Whether she’s reading a text message from her grandson, a gripping adventure story or a simple road sign, Moon Englefield cherishes every word.
Until two years ago, a basic sentence was as mysterious to the 65-year-old as one of the children’s detective novels she now loves.
A resourceful and quick-witted lady, Moon couldn’t read until she was 63, when she discovered the community group that would change her life.
Thanks to Gosport-based literacy promoter We Can Read (which used to be called Read and Grow), the grandmother now loves delving into popular stories, can send her family messages and deals with important correspondence without help.
Proudly showing off the warm and loving texts she sent to her grandson when he turned 18, Moon says: ‘It’s never too late. You can learn anything if you want to learn.
‘A lot of people are embarrassed because they can’t read and write and won’t admit they can’t do it. But you can read and write – and it’s a lot of fun.’
During a trip to Gosport Discovery Centre – where tenacious Moon would head for the children’s section and try to teach herself the words in the books – she spotted a Read and Grow coaching session.
A man was being taught in a relaxed one-to-one lesson and, never one to shy away from an opportunity, Moon approached the student.
‘I said to him, “where can I find somebody like that? I’ve got to learn to read”,’ she says.
‘All my life my dream was to read – so that people don’t look at me and think I’m stupid. But I never had the chance to learn.’
Moon, who lives in Gosport, was introduced to Read and Grow coach Linda Curtis, and the pair have accomplished great things – as well as striking up a firm friendship.
‘We really enjoy each other’s company and working with Moon has given me a great sense of achievement.’ says Linda.
We Can Read, run by Linda and Una Sadler, consists of about 35 coaches who teach adult learners on a one-to-one basis.
They work from the book Yes We Can Read by Libby Coleman and Nick Ainley.
The idea is that people benefit from being taught on a one-to-one basis and coaches don’t need to be qualified teachers if they work from the book.
Linda says she has found Moon’s rapid progress inspiring, particularly as she has never been to school.
‘A lot of people develop coping mechanisms when they have reading problems. I’ve been amazed by how resourceful and clever Moon is.’
The Gosport mum-of-two grew up in Singapore, where she longed to go to school but had to help at home after her parents’ marriage broke down.
The little girl was raised by her sister and the family couldn’t afford school fees, so Moon never learned to read and write, either in Chinese or English.
‘We had no government support or dole and you had to pay for education,’ says Moon.
‘I followed the children going to school wishing I could go too, and I looked in the window at them,’ she adds chuckling, despite the sadness of the situation.
Developing impressive skills in cookery and child care, Moon became a housekeeper to an English couple, learned the language and then met and married an English sailor.
After coming to the UK, she had two daughters and developed some impressive coping skills.
Touchingly, she knew how to write the words ‘I love you’ and ‘I miss you’ and ‘we are OK’ because husband Tony asked her to write to him when he was away.
He would address the envelope and all she had to do was write those words.
Moon worked in a factory at a time when people didn’t need to fill in application forms or read health and safety regulations.
‘Those things present big problems for young people now,’ says Linda.
She also cooked for 30 people at a time in rest homes, taking the menu choices home to her daughters, getting them to read out the recipes and, astoundingly, keeping all the ingredients and quantities for multiple recipes in her head.
‘A lot of people who have problems with reading seem to have excellent memories,’ says Linda. ‘But Moon’s skills are amazing.’
She faced many problems and made plenty of mistakes, however, including buying second husband Michael an anniversary card instead of a birthday card and purchasing the wrong tins of food.
‘I didn’t buy tins again. I cooked everything,’ says Moon.
But some of her difficulties were more distressing.
Moon remembers becoming very upset trying to find people’s addresses. And when she attended a group reading course, she found it intimidating because the other students had some education.
After losing Michael to cancer, she not only had to deal with the loss but also ask friends and family to help with correspondence. But she was also determined to make her way on her own.
On a recent trip to London, where Moon picked up a learning award from the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education, she found her way using signs for the first time.
‘I was amazed, wondering how she managed to get through London before,’ says Linda.
Now the pair have teamed up to write Moon’s story – she has already produced a packed folder of notes.
But she is still amazed by her new skills.
‘I say “I can’t read” and Linda says “you can”. She’s like an angel to me.’
WE CAN READ
We Can Read continues the work of Read and Grow, which was set up by Andy Paradise (who Moon spotted coaching a student in Gosport Discovery Centre).
Now being run by Linda and Curtis and Una Sadler, the group is urging more people to come forward and learn to read.
Coaching is on a one-to-one basis and is relaxed and discreet.
The group’s organisers have recently addressed a parliamentary select committee for literacy with Libby Coleman, the creator of Yes We Can Read.
The idea of the teaching system is that non-qualified people can teach others to read using the book. It is already being adopted in schools (as extra study) and prisons.
It is hoped the method – which is suited to people who have dyslexia – will address problems with literacy levels in the UK.
For information on the group and to start learning, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call (07908) 694362.