Steve Aftelak, 57, volunteers with and handles publicity for Let’s Hear in Swindon, which advocates and educates for people who are hard of hearing. It recently held an awards ceremony to recognise the efforts of local companies and organisations. The retired communications engineer lives in Old Town and is married to Barbara

STEVE Aftelak is a great advocate for people to have their hearing tested as soon as they suspect something is wrong.

His own problem became apparent in his forties.

“It’s a general deterioration. Ten or 12 years ago, two things were happening.

“I was starting to find it hard at technical meetings to follow the flow of what was going on, and I couldn’t quite figure out what the problem was.

“And then Barbara said to me, ‘You’re playing that TV far too loud.’

“She persuaded me to go for a hearing test, which I did.”

The deterioration – a problem with higher frequencies - was such that he wears two aids.

The effect of hearing loss can be corrosive.

“You become a bit more isolated. That’s the key thing, I think, to note. It’s quite embarrassing not to be able to hear everything precisely that’s going on, and you almost try and interpolate what’s going on.

“What you do hear, you try and fill in the gaps rather than continually say to people, ‘Can you repeat that?’ – which is probably not a good thing to do, but it’s almost like you’re trying to hide it from people.

“I think it’s a case of trying not to be a nuisance. Conversations are flowing, things are happening, you don’t want to put a brake on it.”

Steve has been involved with Let’s Hear in Swindon since its early meetings.

“It started off in the middle of 2014 with the title, Let’s Loop Swindon. It was part of an initiative by a charity called Hearing Link, who set up a project called Let’s Loop the UK.

“We had a very focused task, and that was to improve the provision of hearing loops in the Swindon area. We were going to do that by auditing as many hearing loops as we could find.”

A hearing loop is a loop of wire which might be contained in a small portable case or run around an entire large room.

“That’s connected by an amplifier to a microphone, so whoever speaks into a microphone causes a signal to flow through the wire, which then causes a varying magnetic field.

“In hearing aids – not all of them but most of them – there is a tightly-wound coil of wire which can pick up the signal from that magnetic field, again amplify it and play it through.

“All or most of the extraneous noises are cut out, and all you will hear is what’s coming through the microphone.

“Eventually, by 2016, we’d audited more than 400 premises.”

The results were a mixed bag. Banks in particular were very good.

“That’s important because you need to be precise in your engagement at the counter.

“Some others were not so good. Doctors’ surgeries were for the most part fairly poor – surprisingly, you might think.”

Surgeries tended to have small, portable loops. Unfortunately they tend to be only as good as whoever is responsible for charging their batteries and ensuring they are not misplaced or damaged.

“One of the key things about hearing loops is the need to regularly check them.”

Toward the end of 2016, the Hearing Link charity broadened its priorities. Let’s Loop became Let’s Hear, and in response Let’s Loop Swindon became Let’s Hear in Swindon.

Auditing and promoting loops are still a major part of its work, but the organisation also runs workshops and raises awareness about various issues affecting people who are hard of hearing.

“There is a two-pronged attack. Firstly, it’s trying to get premises to be more aware of the need of the hard of hearing in general. We have the example of restaurants – maybe, if feasible, they should have a quiet area where people who are hard of hearing can book a table without struggling the whole time to hear what’s going on.”

If a quiet area is not feasible, he suggests a quiet time be set aside – perhaps a day or half a day when, for example, loud music is not played.

“The other side of the coin is that, just as most of us these days are quite happy to go and have our eyes tested regularly, the holy grail is where people consider getting their hearing tested in the same sort of vein.”

Let’s Hear in Swindon has a steering group combining the expertise and advice of organisations as diverse as the Zurich Community Trust, Swindon Borough Council, hearing aid manufacturer Contacta and the Brunel Centre. The organisation welcomes inquiries from would-be volunteers, companies and other organisations interested in helping with its work.

Steve can be reached at and on 01793 536815