July 1


Tom Dowling campaigns tirelessly for the disability community at large and founded online and print media format, the All Together Now news network two decades ago.

We caught up with Tom recently to get his reflections on the network completing a 20 year milestone…

What have been your biggest challenges in the 20 years to date?

To survive! And dealing with frustration. Over the past decade loads of newspapers all over the country have folded and gone online. Production-wise it’s far cheaper, but there’s still the problem of making it pay. The problem we’ve got is if we go down that route, we are turning our backs on people who just can’t move forward with technology.

Across the Liverpool City Region and Cheshire, 22% of the population are digitally excluded. That accounts for half a million people across Merseyside and Cheshire, most of whom are disabled or over 60. Despite all the equality laws that have been around for years, these people face discrimination in virtually all areas in life – housing, education, employment and accessing vital information that would help them.

I understand the financial pressures facing the LCR, councils and NHS bodies, and why they are going down the digital route, but they don’t seem to be coming up with ways to reach all those who are not, and will never be, online. It’s the same story all over the country. But here on Merseyside, we’ve a solution. With All Together NOW! we’ve a newspaper that’s reaching tens of thousands of people who are digitally excluded. It’s FREE and it’s run by a charity. There are so many plusses.

Ten years ago, health bosses Gideon Ben-Tovim and Carole Hill saw all this and partnered with us by talking a regular double page spread in every issue. This much-needed funding kept the wolves at bay. However, in 2016 health budgets were suddenly slashed by Government, and we’ve struggled ever since.

All Together NOW! is another Liverpool first – the only paper of its kind in the UK, and probably the world. My real fear is, unless we get more financial support, everything could crash. And that would be a tragedy for everyone.

What skillsets have you had to acquire to make it through?

Resilience, I guess . . . and patience. Rome wasn’t built in a day, as they say. As a kid in inner city Liverpool in the early 60s, things were quite tough. As one of four football-mad boys, there was no spare cash to pay for footie boots or balls. If you wanted something you had find ways to fund it. Newspaper rounds, errand boy, collecting jam jars for the rag and bone man, and even setting up my own car washing business at 12. You quickly learned how to make a few quid. Those days have helped me enormously.

My dad always said he was never particularly good at anything. It’s in the genes. But I’ve never lacked enthusiasm, and I’ve found that if you have that trait then others who have those extra skills just might be there to help you. This is exactly what’s happened to me throughout my life. Much to my regret, I didn’t make the grade as a footballer and left school with just four GCEs – English not included.

Amazingly, the editor of the Ellesmere Port Pioneer gave me a job. It was the same a few years later when the Echo boss gave me a job. Incredible. I was the first person in a wheelchair they’d employed. Along the way I’ve learned a bit about putting a newspaper together – especially the importance of grabbing people’s attention, and keeping it. Good journalism is not just about the quality of writing. It’s about trying to ensure the work is actually read by the intended market.

When I left the Echo in 2004 to set up the All Together NOW! charity I was able to use all that experience. Ironically, our initial funding came from the old North West regional development agency to create a website for disabled people. That money enabled us to set up shop, and I knew I could use all the material from our website to create a brand new newspaper. Of course, there’s more to the job than just looking after the journalism.

Advertising, distribution, IT, social media, recruitment, fundraising, bid writing, governance – the list is endless. I couldn’t have done it alone. My old mate at the Echo, the late Chris Groves, was my right hand. He knew lots of stuff that I didn’t and became the perfect ambassador. Between us, and help from a few other key players like Ken Almond and Gerry Corner, also ex-Echo, we’ve managed to stay afloat. But it all comes down to money. Without it, we can’t continue.

What are your hopes for the next year?

Staying healthy . . . and finding the money to keep going. I’m thinking about it all the time. Luckily, the support we’ve had from people like Steve Morgan (ex-Redrow), Peter Johnson (ex-Everton/Tranmere and Park Group owner) and long-standing partner United Utilities has helped to keep us going.

Over the years, we’ve also received fantastic donations from readers and charitable trusts including the John Moores Foundation, Duchy of Lancaster Benevolent Fund, Eleanor Rathbone Trust, West Derby Wastelands, and Geoffrey and Pauline Martin Trust. We’re immensely grateful. But we need more, and what we’re asking is not a lot in the grand scheme of things.

Up until this year, we have been able to publish 50,000 copies six times a year, reaching about 200,00 people. To run the complete operation only costs about £150K a year, though we are currently running on a shoestring – about half that! If we can pull in a few more partners this year, we’ll have a fighting chance.

If the worst happens and the paper closes, I’m pretty sure that another one will eventually have to be set up to help and inform all those not using the internet – but that will cost the earth. The frustration is that we’ve already got the answer. We just need more funding.

How do you plan to keep growing and maintaining your passion?

It’s 50 years since I was shot and paralysed. In the time it takes a bullet to travel a few yards, my 20-year-old life fell apart. It could have ended there and then on the roadside of an Iranian highway. But I’ve been blessed with support, support that’s enabled me to strive and achieve things that I – and probably lots of others too – never thought possible.

Apart from the commercial support, there’s also been widespread recognition, lots of awards and, best of all, the hundreds of heartfelt comments from readers. The late Sir Bert Massie, the UK’s leading disability rights campaigner, said: “All Together NOW! is much more than a newspaper. It is the key to independence.”

The late Gerry Marsden, Ian St John, Roger Hunt, and Sir Ken Dodd all loved the newspaper – Lady Anne Dodd recently sent us a generous donation. Radio broadcaster Roger Philips is also a big fan, as is Sue Weir (Medicash). A few years ago, Mike McCartney became our first patron. Mike knows all about the affects that disability brings to families. His own son, Sonny, had his leg amputated following a motorbike accident. Mike’s new mantra is “Never ever give up. There’s always light at the end of the tunnel.”

After 20 years hard graft, All Together NOW! has become a lifeline, a beacon of hope to huge numbers of people who are increasingly finding themselves cut off from the rest of society . . . and all because they are not able to keep up with technology.

I’m as determined as ever to find ways of keeping the paper alive. Fortunately, our small team all feel the same way. We’ve just got to keep at it and keep everything crossed. There’s a magnificent newspaper at stake.




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