Simon Hogg, farmer in Kelso, the Borders, recently donated his voice to Speak Unique, a project aiming to give voices back to people with degenerative diseases.
Simon studied his BSc Agriculture at SRUC (then SAC) in Edinburgh from 1997 to 2000. After some travel, he worked for SAC Consulting for five years as a consultant, before returning to the family farm in 2009, to take over for his father, David Hogg. David had Motor Neurone Disease (MND) and sadly passed away that same year.
We caught up with Simon to find out more about his voice donation, and how other SRUC alumni might be able to help.
“Everyone has a charity that’s something close to their heart, whether it’s cancer or giving blood, but because my Dad had MND, this is something that is quite personal to me,” said Simon. “It was my wife Ashley who saw a post about Speak Unique on Facebook, and how they need Scottish regional accents. So I wanted to come up to Edinburgh to the Anne Rowling Clinic to donate my voice. It’s easy enough to do, you just read out sentences in a sound booth for just under an hour. Your voice is recorded and banked, and could be there for somebody that needs it.”
When speech becomes impaired for people with degenerative diseases, like MND, they may come to rely on synthetic speech from text or symbols inputted on a keyboard or via an eye-tracking system.
However, many people complain that the synthetic voices pre-installed in these devices can’t reflect their identity. People often have to choose from a limited selection of voices, of which only a couple might be from the same country as them, let alone representative of their own regional accent.
The ultimate ambition of Speak Unique, which is being run by a team of scientists at The University of Edinburgh, is for people to be able to use communication aids that speak for them in their own voice.
“It gives patients who have lost their voice dignity,” said Simon. “When you go into the studio, the researcher will play you recordings of someone with MND who was losing their voice, with a synthesized voice that has been spliced together with a matched donor’s voice. It really sounded like the patient. It must give them a real boost- to give them their identity back.
“With MND there’s no cure, and because it’s a degenerative disease, you might be diagnosed one day and six months later be struggling to walk or to eat, or to speak. So anything that can help you can only be a good thing.
“I would definitely encourage other people to get involved. When my friend who I grew up with, saw my post on Facebook about it, he said ‘sign me up’. Andy’s father was really good friends with my dad and they were golf buddies, so he’s come up with me to Edinburgh to have his voice banked too. It means a lot to me.
“The project really needs to record men's voices with accents from the Borders, Dumfries & Galloway, and up in the Highlands and islands- Western Isles, Orkney and Shetland. I'm sure there's many SRUC alumni from around Scotland that might be able to come to Edinburgh to help.”
More information on Speak Unique can be found on the website www.speakunique.org.