Like most initiatives conceived in the Bellingen Shire, ‘Two Way Street’ came about because a group of community minded ‘doers’ perceived a need. “Its the usual magical Bellingen story that exemplifies how this place works,” says Dean Besley Coordinator Bello Youth Hub, (pictured above left, with program initiator Linda Dalton, Lily Batley and Two Way Street Volunteer Instructor Mary Bernadette).
The Two Way Street Program pairs learner drivers with volunteer supervisors to help clock up the necessary 120 hours. It is a community initiative facilitated by the Bello Youth Hub, run completely by volunteers on the smell of an oily rag (excuse the pun).
“Six years ago a long faced local lad lamented to me that he had no one available to teach him to drive. I simply teamed the lad up with a local dad for free driving instruction, says Dean. Initial need perceived, solution found. But for local lawyer Linda Dalton, a spark was lit. How many local youth were in the same predicament? Would it be possible to meet this need on a larger scale?
A working group was created consisting of Linda Dalton, Paul Tipper, Margot Pleasant, Gordon Jacob and Dean Besley and within weeks Two Way Street was a thing. Since its inception the program has assisted scores of local youths to secure their driving hours and ultimately, license. At its busiest the program had 24 youths on the books and 18 volunteers, ebbing and flowing with the needs of the community.
For the past three years local volunteer Tony Dudgeon has taken the program under his very capable wing. “I’ve always been a keen driver. I suppose I’m also a bit of a petrol head. With four boys of my own I’d already taught a number of kids to drive so responded to an advertisement looking for volunteer instructors for the program,” says Tony.
What began as a simple instructing role became so much more. “Basically I thought I would be sitting with someone in a car and logging an hour of their driving time. That is all that had occurred to me. As it turned out it became so much more- an opportunity to build a relationship while sharing my teaching experience.”
Tony has assisted more than 30 students to secure their license and donates more than 10 hours a week to the program, including the induction of new volunteer instructors and the upkeep of the cars. “I love it. Sitting next to someone for up to 120 hours you can’t help but build a relationship. Trusted friendships have resulted, which is so rewarding for me too. I think many of the students see me as a father figure. Actually it is probably more likely to be a grandfather figure. It is so much more than driving,” says Tony.
Dean concurs. “It is more about the relationships that have forged through this program. We match kids with instructors in the knowledge that a social connection will be built. As most parents will tell you- conversations happen in the car. There is no agenda. It’s not predetermined. And if it naturally occurs, it is the best form of relationship. We are building community, not fixing kids.”
To date the program has been financially supported by a sizeable initial donation, coupled with ongoing local fund raising, which has allowed the purchase of two vehicles and ongoing costs of vehicle insurance, registration, maintenance and training. Instruction is free for the youths. However, as the name Two Way Street implies, the initial concept was an hour of free tuition for an hour of voluntary community service. Unfortunately, this proved problematic for young people with busy lives.
Currently, the coffers are low. Fundraising at community market days has been stalled because of the Pandemic, putting this worthwhile program at risk. The program requires $3000 a year to operate the cars, including registration, insurance, servicing and petrol. Recently, The Bellingen Growers Market, The Renewable Energy Festival & a local family have donated much needed funds towards this total, but there is still money to be found to keep this program on the road.
If Tony has anything to do with it, the program will go on. “I’m here for the long haul. My ex students recommend me, so I have a queue of students waiting for me for instruction. I can’t possibly leave.”
To donate to the ‘Two Way Street’ Program CLICK HERE.