VIDEO: Wigan gran learns to read after 50 years
A Wigan gran has learnt how to read in a year so that she can sign with her deaf husband and read bedtimes stories to her grandchildren.
Denise Gallagher, 57, decided to transform her life after spending more than five decades unable to read.
Last night, millions of viewers watched the emotional moment Denise revealed her progress on ITV’s This Time Next Year, who helped her reach her goal of being able to read proficiently in just 12 months.
The Winstanley grandmother-of-two suffers from dyslexia but was only diagnosed aged 21, years after leaving high school.
As a child, Denise was subjected to bullying from both peers and teachers, who called her “stupid” for not being able to read. “There was nothing for dyslexic people then,” she said. “People just thought you were thick. Now there’s so much out there for people. One of my school teachers would put me through hell about it, calling me stupid and throwing books at me, saying get out of the class.
“I used to just pick the easiest book to read.”
Following her diagnosis, Denise said she was “too embarrassed” to do anything about being illiterate. It has held me back in my own thoughts,” she said.
“There were even times I thought I didn’t want to be here. It was just a passing thought but I just had to think ‘come on Denise get a grip’. There are people in a worse state.”
Denise, a catering assistant at St John Rigby College, said that her learning disability did lead her to the most important thing in her life - her family.
More than 30 years ago, Denise began working through Remploy - a disability specialist which trains people for sustainable employment. It was during this time she met husband Michael, with whom she has just celebrated her 30th wedding anniversary.
As Michael is hearing impaired, he learnt from a young age to speak clearly and lip read - which is how the couple can communicate so efficiently.
“It took a while for me to tell him that I couldn’t read,” said Denise. “I felt so comfortable with Michael though. He’s such a lovely guy. He just said he loved me for who I am not for my reading ability.
“It’s like I always say to people, he is my eyes and I am his ears. Part of the reasons I wanted to learn to read is to sign. Me and Michael can communicate but I have never been out with any of his friends, I can’t understand as they communicate by sign language. You have to be able to read and spell to do that.”
Denise has also taken inspiration from her son Scott, 26 and daughter Leanne, 29, who is the mother to Denise’s two grandchildren. “My family and friends have been so supportive of me,” she said. “I have two beautiful grandchildren and I wanted to be able to read to them before they grow past that age.”
Now Denise, who began with a reading age of below five years old, is reading at above the standard of an eight-year-old. The journey started when Sheila, her supervisor at St John Rigby College where Denise works in catering, contacted the show on her behalf.
“She did all of the calling for me,” said Denise. “I was still too embarrassed.”
Her supportive supervisor also put her in touch with tutor Sue Hodson at Wigan-based tutoring school Kip McGrath on Wigan Lane. Sue, who continues to teach Denise to this day, said: “She came to us off her own back after that and still does. She’s so passionate about it. She’s made fabulous progress.
She’s reading basic comprehensions now and she puts in an unbelievable amount of work.”
Denise intends to continue her lessons with Sue and hopes that her story will inspire others with dyslexia to work towards their own goals.
Denise said that the show has changed her life and is one of the most unforgettable experiences she will ever have.
The 57-year-old said that after getting married and having her children - the day the show filmed her transformation reveal was “one of the best days of her life”.
“The show’s team made me so wanted there and so loved as well,” she said. “It was just amazing and it took me ages to come down from it.
“The team have been amazing, they gave me all of the materials I needed to learn how to read and Skyped me regularly to see how I was getting on.
“Davina was brilliant too, she’s just so lovely. I wish I could do it all again.”