AN EVERTON driving instructor has set out on a 3,000-mile relay around the UK as part of her annual fundraising challenge in support of BBC Children in Need.
In the last six years mum-of-three Louise Walsh has raised over £400,000 for the appeal by organising a two-week relay of driving instructors and their students.
It take months of planning by Louise and her team and has led to several appearances on regional and national television, including one occasion when Louise was invited onto the EastEnders set during a live broadcast.
She first came up with the idea for the Big Learner Relay whilst watching coverage of the appeal on TV seven years ago.
She recalls: “I saw all these people around the country doing amazing things to raise money, and I thought to myself, why we aren’t doing anything as an industry?
“So I put the idea on a driving instructor’s blog and within three hours 650 people had come forward asking to get involved or offering their support.”
For the challenge instructors relay a top box on the roofs of their cars from one lesson to another covering a 3,000-mile route through the Channel Isles, England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.
This year it began in Jersey on 24th October followed by a day in Northern Ireland. Louise and the top box then began a convoy around the mainland last Friday.
The grand finale leg will conclude at the National Space Centre in Leicester next Friday on Children in Need Appeal Day. The venue has been chosen in recognition of the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing.
During the challenge Louise will have travelled for 17 days, with many thousands of instructors and pupils joining the convoy along the way.
Louise said: “Each instructor will come up with ways to raise funds in whichever way works for them, their pupils and their businesses.
“Some are getting together to do something as a local group, some are working with local driving instructor associations and some are just doing things within their franchises or on their own.”
Ideas so far include sponsored lessons, fancy dress lessons, PJs for Pudsey and car washes. But by far the biggest fundraiser is ‘sponsor a spot’. Pupils, businesses and the general public are donating money to sign a coloured spot and stick it on the instructor’s car.
Louise said: “The sixth year of the Big Learner Relay promises to be even bigger and better than the previous five years.”
“In 2014, our first year, the total raised was over £65,000. This was £60,000 more than we believed we would achieve. Since then we have raised over £400,000.”
She added: “We have a selection of driving Instructors that are involved on a more committed level by being lead cars.
“This is to ensure that every leg of the relay has a confirmed instructor and pupil in place to carry the top box to ensure the relay runs without a break in the chain.
“The lead cars demonstrate the diversity in this profession – independent schools, franchises both national and local, instructor trainers, instructors teaching in diesel, petrol and electric cars and instructors who specialise in teaching people with disabilities.”
Locally, Louise’s support team, which includes her mum Sue Whitlock and her sister Amy Cullen, have been boosting awareness and funds for Children in Need with a variety of special events.
Tomorrow (Saturday), Sue will host a band night featuring live music from The Go Go Five at Milford Community Centre – admission is £12.50 to include a hotdog in the interval.
For more information and bookings, visit www.moscommunitycentre.org.uk or call the box office on 01590 644861
For more information on the Big Leaner Relay visit www.biglearnerrelay.co.uk.