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Dad John Nicholson sets up driving school to help those with mental health or money difficulties

ByLydia Chantler-Hicks

A dad-of-three who turned his life around after battling depression now wants to help others with his revolutionary driving school.

The Community Driving School helps people struggling with mental health or financial difficulties.

It was founded by John Nicholson, who was a manager at the London Stock Exchange for 17 years before he began battling depression.

“In 2014, I tried to commit suicide,” he said. “I was in a really dark place.

John Nicholson with his new car at Tesco's Millstrood Road store
John Nicholson with his new car at Tesco's Millstrood Road store

But John left his job, trained as a driving instructor and in May last year he founded the Community Driving School – a community interest company, through which local business sponsors help fund driving lessons for disadvantaged people.

“I met some wonderful people who were going through a hard time and didn’t have much money,” said the 50-year-old, of School Lane, Herne. “So I started giving free lessons to some people who were really struggling.”

“The driving school is a social enterprise. It really is the first scheme of its kind in the country.

“People don’t just get given lessons – they have to earn them. They must go out and volunteer and build up a balance of hours – so if they volunteer for 10 hours, they could get 10 hours of lessons.

“The volunteering is very much tailored around the person.”

Tyne, aged 25, is the first person to have learned to drive through the scheme.

The mum-of-two, who has herself faced homelessness and depression, thanked the sponsors that allowed John to teach her.

She said: “My village is isolated. Although I work in a nearby village, public transport links are limited and due to be ended within the very near future.

“Driving has given me a purpose and the ability to focus on the future.”

Loisa Dane, Community Champion at Tesco presents John Nicholson with a new car and a cheque for £4000
Loisa Dane, Community Champion at Tesco presents John Nicholson with a new car and a cheque for £4000

John agrees that being able to drive doesn’t just improve a person’s mobility.

“It improves mental wellbeing as well,” he said. “It gives you a sense of achievement.”

As well as teaching less advantaged people, which he does without taking any personal profit, John still teaches paying pupils.

“I donate 5% of what I earn from paying pupils to Pilgrims Hospices, and 5% goes to the community driving school.”

The scheme already has a number of sponsors – including Mobile Tyre Maintenance and AT Accounts.

Last month, Tesco Extra in Whitstable presented John with a cheque for £4,000 through the store’s Bags of Help scheme.

Anyone interested in supporting the scheme is asked to email kentoffice@thecds.org.uk.

For more information, visit the Community Driving School's Facebook page.

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