The first Read Easy group was established in Dorchester and Weymouth in September 2010. It was founded by Ginny Williams-Ellis, who was at that time a literacy tutor at Dorchester Prison. As part of her work there, she was responsible for setting up and running the Shannon Trust’s Toe by Toe peer mentoring reading plan, which enables one prisoner to teach another to read.
The success of this prison scheme highlighted the unmet need for a one-to-one approach to tackling literacy problems in the wider community and further investigation revealed that there were many people who could benefit.
Local findings were supported by national statistics, which suggest that 5% of adults in England have a reading level that makes it very difficult to cope with any reading needed for everyday life. More than 7% are only able to pick out some words in simple texts which makes everyday tasks and most employment very challenging. (Skills for Life Survey, 2011). Yet many of those with the greatest difficulties are far too embarrassed to join an adult education class.
Read Easy’s aim was to offer a much more attractive alternative, by providing each new reader with the opportunity to learn with their own dedicated volunteer reading coach on a flexible, friendly, confidential basis.
The beginnings of Read Easy coincided with the publication of the Yes we can read phonics-based reading manual, written by Libby Coleman and Nick Ainley, which was designed to make learning to read easy and fun, and so this became the obvious manual for the scheme.
With the support of many local agencies, Read Easy Dorchester and Weymouth was launched as a pilot project and, within a very short time, many people were coming forward for help and making remarkable progress.
The immediate success of the scheme quickly led to interest from other areas. To meet this wider need, Read Easy UK was launched in September 2011 to help people to set up new Read Easy groups in other parts of the country. Within a year, three further groups had been formed and the organisation has continued to expand ever since.