep in touch with their Parliament—what it is up to and what it is not doing.

I congratulate all the volunteers, particularly Wendy Moss, who is the director, and Tom Ingoldsby, who is a trustee of Borders Talking Newspapers, for their commitment. I thank them for inviting me to learn about the service. At my next open meeting, I am going to have good tea and coffee, and a spread of decent cakes—because it works.


Colin Smyth (South Scotland) (Lab)

I echo the comments of Christine Grahame and congratulate Rachael Hamilton on lodging her motion and providing members with the opportunity to wish Borders Talking Newspapers a very happy 25th birthday. I add to the welcome to the Scottish Parliament that has been given to the volunteers from Borders Talking Newspapers who are in the gallery.

In a week in which we mark 20 years since the people of Scotland, including nearly 67 per cent of Borderers, voted in favour of devolution, it is worth reflecting on the fact that this Parliament did not even exist when, in 1992, Matilda Mitchell began Borders Talking Newspapers, recording local news stories on to cassette tapes—in an attic, I understand—for the benefit of visually impaired and blind people in the region.

Since then, although it now uses digital recordings on data sticks and the internet, the newspaper has no doubt covered much of our Parliament’s work and delivery of groundbreaking legislation, such as free personal care for the elderly, the ban on smoking in public places and, of course, the Waverley Railway (Scotland) Bill—the borders railway bill. It is my hope that soon it will be able to report on plans to extend that railway to Carlisle through Langholm, among other places—but that is maybe a debate for another day.

Today’s debate is an opportunity to celebrate the enormous contributions that Borders Talking Newspapers and the many other talking newspapers services make in our communities. They are often small local charities that provide talking newspapers to usually between 100 and 200 people free of charge, and rely heavily on the tireless commitment of their volunteers, to whom we owe a huge debt of gratitude.

As a member of the Scottish Parliament cross-party group on visual impairment, I know how important the work of those volunteers is to many people. I have often spoken to people who are blind or partially sighted, and they describe losing their sight as an incredibly isolating experience. Losing the ability to read as one’s sight deteriorates can contribute enormously to that feeling of isolation. As one’s vision worsens and it becomes more of a challenge to read, it is more difficult to keep up to date with local and national events. The sources that keep people informed of events—newspapers, posters and flyers—become more and more inaccessible until they are impossible to use.

Most of us in the chamber probably take it for granted that everything we want to read will be in a format that is accessible to us, but that is not the case for people with sight loss. Less than 5 per cent of books are produced in accessible formats, which has a particular impact on children with sight loss who are often excluded from reading the same books as their peer group. Every child should have the opportunity to develop a love of reading, but that is difficult when fewer than 1 in 20 of the books that is available to a child’s peers are available to that child.

That is why the work that is taking place across Scotland to tackle the isolation that is caused by sight loss that I have described is so important, whether it is the fantastic contribution of Borders Talking Newspapers and other talking books in bringing the news to local communities, or the RNIB talking book library, which provides 60,000 books in accessible formats and is free at the point of use. The importance of that work will grow, as the number of people with sight loss is set to double by 2030.

In many cases, sight loss is not inevitable. Next week is national eye health week. Sight-loss charities and ophthalmologists across the country will be encouraging everyone to book an eye-health check—a check that has been free for almost a decade in Scotland, thanks to the Government in 2006. Those checks can make a real difference, with sight loss being preventable in 50 per cent of cases if it is picked up quickly through them. I encourage everyone to make sure that they take advantage of the free eye checks.

Once again I congratulate Borders Talking Newspapers and all our talking newspapers, and thank them for the invaluable service that they provide to our constituents across Scotland.


Michelle Ballantyne (South Scotland) (Con)

I thank my Conservative colleague Rachael Hamilton for bringing the motion for debate. I welcome the team from Borders Talking Newspapers and the children from Dalbeattie primary school—it is great to see them here in the chamber. I congratulate everyone who is involved in Borders Talking Newspapers, especially Matilda Mitchell, on this very special 25th anniversary.

The service’s longevity is testament to the volunteers’ unwavering passion for and commitment to the service that they provide. To start such a project is a challenge in itself, but to have never missed an edition in 25 years and stayed the course in the face of all the challenges that life throws at us—illness, inclement weather, technical difficulties and technological developments—is an incredible achievement that is well worth celebrating.

I do not and cannot know what it is like to be blind or visually impaired, but I am well aware, from my years of nursing, that adjusting to sight loss can reduce a person’s confidence, which leads to a risk of isolation. People can feel afraid, trapped in their own home and excluded from the social aspects of day-to-day life.

Not having access to local news, which Rachael Hamilton referred to, is a key issue and a significant aspect of that social isolation. It is far more than just missing out on sitting down and taking in the news of the day. Blindness and visual impairment can rob a person of their engagement and involvement with the community. How can they find out about local events and festivals? How can they stay informed of the practical things that impact our everyday life—things as simple and mundane as road works or changes to public transport? How can they keep their finger on the pulse of the issues that matter to them?

I am sure that those are just some of the questions that Matilda Mitchell asked herself all those years ago when she founded Borders Talking Newspapers. Thank goodness that she did because, when we strip away the changes in volunteers, the addition of newspapers and the improvements in technology, we see that Borders Talking Newspapers is and always has been a lifeline.

The team has come such a long way in 25 years: it is using new technology to replace cassettes and stream digital content worldwide; it is expanding the range of Borders newspapers that are available to its listeners; it has received more than £5,000 from the Big Lottery Fund; and it has recorded well over 1,000 editions, not to mention winning the best tape in Scotland award.

