Read Easy Portsmouth welcomes BBC’s Jay Blades learning to read at 51 documentary

Photographer: Ben Gregory King


Repair Shop presenter Jay Blades is taking part in a new BBC documentary that will follow his journey as he faces up to the challenge of learning to read as an adult with the charity Read Easy UK. The Portsmouth branch of the national group hopes that it will encourage those in the city who struggle with reading to come forward and access the free support they offer.  

Louise Bullivant, team leader for Read Easy Portsmouth, said, “We’re so grateful to Jay for allowing the cameras to follow his journey of learning to read as an adult with Read Easy. By publicly sharing his story we hope that it will inspire adults in Portsmouth who struggle with reading to come forward and access our support. It’s free and confidential, and as those in the programme showcase it can lead to so many positive life changes.”  

“We’re also hoping that the programme leads to us hearing from more people who want to volunteer with Read Easy Portsmouth, especially as reading coaches. It’s such a rewarding role, with full training given and it’s not a huge time commitment.”   

Jay concealed his inability to read until he was in his 30s after he struggled to learn to read as a child. Jay is not alone – a quarter of all children in England leave primary school, like Blades, unable to read to the expected level. Nearly seven million adults in the UK have very poor literacy skills. Many are too ashamed or embarrassed to come forward and ask for help. 


Not being able to read properly affects almost every aspect of day-to-day life – from reading signs and essential letters to voting or understanding basic health information. It also makes it more challenging to support your own children’s learning. 

In the programme, Jay meets other people on the same journey with Read Easy – like Jacky Smith, who has just started to learn to read in her 60s. Her primary motivation is reading with her 7-year-old granddaughter and helping her sister, who is now partially sighted.   


Jay also meets Jeff George, 31, who says, “The most important thing for me is to be able to read stories to my son who has just started school. That’s my goal. I’d also like to be able to understand more in work and have other options career-wise for the future. Reading will open those doors for me. If I have a chance of something better I’m going to take it”. 


Read Easy UK has 50 affiliated groups around the UK, with over 1100 volunteers providing free one-to-one reading coaching for adults who cannot read. Readers meet volunteer coaches weekly to follow ‘Turning Pages’ – an adult reading programme initially developed in prisons. 


According to Ginny Williams-Ellis, CEO of Read Easy UK, “Research shows that 2.4m adults in England can’t read at all, or can barely read. Not being able to read as an adult is excruciatingly embarrassing for most people. It generally follows years of painful humiliation at school, when failure to learn to read in the early years will have led to an inability to participate in the rest of the curriculum as they got older. For the vast majority, this was not their choice, or their fault, and nothing to do with their intelligence. There are many different reasons why a child might not learn to read in their first years at school. For some, undiagnosed or unsupported dyslexia, or unidentified sight or hearing problems, may prevent them from learning. Others will lack the necessary learning support from parents or carers, or problems at home may make it difficult to concentrate at school. “


“Phonics was not taught in most schools for many years from the 1960s, and consequently, many children did not learn the crucial decoding skills needed to make sense of text. Arguably, this had an impact on literacy levels in the UK generally, but it was a particular problem for those who already faced other challenges. So, however difficult it may be, nobody should feel embarrassed to admit that they didn’t get the skills they needed when they were children.  


“I would urge any adult who is unable to read properly to have the courage to come forward, like Jay, and ask for help. It really is never too late to learn.” 


To find out more about learning to read as an adult with Read Easy, visit