Thanet community news: Free driving lessons for key workers, a Hall of Fame, donations for pets and more

Driving school boss John with student Yannique


An award winning driving school is joining forces with Caremark Thanet, Dover & Canterbury, Sandford Hodges Health, Safety & Environmental Consultants and Thanet Premier Business Group to provide free driving lessons to thank Key Workers in Thanet.

Community Driving School CIC (CDS), the UKs first “Not-For-Profit” driving school has partnered with a local care provider and a group of local small businesses.

Government restrictions mean that driving lessons can only be given to key workers at the present time in order for them to continue to provide vital services within the community.  CDS Chief Executive, founder and director of the Herne Bay based driving school, John Nicholson, wanted to give something back to let these vital care workers know how grateful he is for what they do.

He is a member of Thanet Premier Business Group, a networking group for isle- based small business owners and he spoke of his desire to do something for the care workers.  The group and John discussed that if they would cover his fuel costs, he would provide the lessons for free to these crucial workers at this time of national crisis.

Recognising the hard work and dedication the workers at Caremark Thanet provide some of the most vulnerable people in our community, they came together to write a suitable assessment to protect the care worker and the driving instructor.  This COVID-19 risk assessment is the first of its kind to be produced as far as the group are aware.

They then approached their MP Sir Roger Gale to ensure they had covered everything before starting this initiative and he confirmed that this could go ahead following confirmation from the relevant ministerial department.

Pete Simpson and Martin Hoare, two directors of Thanet Premier Business Group, said: “As a group of local businesses, Thanet Premier Business Group have always supported each other in every way that we can, which in turn helps the Community, by keeping the local economy strong and, that support is even more important now, with everything that is going on.

“When we heard that one of our members, John Nicholson of Community Driving School, was helping out another of our members Garry Costain of Caremark (Thanet), by giving free driving lessons to a number of carers who work for Caremark (Thanet), which will enable these hard working carers to go out and help the local people in our community and give them the care, help and assistance they desperately need, we decided that we, in turn as a group, will do our bit in helping with this, by helping with the costs.”

Jenny Sandford, of Sandford Hodges, said: “I have been an avid fan of John and his work with Community Driving School for quite some time. Community Driving School does not just teach people to drive, but also equips them with life skills and the ability to create a better life.

“When I learned of John’s desire to assist key workers with free driving lessons, I was only too happy to help. To be able to support an organisation that gives so much to the community, and ensure they could deliver their services safely is of paramount importance. Giving key workers the ability to drive allows them to safely commute to their places of work no matter the time of day. “

Garry Costain, of Caremark, said:“I’ve known John for a few years. The work he does with the Community Driving School is truly inspirational: it changes lives. Caremark Thanet, Dover and Canterbury is a community engaged organisation. What John does resonates deeply with me and many others in the business. I’ve been a member of the Thanet Premier Business Group since 2012, so the generous initiative from John and the group to provide driving lessons for our non-driving carers is appreciated enormously by me. I know a few others have been involved in bringing this about, so from me a very big thank you to you all. And from me, on behalf of those who will benefit from the initiative, thank you, this will change lives.”

Community Driving School boss John said: “Community Driving School CIC is incredibly proud to belong to such a fantasic and community minded group of businesses and they all deserve recognition. Without the support of so many small businesses and the people involved we would have not been able to do this.  We owe a huge debt of gratitude to our MP for his support and encouragement.  Everybody involved in this initiative believes in community first and I for one, want to say thank you to all key workers for whom we at CDS are offering a 10% discount on all driving lessons for life.”

RSPCA Thanet branch

Together with TAG pet rescue, we donated pet food to two local food banks so that they will be able to help out pet owners who are struggling to feed their animals during the ongoing Covid-19 crisis.

Both of our rescues have been stunned at the extra levels of generosity and kindness shown by our super-lovely supporters during this crisis, and also our Branch is the Charity of the Year at Pets at Home, and we were given a pallet of different dog food.

We are both proactive charities, so we put our heads together to work out how best to help even more Thanet animals.

Not all of the work that we do is based directly at our animal centres, and we believe that preventing animal welfare problems is very important to what we do. We recognised that a lot of people are struggling to feed their families at the moment, and what we don’t want is for people feeling they have to give up their pets because they can’t afford to feed them.

We donated food to the Salvation Army in Ramsgate and to Thanet Food Link in Cliftonville. Carl from the Salvation Army said that during lockdown demand for foodbank usage has increased four fold, and Debbie at Thanet Food Link  said that in April this year they helped 632 people feed their families, compared to 196 in April last year.

Times are really hard for a lot of people at the moment, but until now they haven’t been able to help people’s pets too. Hopefully, we have changed that.

If you are struggling to feed your family, including your four-legged members, please get in touch with Carl at the Salvation Army on 07900 497326 or Debbie at Thanet Food Link on 01843 447187 (also try their website).

The Salvation Army foodbank runs from their base the High Street in Ramsgate, and open their doors 10am to 12pm Monday to Friday, and Thanet Food Link run their foodbank from St. Pauls Church in Cliftonville on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday between 10.30am and 12pm

Liberal Democrat Community Champions Hall of Fame

The Liberal Democrats have announced that local campaigner John Finnegan has been nominated to join the Liberal Democrat Community Champions Hall of Fame.

He was nominated for work to help the most vulnerable iin Margate and surrounding area of Thanet during the coronavirus crisis.

The Liberal Democrat Community Champions Hall of Fame initiative has been launched by Sir Stuart Etherington, the former Chief executive of the National Council for Voluntary Organisation and Chair of the Liberal Democrat Coronavirus Community Taskforce.