However, I do not, and will not, understate the importance of funding for talking newspapers. It is becoming more and more difficult for small voluntary groups such as Borders Talking Newspapers to survive in the face of ever-increasing costs. It is my sincere hope that the debate will raise further awareness of that essential service and will encourage more people to get involved in backing and growing talking newspapers throughout Scotland.

I think I speak for all the talking newspaper listeners when I say thank you to Matilda Mitchell and everyone at Borders Talking Newspapers. I thank them for the vital service that they provide and wish them all the best for the future.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

I call Maureen Watt to respond to the debate.


The Minister for Mental Health (Maureen Watt)

I thank Rachael Hamilton—[Interruption.]

Christine Grahame

On a point of order, Presiding Officer. The minister’s microphone does not seem to be switched on.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

The minister must have a loud voice, as I had not noticed. Let us try again from the start, with the microphone on.

Maureen Watt

I do not know what happened there.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

We have lift-off.

Maureen Watt

I thank Rachael Hamilton for bringing today’s debate to Parliament and other members for sharing their experiences of Borders Talking Newspapers. I, too, welcome all the talking newspaper volunteers in the public gallery. Some of them might not have heard Rachael Hamilton’s welcome at the beginning of the debate and there is quite a crowd of them—I hope that they have a grand day oot. I also welcome pupils from Dalbeattie primary school and I hope that they, too, have a lovely day.

It is clear from members’ remarks how much local services, such as Borders talking newspapers and talking newspapers across Scotland, are appreciated by those who use them, as is the valuable role that volunteers play in delivering them. Rachael Hamilton was right to recognise the great work of the founder, Matilda Mitchell, and of Wendy Moss and others who are involved in that valuable work.

Today is not the first time that we have held a members’ business debate on talking newspapers in Parliament—Gil Paterson had a motion on his local newspaper, Bankie Talk, in 2011 and Jim Eadie led a similar debate in 2013. Such debates highlight the important work of local newspapers. I remember a member of my family sending copies of local newspapers to people abroad, but I had not appreciated that such newspapers are sent worldwide in talking form.

The debate gives me an opportunity to highlight the Government’s commitment to supporting children and adults with a sensory loss through its see hear strategy, which, with its focus on sight loss, deafness and dual sensory loss, was the first of its kind in the United Kingdom. See hear is jointly endorsed by the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities and is being delivered through partnerships of statutory and third sector organisations.

Our shared vision is of a Scotland where people can access the services and support that they need and where there is equal access to opportunities. Together with partners, we will continue to work to realise the vision of see hear. To support the implementation of the strategy, we allocated £2 million of funding over two years, and we allocated a further £478,000 this financial year and last year to support the on-going delivery of local and national priorities.

As Christine Grahame said, about 180,000 people in Scotland are living with sight loss. One in five of them is over the age of 75 and, with an ageing population, it is estimated that prevalence could double by 2031. It is therefore vital that we continue to work together to support people who are living with sight loss and that we do all that we can to raise awareness to ensure that there is early diagnosis to enable people to receive at the earliest opportunity the care that they need.

Since the see hear strategy was introduced in 2014, we have been working with local areas to build capacity and ensure that the right structures are in place for delivery. Local sensory leads have been identified and are working in partnership to drive progress locally. Support to deliver the strategy is also provided through the national co-ordinator—funded by the Scottish Government and based at the Health and Social Care Alliance Scotland—who works in close collaboration with stakeholders.

By working with local areas, we are delivering the priorities in see hear and enabling people to access the support that they need. That includes the development of basic sensory checks, with a focus on care homes and day care units to connect people with services; mapping and agreeing with partners in local areas across Scotland care pathways for vision, hearing and dual sensory loss; introducing e-learning modules for sight loss and deafness to ensure that all partners in our workforce are aware; and training 100 sensory champions in Edinburgh and the Lothians and in Argyll and Bute to support people with a hidden sensory loss, which is one that is undiagnosed or unrecognised and can often be present in people with learning disabilities or conditions such as dementia or stroke.

We are continuing to work with local areas on our shared priorities. If Borders Talking Newspapers is not already involved in the local delivery of the see hear strategy, I encourage it to become involved, because I know that the national strategy is being delivered in the Borders area to meet local needs. We also collaborate with the visual impairment network for children and young people to improve the care and support that are available to children with sight loss and their families.

We are engaging with a wide range of stakeholders as we consider the recommendations from the two reviews that the Scottish Government has undertaken, which are on low-vision services and community eye care services. We are working with ophthalmology departments to refresh the form that certifies people as blind or partially sighted, which will further improve people’s access to care pathways and support following diagnosis. We are also working with Glasgow Caledonian University and partners to develop an accredited Scotland-based training course for low-vision rehabilitation workers, which is ensuring that our workforce has the skills and training to provide rehabilitation for people with sight loss. It is important that those such as the volunteers in Borders Talking Newspapers who meet people regularly ensure that they are aware of all the opportunities and forms of provision that are available.

Looking ahead, we want to build on the achievements that we have made so far and we are working on an evaluation to see what progress has been made. A key part of that progress is the work that is done by volunteers and third sector organisations such as Borders Talking Newspapers. The Government and local agencies cannot do it all on their own, especially as we have an ageing workforce. The volunteers of Borders Talking Newspapers are to be congratulated on the work that they do not just in the 25th year of the organisation but every year.

13:14 Meeting suspended.  14:30 On resuming—