Inspirational Ursula to take reading exam aged 87

Posted on: 10 March 2017

Ursula Shepherd, the 87-year-old who is being taught to read by Learn Devon, Devon County Council’s adult education service, is planning to take her first exam this year.

And following on from her inspirational story today (Friday 10 March), Learn Devon held its first weekly class specifically for people who want to learn to read and write.

Retired factory worker Ursula, who lives with her carer Lesley Waller in Exmouth as part of the Shared Lives South West programme, left school at 15 unable to read or write.

The charity supports those with learning difficulties, mental health problems, the elderly and those suffering with dementia.

Now 72 years on Ursula has become a role model for others – she has learnt the alphabet and can now read newspaper headlines.

Eventually she hopes to be able to read love stories, to vote and understand her knitting pattern instructions.

And because of her new found celebrity status,  Amazon has given her a Kindle and the Daily Mirror has gifted her a free year’s subscription.

Last autumn she began attending weekly sessions at the Kennaway Centre in Exmouth, Devon County Council’s Learn Devon adult education centre.

Ursula Shepherd said: “I felt sad really that I couldn’t read. I see other people reading a paper or a book and picking up a story in there. I want to be able to go to the library and take out a book and read it.

“At school they wouldn’t allow me to read. Since I’ve been here I’ve improved a lot. I hope I can inspire other people to read.”

Councillor Roger Croad, Devon County Council’s Cabinet Member Responsible for Learn Devon and adult education, said: “Ursula has achieved so much considering she only joined one of our literacy groups last October.

“She attends every week and she has made good progress and she will be taking her first exam this year. She has become an inspiration to so many others around the country who never learnt to read.

“We are delighted to be able to help her learn to read. Learn Devon is committed to supporting vulnerable adults through education.

“Learn Devon has always been available to help with reading and literacy skills, but as a result of Ursula’s example we have seen an increase in demand and that has led to us launching a specific weekly session for people who want to learn to read.”

Councillor Eileen Wragg, the local member for Exmouth and Littleham & Town, said: “I welcome this new course. To be unable to do things most people take for granted like reading a use-by label on an item of food in the fridge or fill in a form must be really difficult.

“For many people who are unable to read it’s due to circumstances beyond their control,  and I think it’s great that people are being given this opportunity.

“It takes a lot of courage to admit to someone you can’t read and say you need help and I have the utmost respect for people like Ursula.”

Shared Lives CEO Jane Bell said:“We are so pleased that Ursula is realising her dream to read with Learn Devon and she has the support of her Shared Lives South West carer Lesley who has also helped her.

“She is a real inspiration and has come so far in such a short time.

“We so hope she will be able to read her knitting patterns very soon and we will be eagerly following her progress.”

  • If you know someone who wants to learn to read and write please contact Kennaway Centre on 01395 223851 quoting course ref EN6429 ‘Learn to Read’. The weekly group is at the Kennaway Centre on Victoria Road, Exmouth and is held every Friday 10am to 11am.

1 comment on “Inspirational Ursula to take reading exam aged 87

  1. Lorna Hughes says:

    So very pleased for Ursula to have been given this chance to learn to read, I worked with Ursula many years ago and always felt that she had not had the best start in life, so reading will give Ursula a more independent life
    Well done you Ursula.

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