She’s not a reporter, or a presenter, yet every week her voice reaches hundreds of people across the city.
The retired teacher is one of the founding members of Sheffield Talking News, a charity that - each week - delivers 90 minutes of local news to over 360 visually impaired people in Sheffield.
“People have told us that those yellow wallets arriving at their door are one of the highlights of their week,” smiles Mary, who is also the charity’s chairman.
Those yellow wallets contained audio cassettes when the charity first launched three decades ago. Over the years, the tapes have been replaced - first by CDs and, more recently, by memory sticks.
“It’s a digital world and we’ve tried to move with it,” says Mary, aged 70, of Bradway.
“The memory sticks are actually much better as they’re small, reusable, easy to copy and have plenty of space.”
Sheffield Talking News is a completely self-funded group manned by a team of 60 volunteers, delivering around 30-40 news, sports and feature stories each week. It was launched by BBC radio presenter Bill Crozier in 1988, with the help of a small team, which included Mary.
She recalls: “Talking News groups is a national group and, back then, there were Talking News teams in most towns and cities, so Bill decided it was time Sheffield join the ranks. We launched in October that year, with absolutely no money, so we registered as a charity and relied on donations to get us started.
“Today there are more than 30 Talking News groups in Yorkshire alone.”
And Sheffield Talking News is one of the more professional outfits, with its own office and recording space, housed in the Sheffield Royal Society for the Blind building on Mappin Street. From here, a team of editors combs the Sheffield Star, Sheffield Telegraph and Yorkshire Post every week to select a variety of articles, which are then recorded by a team of readers and sent to the post office by admin volunteers, which delivers them across the region free of charge.
“We try to send a good mix of local interest stories, and don’t focus too much on robberies, murders and muggings,” explains John Stratford, a retired freelance producer who has volunteered for the charity for the past eight years.
“Our volunteers work on a rota basis and the weekly recording takes about two hours, so most of our readers will work two hours once a month.
“Our clients send us plenty of great feedback, via emails and phone calls, and it’s lovely to hear what a difference Sheffield Talking News makes to them, in terms of keeping them connected with their local community.”
And John, who joined the charity as a way of putting his broadcast skills to good use following his early retirement, likens the charity to a radio station, and its readers to presenters.
“People get attached to radio stations,” says the 67-year-old, of Millhouses.
“They grow fond of the presenters, they like the rhythm, and to an extent that’s what they get with us. The stuff we feature obviously can’t be too time sensitive, as the news can be anything up to a week old by the time our clients get it, but we try to give something different, a real local connection, community features, and the response to what we produce has been great - they like the readers and look forward to plugging that memory stick in every week, which is what this is all about.”
And John explains Sheffield Talking News is always trying to figure out new ways they can connect their clients to the city around them.
“We’ve just started an ‘out and about’ segment that we provide as-and-when time and staffing allows, where we send one of our readers out acting as a roving reporter, perhaps interviewing the owner of a local gallery about an exhibition, or speaking to people on the streets about a current issue.”
Laura Willis is one of the charity’s youngest volunteers, spending her time on the admin side, unpacking and repackaging returned memory sticks every Tuesday morning.
“I have poor eyesight myself,” explains Laura, aged 31, of Greystones.
“My mum is the same, she can’t see to drive and her vision is very poor in the dark, so I have a little experience of that handicap and it’s wonderful to be able to see firsthand the benefit of services like ours.”
Mary adds: “Hearing from our clients that they wait all week long for that recording to arrive is exactly why we do this.”
Like most charities, Sheffield Talking News is always on the lookout for new volunteers - and a background in broadcasting is far from a requirement.
“We have a really good mix of volunteers, from all professional backgrounds and all interests,” says secretary Beverley Chubb.
“And there are always plenty of roles available - from reading and recording, to people to handle everything from admin to PR; we’d particularly love to get some young volunteers in.
“If you’re interested in volunteering just a couple of hours a month, to help us keep this valuable service free for our clients, we’d love to hear from you.”
Visit Sheffield Talking News for details.