2020 Grant winner Linda Dalton
It’s a rite of passage many 16 and 17-year-olds take for granted: learning to drive and getting their Ps. But for some young people in and around Linda Dalton’s (1979) hometown of Bellingen, on the NSW Mid-North Coast, getting a driver’s licence can be tougher than it seems.
“The Bellingen Shire has a relatively low socio-economic index… many people are employed in part-time work, juggling childcare and work, and many rely in part or altogether on Centrelink benefits,” Linda explained.
“There are a significant number of single parent families who are only just getting by.”
In NSW, learner drivers need to log 120 hours of supervised driving before they can apply for their provisional licence.
“In Bellingen, parents (can) struggle to scrape together money for even one driving lesson with a driving school, and working parents, particularly single parents… struggle to find the hours to supervise their children’s driving themselves,” Linda said.
With limited public transport in the area, young people rely on getting their licence to get around.
“In a rural area, having a licence opens up enormous possibilities – education, social, part-time work,” Linda said. “If you can’t drive, you can’t work. It’s as simple as that.”
Linda, a solicitor in the town, saw the need and helped establish a project with Bello Youth Hub, called Two Way Street. The program pairs learner drivers with community volunteers, many of whom are retirees, to help the young drivers clock up the requisite training hours.
The Two Way Street project is staffed and organised by volunteers and runs entirely on donations and fundraising. It has two donated vehicles which cost $3,000 a year to operate – in petrol, registration, insurance and servicing.
“Our policy is not to charge anything. The second you introduce a fee you lose the ones who can’t make the fee. The ones who can pay the fees are the better-off ones. So, by charging a fee you undercut the project in two ways – we lose the kids we want to engage with, and secondly, that obligation to give back would be lost.”
Approximately 150 young people have earned their licences through the program since it began in 2014.
In lieu of payment, the young people give back in other ways. A number of teens who went through the project have become mechanics and service the Two Way Street cars. Others help with car washing and fundraising.
While the program has the tangible, practical benefit of teaching young people to drive and be safe drivers, Linda says an intangible benefit is the creation of strong relationships between young people and their mentors. Young people turn to their older mentors for advice, and mentors enjoy an enhanced sense of purpose through meaningful engagement with younger members of the community.
“That is where the magic is. It’s beautiful.”
In 2020, the AOGU awarded Linda a 110th Anniversary Grant of $3,000, with the funds guaranteeing the project runs for another year, by covering the on-road costs of its two vehicles.
“I was incredibly grateful that we were able to keep going, that is where the money has been invaluable, it has given Two Way Street a whole new life.”