Meet Elizabeth Jones: 88-year-old ‘powerhouse’ who drives Islington’s talking newspaper
- Credit: Archant
We at the Islington Gazette are often guilty of moaning. Moaning about deadlines. Moaning about press officers. Moaning about anything. Truth is, we have it easy. On Monday, perspective dawned as we dropped by at Talking News Islington to help celebrate its 100th edition.
A monthly audio newspaper for 170 blind and visually impaired people in our borough, it relies solely on volunteers and grants.
Leading the way is its “force of nature” founder Elizabeth Jones.
Last year, she attended 154 meetings to promote the interests of her listeners. That’s one every two-and-a-half days.
Extraordinary commitment, yes. But even more so when you consider Elizabeth, of Yerbury Road, Upper Holloway, is blind.
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And that she is 88.
Modest Elizabeth, who won a British Empire Medal in 2014, has to be gently persuaded to pose for our photographer when we meet at Talking News’ home: Islington Outlook Centre in Saint John’s Way, Archway.
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She wants her steering committee colleagues to share the limelight, but they aren’t having any of it.
Formed in 2007, volunteer presenters use local newspapers - including the Gazette - to read aloud around 30 stories, all three minutes in length.
These are recorded to CDs, which are then posted to subscribers for free.
A decade ago, this was exactly the type of service unavailable for blind and visually impaired people, prompting Elizabeth to take action.
“I used to get the council’s newsletter through my door,” she tells us.
“I wanted it in audio form and that’s what drove me to start Talking News Islington. I got volunteers together and we got a £100 grant from the umbrella Talking News organisation, which allowed us to open a bank account needed for fundraising.
“In fact, the Gazette, and its editor Tony Allcock [who led this paper for 36 years until his retirement in 2011], got behind us. He also suggested writing to Jack Morris of the Business Design Centre, and he gave us £500. We couldn’t believe it and we were able to begin.”
It is 36 years since Elizabeth lost her sight. She recalls: “It was an accident in 1980. I was in Essex on a break and someone was in a hurry. I got knocked over and hit my head on a kerb.
“It affected my retinas and they couldn’t save them. Treatment wasn’t good as it is now.
“I was always short sighted and this stretched the shape of my eye too far. It got worse and it turned my life upside down. I had to give up my shop in south London, and driving my car.
“Now I only have light perception, detecting shadow movements.”
Happily, it’s no obstacle for Elizabeth. From grant applications to food for her volunteers, her commitment is full-blooded.
Last Monday’s spread includes six varieties of sandwiches, all labelled. Her “coronation chicken with mixed green salad, tomato and cucumber” makes it sound absurdly like a Pret branch.
There’s also crisps and chocolate fudge cake, not to mention plenty of wine: it’s the 100th edition, after all.
She simply explains: “I’m just lucky to have volunteers [30 in total] who don’t claim expenses.
As she gets up to listen in on recording for the 100th edition Elizabeth ponders: “I’m proud. I didn’t think I would be living this long, let alone record 100 editions!
“We always get quite a lot of feedback. The listeners really love it as a service, to the extent that they will ask after our newsreaders! They’ll say: ‘What’s happened to so-and-so? I haven’t heard from her in a while.’
“It’s like they know the newsreaders, and I suppose it’s a bit like a friend dropping in.”
For more information about Talking News Islington, visit tnf.org.uk/local-tn/find-a-local-talking-newspaper/talking-news-islington.aspx
What the volunteers say about Elizabeth Jones
“Elizabeth is a force of nature. She seems to know everybody, know about everything, and does more things than I could do when I was 25! She’s 10 years older than me and I feel 20 years older than her.” Tamara Lo, steering group committee member
“She ensures our survival and funding. She’s simply a powerhouse.” Joseph Bannen, newsreader
“I called round her house this morning and she was preparing all the sandwiches. That’s typical of Elizabeth, wanting to look after us. And they are proper sandwiches, not just plain old ham!” Verity Panter, newsreader