A ‘LIFELINE’ service that provides the Bucks Free Press in audio format for free to those who are visually impaired has celebrated its 40th birthday - and says its future is secure for the long term.

Wycombe Talking Newspapers, which has recently rebranded to South Bucks Talking Newspapers, marked its special anniversary with afternoon tea at Hazlemere Golf Club on Wednesday, April 17.

Hosted by Bargain Hunt presenter and antiquarian Eric Knowles, dozens of attendees heard passionate speeches from chair Anthony Bull, Mayor of High Wycombe Paul Turner and the founder Bob Gerhardt, who started the charity in 1984.

Addressing the room, Mr Bull said: “We can be very proud of what we’ve done over the last four years. Sadly several of the talking newspapers across the country closed during the coronavirus period because their local newspapers went out of business. We are now the only one covering the south of Bucks and we have listeners throughout this geography.

“Whilst many of our competitors have struggled, we are in a very strong position. We’ve got good finances, 55 committed volunteers and very strong production values and a very high quality of product - and I’m assured by the editor of the Bucks Free Press that the paper is future-proofed and is going from strength to strength.”

Speaking to the Free Press, vice chair and head of production Sue Seward, who has been in post for the last decade, said part of their survival has been down to diversifying and adapting to their environment - as well as keeping a optimistic outlook.

“We have so many volunteers who have been with us a very long time. It is wonderful - we try to always have a positive attitude, and that attracts people in both as readers and volunteers,” she said.

The charity is made up of dozens of experienced volunteers who have worked across various industries from broadcast to engineering and teaching.

Among their presenters was Patrick Lunt, a well-known Radio 2 broadcaster, who lived in Hazlemere and volunteered for Talking Newspapers. He passed away in 2021.

Mr Bull said: “The quality of the service [that we offer to listeners] is so good, it’s really high quality. I’ve listened to others and, not to denigrate, but what we provide is top tier.”

He added: “We are really dependant on the Bucks Free Press - it’s a great partnership and great to see the paper is doing so well.”

Television personality and Antiques Roadshow presenter Eric Knowles kept the afternoon running smoothly with plenty of jokes about his Yorkshire upbringing and his admiration for this local cause.

Speaking to the Free Press, Mr Knowles said: “Wycombe Talking Newspapers is a wonderful organisation. I love books, I read most things and have loved reading since my grandmother used to buy me copies of the Beano. The idea of not being able to read is a total anathema to me so my heart goes out to anyone whose sight is [compromised] and it makes you realise how fortunate you are. I am in slight awe of the people who are involved in this brilliant organisation.”

Guests heard from the Royal Grammar School’s jazz band after rounds of sandwiches and cakes were served.

Mr Knowles then oversaw a raffle - helped by Mayor Paul Turner and editor of the Free Press Katie French - with many guests walking away with prizes.

The afternoon’s proceedings wrapped up in a final speech from founder Mr Gerhardt.

“When I set up Wycombe Talking Newspapers 40 years ago, I never expected it to become as strong as it is - and it’s great to see it is on its way up again,” he said.

He finished off by sharing a touching poem he had written 30 years earlier, see below.

The event was sponsored by a number of local businesses.

Bob’s poem

When the curtains are drawn against the light, and you finally realise you are losing your sight,

That’s not the time to sit and cry or make believe you want to die,

Stand up, take heart, the world is still there and you are a part.

It won’t easy, I must agree but show some spirit and you will soon see,

The people won’t just pass you by afraid to look you in the eye

When they find you don’t need pity, just a little help when things get tricky

There’s no way they’ll put you up on the shelf, to grow old, alone, all by yourself,

Your brain still works, your legs still move, so off you go to go and prove,

Although your eyes don’t work you’ll never be found inside your shell,

The world is your oyster, of that I’m sure, with a little courage, and nothing more

There’s no deep meaning in this line, just don’t give up, and you’ll be fine.