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Thursday, June 13, 2024
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History & CommunityReading made easy

Reading made easy

In the UK about one adult in six  struggles with reading. But it’s never too late to learn.
Margery Hookings has been to meet Vee Driscoll from Read Easy, Bridport’s free community-based adult literacy scheme.

About 25 years ago in Bridport, a friend of mine and her date were enjoying an ice lolly when she asked him to tell her the joke on the stick.
In those days, finishing a lolly and reading out the joke revealed on the stick was a traditional part of our lives.
To her amazement, he refused to do it. It wasn’t because he didn’t want to. It was because he couldn’t.
A quarter of a century on from my friend’s scenario, there are still people who, for various reasons, can’t read.
“They could have undiagnosed or unsupported dyslexia or a learning difficulty nobody has identified,” says Vee Driscoll, co-ordinator for Read Easy Bridport.
“Or they might have muddled through school and done the best they can. They could be from other countries, living and working here, speaking English but unable to read it. It might be a medical reason, such as hearing loss in childhood or perhaps a stroke.
“If you have poor reading skills it can be really isolating. When we enrol a reader we ask them a set of questions about how not being able to read has impacted on their life and, invariably, it will have had a negative effect.”
About one adult in six in the UK today struggles with reading. But it’s never too late to learn. Vee says that given the right support, anybody can learn to read quite quickly and easily if they want to—and it doesn’t mean going back to class.
Read Easy is a free, community-based adult literacy scheme set up in Dorset in 2010 by Ginny Williams-Ellis. It now operates across Dorset and East Devon as well as places further afield.
Says Vee: “Read Easy provides all those who want to learn to read with a volunteer to help them, a special book to teach them and a comfortable place to meet at a time to suit them both. It’s a free service and is suitable for any adult who either can’t read or who lacks confidence with reading. It’s a flexible, confidential, one-to-one scheme, so that you can learn quietly and comfortably at your own pace.
“After our readers have completed the Read Easy course, they tell us they can text their friends more easily or read their post, or understand the notes that come back in their children’s school bag. They say they will have a go at reading something rather than panic.
“Things like shopping or going to a restaurant—they can choose what they want rather than saying they’ll have what the other person is having.
“It’s all the little things that we take for granted. Relying on a family member to read things for you can sometimes cause problems and anxieties in the family unit. Being able to read gives people confidence, a belief in themselves and can really build up someone’s self-esteem.”
The key to Read Easy’s success is its simplicity.
Says Vee: “We train volunteers to prepare them for their role as a one-to-one coach and then pair them up with someone who wants to learn to read. Our reading pairs meet at least twice a week at an approved convenient local venue – where they have privacy to work without being overlooked, but where there is always someone else on the premises.”
Together, the pair works through the Yes We Can Read manual, with sessions lasting no more than half-an-hour at a time. In this way, working one-to-one at their own pace, new readers discover, step by step, how to build up the phonic sounds and blend them together to make whole words, slowly gaining confidence as they progress through the book.
Some adults learn at a faster rate than others. Vee says there are no hard and fast rules but on average the book can be completed in about nine to 12 months. Then, if they wish, readers can choose to progress to the Moving Ahead programme, again meeting up with a trained volunteer once a week for a 45-60 minute session. The Moving Ahead programme offers further supported reading alongside extra help with writing, spelling, form-filling or comprehension tasks as required.
Encouraging adults to improve their reading skills is a labour of love for Vee, who has spent a lifetime teaching English language and literacy in various locations including Brazil and Guernsey and in prisons and schools.
“For me, it’s important that everyone has the opportunity to realise their potential,” she says. “I’ve met some lovely people along the way and I feel it’s important to maintain contact with ordinary people of all ages, especially those who are struggling in their lives.
“I dread the day when my world shrinks and I lose that sort of contact, so volunteering for Read Easy helps to keep my feet firmly on the ground and that’s what drives me. Also, I want to make a bit of a difference.”
Read Easy relies on funding from various sources, mostly from charitable organisations.
“We have good funding at the moment which will enable us to enrol more readers,” Vee says, “and we have an excellent team of volunteer coaches who are trained and ready to help.  But we’re constantly trying to find new ways of reaching people who might benefit from the help we offer because they often stay hidden; people don’t like to come forward and admit that reading is a problem. We say, don’t worry, get in touch, because Read Easy can help.”

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