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'It's never too late': Inspirational pensioner takes reading lessons for the first time, aged 87

After almost nine decades of relying on others to help, retired factory worker Ursula Shepherd has taken matters into her own hands - and learned to read for the first time.

The 87-year-old, who has learning difficulties, said she was ignored by her teachers in the 1930s who branded her a "dunce".

She left school at the age of 15 unable to read or write.

When I was at school the teachers didn't care. I didn't have any help from them.

I would sit with a girl and she was reading but I couldn't read, so when she turned the pages I turned my page over because I didn't understand.

I felt sad because I always wanted to read, you see, and they just put me in the corner. I felt like I missed out.

– Ursula Shepherd
Ursula hopes she can now inspire others to read. Credit: ITV News

She said she hid her illiteracy throughout her working life, and at home counted on others to write cheques, read utility bills and even translate road signs.

She has never voted, writted a letter or filled in a form - and although she said she loved her single visit to a library, she has never borrowed a book.

That is, until now.

She might be 87 - but it's never too late to read. Credit: ITV News

In the autumn last year, she told her live-in carer that she wanted to learn to read and began attending weekly sessions at Learn Devon, the local education centre near her home in Exmouth.

The inspirational octogenarian has already grasped the alphabet and began by sounding out simple words like cat, bag and run.

Now, she's working on deciphering full sentences - with the goal of eventually being able to read love stories and understand the instructions which come with her knitting patterns.

It feels marvellous. I'm so happy. I think it's lovely. Everybody should be able to read.

If I had opened up a book last year I wouldn't have understood any of the words, but now I can read quite a bit.

I went to the library in Taunton once, many many years ago, and I said, 'Oh, I wish I could read.' I just loved the people and all the books.

When I can read properly, I want to go to the library and choose my own books.

– Ursula Shepherd

She said she hoped her story would inspire others to take on similar challenges.

Ursula started by sounding out simple words, and is now working on full sentences Credit: SWNS

"People say they're too embarrassed but I would love to help them," she said.

"I'm very much enjoying it so far. It's never too late."

Born in Wiveliscombe, Somerset, in October 1929, Ursula went on to work in an egg packer and in a beer factory, where she screwed the lids on bottles.

She never married or had children, and has always lived with family members who could take care of her.

She now lives with carer Lesley Waller, herself a 60-year-old grandmother-of-four, and her husband Chris as part of Devon and Cornwall's Shared Lives scheme.

Lesley, who also takes care of two other vulnerable adults, said she was "full of admiration" for what Ursula was doing.

"At times it has been a struggle but she really perseveres and she has come on in leaps and bounds. She really enjoys it," she said.

Ursula's carer Lesley is helping her learn Credit: SWNS

"Years ago people with learning difficulties weren't really diagnosed or helped.

"It's a shame her parents didn't go down to the school but perhaps they just didn't do that in the 1930s. I think she felt she missed out.

And Ursula's ambitions don't stop there.

Once she has mastered reading, she hopes to learn to write.

And after travelling in a plane for the first time last year, she is planning to skydive to celebrate her 90th birthday.

"She's a very happy person and she's always dancing and singing," Lesley added.

"She's just wonderful, and what she's doing is remarkable. She's a fantastic lady."