Lockdown win: How learning to read at 54 transformed my life

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image captionTim Davies did not learn to read and write until he was in his fifties

Tim Davies was one of millions of adults in England who struggled to read and write. For a long time he tried to hide this fact, but a brush with cancer caused him to re-evaluate his life and not even lockdown could stop his progress.

Previously shopping or dealing with bills was a daunting task, he said.

Now Tim, 54, is learning to drive and hopes to start his own business as a tree surgeon.

"It's changed my life," he said.

'Thought nobody cared'

About seven million adults in England have very poor literacy skills, the Literacy Trust charity estimates.

Tim said his problems began as a nine-year-old when he was left at a boys' home.

"From that point I thought nobody cared about me so why should I care?

"So I never concentrated at school."

Tim, who lives in Bristol, said he managed to cope with life by hiding his skills gap and took a job as a tree surgeon and landscape gardener because it did not require him to read.

"I was scared to tell people. I kept it quiet."

'I've got to learn'

Despite being employed, life as a non-reader was a struggle.

"I would go into a supermarket and not understand the signs, or bills would come through the door and I couldn't read them.

"Then I got throat cancer in 2004 which made it hard to speak.

"It got to the point where I thought 'I've had enough now, I've got to learn to read'."

If you know someone who needs help

After trying some group sessions, which he said gave him panic attacks, he met volunteer Jill Johnston.

They have been meeting up twice a week, for the past year, when restrictions allow.

Their sessions involve the phonics method, which teaches pupils to recognise which sounds are associated with which letters.

image captionJill Johnston has been teaching Tim to read

"Tim has many attributes," said Ms Johnston. "He listens well, and has a good memory."

Thanks to their time together, Tim - who has never travelled abroad - has applied for a passport, learned to drive and is enjoying books.

Next he plans to buy a van to set himself up as a self-employed tree surgeon.

'Cannot overestimate the courage'

Graham Bottrill, chairman of the charity Read Easy in Bristol, said people who cannot read can feel a deep sense of shame.

"They often keep their problems with reading secret, which makes life incredibly hard.

"Sometimes even their own families don't know."

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image captionAccording to one charity, millions of adults in England struggle with reading and writing

Mr Bottrill said he had known adults feel a "tremendous release" when they were able to read.

"But you cannot overestimate the courage making that step takes," he said.

Covid-19 impact

Jason Vit, from charity The National Literacy Trust, said lockdown had created extra challenges for adults learning to read.

"Regular, in-person support is so important to help with motivation and confidence," he said.

While online learning could be "fantastic" for those who struggled to read, finding the resources online was a challenge in itself, he continued.

"At the same time, the impact of Covid-19 is highlighting the critical importance of good literacy skills in adapting to new ways of working."

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