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Ryan receives his restricted licence after a driving mentorship from Thames Community Centre. Photo: SUPPLIED

Mentors needed for driver licence programme

The Thames Community Centre is on the hunt for volunteer mentors for its award-winning driver education programme. 

The programme takes people through the driving licencing process, from learner right to a full licence. Students on their restricted licence receive 12 weeks of lessons by a volunteer mentor, involving twice-weekly hour-long sessions behind the wheel. 

Centre manager Jeff Whitfield said another six or more mentors were needed to join its current roster of 10. 

“The mentors that we have all report how wonderful it is to be involved in the success of the students. They love to get to know new people,” he said. 

“Some of them were nervous that they didn’t know enough about the road code, but that’s something that they learn as they go along. They’re well supported: we have three workshops a year for them, we give them some initial training with a driving instructor.” 

Many of the centre’s current mentors were drivers on their own time – former bus or taxi drivers, or people who drive for a living – and Jeff said the skills and experience they brought to the role was invaluable. 

“There were lots of people sitting a learner licence because they could sit a theory course, but they didn’t have a legal car to do the driving in or a fully qualified driver to sit with them for the practices,” Jeff said. 

“We set those people up with individual mentors and they use the Thames Valley Toyota car that we have and go out for practices… We also throw in a few lessons with a professional instructor for that programme as well and that gets them through to their restricted.” 

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The programme is also part of the centre’s wider commitment to get people connected to and volunteering within the community, an ethos which saw it named the most outstanding community driver education programme at last year’s Driving Change national conference. 

“What we say to the students is that you don’t have to pay any fees; but what we’d really like you to do is to help build our community and also build yourself, by giving back for what you receive,” Jeff said. 

“Depending on how much we ‘invest’ in them, they give back so many hours [of community service]… If somebody does the whole licence and gets pretty much all the services, it’s around 60 hours that they give back over a few years.” 

Last year, around 100 people passed through the driver education course. On average, they will then go on to donate around 15 hours each back to the community. 

“We place people at community gardens, op shops, special events, have them at the museum… We’ve also had people get jobs through the volunteer work they were doing,” Jeff said. 

“We had one young man who went up and did a sausage sizzle for a local health provider at a public park, and they liked his attitude and his energy so much that they said, ‘why don’t you come down and wash a few of our vans’. Now he’s a maintenance guy there.

“It makes the programme really robust, that reciprocal arrangement.”

DETAILS: To find out more about becoming a mentor, contact Jeff Whitfield at or 027 868 9797. Organisations wanting volunteers are also welcome to get in touch.