Meg Muggridge MBE: Co-founder of Norfolk’s first talking newspaper for the blind

Celebrating being 80 on her 20th birthday leap year pensioner Meg Muggridge from Thorpe St Andrew. P

Celebrating being 80 on her 20th birthday leap year pensioner Meg Muggridge from Thorpe St Andrew. Photo: Steve Adams

A co-founder of Norfolk's first talking newspaper for the blind, Meg Muggridge, has died peacefully aged 81.

As the public face of Chatterbox, which was launched on February 2, 1979, she was made MBE for her work for the blind and partially sighted in the 2006 new year's honours.

When she was presented to the Queen at the Buckingham Palace investiture that April, it was a month after she had stood down as chairwoman, having held every post with the voluntary organisation in the previous 27 years.

It had taken a year to recruit volunteers, which she co-ordinated, and to raise £3,000 needed to start publication. After discussions at the Norwich Social Centre for the Blind in early 1978, it was decided to start a weekly publication, modelled on a scheme in Ipswich and similar to 200 in other parts of the country.

The first edition was sent to 76 people and included an introduction by the Rt Rev Maurice Wood, Bishop of Norwich, president of the Norwich Institution for the Blind. By October 27, 1980, the 100th edition was posted to 260 blind and partially-sighted people in Norwich and further afield.

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At its peak, 850 weekly cassettes containing as many as 50 or 60 local news items, mostly drawn from the Evening News and EDP, were produced. Chatterbox was always reliant on fund-raising and donations to produce and deliver the service from its volunteers.

Born in Kent, where her parents ran a tobacconists at Stood in the Medway, she was the eldest child.

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After her father's sudden death, she had to leave school to help her mother run the business. After her mother remarried and moved to Laxfield, Suffolk, Margaret had the chance to resume her education.

In 1967, she gained her teaching certificate. Four years later, she gained a professional qualification in hotel and catering management and joined City College Norwich's hotel school, where she lectured for many years.

Her involvement with Chatterbox was central to her work in the broader community. While head of catering at City College, she was told by an aunt in the Medway area about talking newspapers and wrote to what is now the Norfolk & Norwich Association for the Blind (NNAB).

She was put in touch with Stan Petersen and at that first meeting, along with Bob Walker, then editor of the Evening News, Chatterbox was started. Further donations followed and the Post Office, now Royal Mail, agreed to deliver cassettes free every Friday and return them to the studio, where up to 50 people were initially involved in four teams to produce the newspaper.

It was often a struggle to raise funds. In September 1979, a total of 1,300 people flocked to Lord Walpole's Mannington Hall raising £700.

In 1982, Dick Condon, then general manager at the Theatre Royal, suggested a fund-raiser. Led by producer Doreen Donnelly, who died earlier this summer aged 102, the first Chatterbox variety show was a great success, raising £1,500. The strength of support for the show left Meg Muggridge in tears when the doors opened to admit a sea of show goers. Over the years, the 13 shows raised more than £20,000.

The 750th edition of Chatterbox was published in 1993. By 1995, when she was then secretary, she led the appeal to raise £50,000 to buy premises for Chatterbox, and there were 850 listeners and more than 120 volunteers.

Always lively and sociable, she was especially proud that she had lived through nine decades – and was still only 20! As she was born on February 29, she celebrated her birthday every four years.

The NNAB's chief executive, Max Marriner, said that her death 'has deprived this city, and indeed our county, of one of its most caring and dynamic people.

'Her work on behalf of Norfolk's visually impaired and blind stands as a testament to her forethought, compassion and dynamism. She will be greatly missed by all within Norfolk's visually impaired and blind community.'

A younger brother, Graham, who lived in Australia, died about five years ago.

A service of thanksgiving will be held at the Good Shepherd Church, Thorpe St Andrew, Norwich, on Tuesday, August 27 at noon.

Michael Pollitt

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