Exmouth’s Ursula, who learned to read at the age of 87, gets national recognition

PUBLISHED: 08:30 16 December 2018

Ursula Shepherd, 89, has been named on a list of learning disability and autism 'leaders' for 2018. Picture: Shared Living South West

Ursula Shepherd, 89, has been named on a list of learning disability and autism 'leaders' for 2018. Picture: Shared Living South West

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An Exmouth pensioner who proved age is no barrier by learning to read and write in her 80s has received national recognition.

Ursula Shepherd, 89, whose educational crusade made national news last year, has been named on a list of learning disability and autism leaders for 2018.

The pensioner, who was once refused reading and writing classes as she would only become a ‘domestic servant’, was selected by learning disability support organisation Dimensions from more then 600 nominees and won in the Work and Education category.

Ursula, who has a learning disability, said: “I am so proud I have been recognised on this special list.

“I want to say to people that you are never too old to learn new things and inspire others to learn to read.”

Ursula Shepherd reading her local paper. Ref exe 49 18TI 6554. Picture: Terry IfeUrsula Shepherd reading her local paper. Ref exe 49 18TI 6554. Picture: Terry Ife

Ursula’s teachers in school in the 1930s refused to teach her reading and writing but it didn’t stop her making a career for herself working in a brewery and an egg factory where these skills were not needed.

She said she used to sit at the back of the class and turn the pages of books when she saw her classmates turning theirs.

The 89-year-old first revealed she could not read or write two years ago and moved in with her Shared Lives South West carer Lesley Waller.

Lesley said: “I help her to break up bigger words to try and spell them out.

“She is doing really well and has come on so much.”

In the last 24 months, she has been attending lessons with Learn Devon at the Kennaway Centre in Exmouth and has not looked back.

She can now read restaurant menus and wants to be able to read romance novels in the future.

Ursula added: “We (me and Lesley) like to go out to lunch and I can read the menus – I am getting better at that.

“I am definitely improving. Eventually I would love to read romance stories and my knitting patterns.

“I still get a little muddled and still need help, but I am on the right road now.”

The 2018 leaders’ list recognises the achievements of those living with autism and learning difficulties, and celebrates how they are improving their community.

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