Driving instructor Jo Silvester, 47, chairs Swindon Young Drivers, a charity run by instructors which teaches people aged under 17 safe driving skills. It recently organised a fundraising drive-a-thon in which young people got behind the wheel for Children in Need and raised £1,500. Jo is married to Richard, a school science technician. The couple have two children and live in Haydon Wick.

SWINDON Young Drivers began as an idea in the wake of a double tragedy.

“2013 was when we started thinking about it,” said Jo Silvester.

“There were two crashes on the A419 in the space of, I think, about a week, and we lost three young people.

“A group of driving instructors had a chat in a pub and we thought we could do something to make this better, to improve our roads.

“We knew about lots of other under-17 drivers’ organisations around the country, but Swindon didn’t have one.

“We thought, ‘We’ve got the skills, we’ve got the knowledge, all we need is somewhere to do it. We could promote road safety for all ages.’

“In 2015 we started our real planning, and organising how we could run a club, an organisation that would be accessible to lots of people. We launched in the September of that year at New College.”

The ceremony included a stark illustration of road dangers in the form of a wrecked car – the product of a real accident – put on display.

“We had about nine clients on that day and now we average around 30 every month. Some are regular customers. Some have gone on to pass their driving tests and some come just because it’s a birthday treat.

“We had my old next door neighbour – it was his birthday a couple of weeks ago so I rang his mum and said, ‘Bring him down, I’ll treat him to a driving session.’ He’s just turned 12.

“Two weeks later we had our Children in Need event. He put all his birthday money together and paid to come to the next session, and gave us a five pound tip for the pot. He’s a little star.”

All sessions are held at Wroughton Park and Ride, the biggest car park available to the charity. A half hour of driving costs £25 and an hour £50. Sessions also include road safety and first aid instruction indoors at the site.

Participants can take reaction tests, responding to lights as quickly as possible. Sometimes they are asked to take the test while an instructor sends them distracting texts, and the dramatically increased reaction times prove the peril of using a phone while driving. The charity hands out signal-blocking phone pouches.

Another test illustrates the dangers of drinking and driving. It involves participants being asked to perform ordinary tasks while wearing so-called beer goggles, which distort their vision.

Jo was born in Norwich. Her father worked in construction and there were many moves with his job over the years, including a stint in the Middle East.

Jo worked as a company secretary and in various other jobs before spending 19 years with what was Allied Dunbar when she joined and Zurich when she left, having risen to become a member of the Zurich Community Trust team.

It was while working there that Jo qualified as a driving instructor, a job she has done since 2009.

“I had the two children and I thought it would be nice to spend some more time at home.

“Every day is different. Every hour is different. No two hours are the same. Even if you have a two-hour lesson with a pupil, the first hour they may be struggling with something but by the second hour they’ve nailed it and you’re moving on to the next thing.”

The best part of the job?

“It’s when the pupil has that lightbulb moment, when they suddenly think, ‘I’ve got this one – I can sort it.’”

There are similar moments with Swindon Young Drivers.

The charity can cater for children as young as 10, and although the overwhelming majority of clients are young people, there is no upper age limit.

One participant was a motorist in her sixties who had lost her confidence behind the wheel.

“She just wanted somebody to say, ‘You can do this.’ She was great. We went around, did a couple of manoeuvres and she drove out of the car park when she left. She just needed an assessment and someone to say, ‘You can.’”

The charity insists early instruction can help to make people safer drivers when they are old enough to take to the roads.

“When somebody asks, ‘What’s the age when you start learning to drive?’ everybody puts their hand up and says ‘Seventeen! Seventeen!’

“It’s not. We start learning when we’re three. We start copying what our parents do, and when we’re copying what our parents do we’re picking up their good habits and their not-so good habits. What we can do at Swindon Young Drivers is teach them to drive a car slowly and safely, manoeuvre it, recognise when it’s not safe.

“They’re eager to learn. They’re sponges – they just want to learn. The best comment is when they’ve done parallel parking - we normally do some form of parking in the first session – and get out of the car and say, ‘That was better than Mum,’ normally loud enough for mum to hear!

“Their observation skills become better as well. My daughter was 12 when she had her first session. I was driving her to school in the morning and she said, ‘Mummy, that boy’s just bought a cigarette from that man. It was a very big cigarette and he gave him a £20 note…’”

The Swindon Young Drivers website is swindonyoungdrivers.co.uk