As well as helping people with basic supplies, the nominees have been doing a range of work from sharing best practice and ideas to organising volunteers to call over 35,000 people across the UK to offer assistance.

As part of their induction into the Hall of Fame, successful nominees will also be invited to be interviewed by one of the party’s leading figures in a live webinar that all Lib Dem members will be invited to.

Local Liberal Democrat John Finnegan said: “With the Coronavirus crisis leaving the most vulnerable in our communities at risk, it is critical people receive the support they need. That’s why I have been working with the Liberal Democrats to ensure no one is left behind across Margate and surrounding area of Thanet.

“I am touched to have been nominated for my work, but I even prouder to be part of a team tangibly helping countless people facing hardship. I would encourage everyone to help in whatever way they can during this difficult time.”

Acting Leader of the Liberal Democrats Ed Davey said: “I have been amazed by the energy, commitment and creativity shown by members of the Lib Dem community during the crisis. I am so proud of people like John Finnegan who have worked tirelessly to help vulnerable residents and fight for the best possible support for people facing hardship.”

Chair of the Coronavirus Community Taskforce, Sir Stuart Etherington, said: “It is critical that vulnerable people in our communities receive the support they need. It will be communities themselves that have to respond to take the pressure off our excellent but hardpressed statutory services. I look forward to continuing to work with John Finnegan and others as we do out bit to slow the spread of coronavirus, prevent the NHS from being overwhelmed and save thousands of lives.”

Rotary Club of Westgate and Birchington

The Rotary Club of Westgate and Birchington has been fundraising all year and one of the charities President Richard O’Sullivan has been supporting is Canine Partners. The club has recently given a donation of £1200 to help this fantastic charity continue its outstanding work with disabled people.

Their assistance dogs are trained to meet the needs of individuals with even the most complex physical disabilities. They help adults aged 18 and over who have a physical disability or condition that affects their daily life and limits their independence.

Some of the disabilities and conditions they support: Multiple sclerosis; Cerebral palsy; Spinal injuries and head injuries; Stroke; Arthritis; Muscular dystrophy; Spina bifida and many more.

A canine partner assists with everyday tasks which are difficult, painful or impossible for individuals with a disability to perform, such as: helping with undressing; loading and unloading the washing machine; retrieving or picking up dropped items; helping with the shopping; retrieving money and card from a cash machine; opening and closing doors; pressing a pedestrian crossing or lift button; fetching help in an emergency; help turn their disabled partner over in bed; flush the toilet;

Canine partners also provide many psychological and social benefits such as:

  • increased independence, confidence, motivation and self-esteem
  • companionship, security and unconditional love, a talking point, increasing social interaction
  • helping to return to work, reducing reliance on human carers

Rotarians are men and women of all ages, sharing their time, energy and skills to help charities and good causes in the communities in which they live. Our club enjoys excellent fellowship, participates in a wide variety of fund-raising projects, supports civic and community events, and holds many interesting and fun social activities.

There’s loads more information to look at on our website: and on our Facebook Page

Thanet Over Fifities Forum

Thanet Over Fifties is sharing a new Help to Care app – an innovative new mobile phone app to support people who care for others in Kent and Medway.

The request for sharing the “app” was made by Toni Easdown, Stakeholder Engagement Officer, Adult Social Care Business Delivery Unit, Adult Social Care and Health, Kent County Council.  They also ask for people to share the information with friends, families, and community groups you may belong to.

Help to Care is a free mobile app designed to help you to spot the signs of a problem and find the right information and advice if you’re worried about someone’s health and wellbeing.

Download today on your app store to access:

Over 40 advice and guidance articles

Links to services to support you and the people you care for

Training videos on different conditions


Kent Community Foundation

In these unprecedented times Kent Community Foundation has responded to the huge need for financial support in Kent and Medway by introducing a Coronavirus Emergency Bridging loan in addition to the KCF Coronavirus Emergency Fund.

Introduced as part of Kent Community Foundation’s social lending programme, these loans are a response to the significant losses in income that charities and groups continue to experience due to the interruption of ‘business as usual’. These unsecured loans of up to £60,000 and in exceptional circumstances up to £100,000, are intended to fill gaps in lost income and have an immediate six-month payment holiday to offer a lifeline to those providing services to communities across Kent.

James Horne, Investment Funds Manager, Kent Community Foundation, said “During the pandemic Kent Community Foundation is delighted to be able to support social enterprises within Kent and Medway with a Coronavirus Emergency Bridging Loan. These unsecured loans of up to £60,000 are available to charities, Community Interest Companies (CICs) and Interest Incorporated Organisations (CIOs), specifically to bridge the gap in funding because of Coronavirus.

We aim to turn around applications in four weeks, and these loans have an immediate six-month payment holiday to ease the strain on these groups that are doing such great work within the community.”

The first Emergency Loan for £60,000, was arranged in less the two weeks. If you would like to apply for a Kent Community Foundation Coronavirus Emergency Bridging loan please visit; or call James Horne on 01303 815 153 for more information.

East Kent Hospitals

A group of patients recovering from coronavirus are getting specialist support with rehabilitation via videoconferencing, thanks to staff from East Kent Hospitals.

The critical care follow-up and rehabilitation team have turned to technology to help them run exercise sessions, as well as giving people a chance to share their experiences of recovery.

The first session took place last Tuesday and proved a great success, according to critical care follow-up and rehabilitation specialist nurse Lucy Mummery.

She said: “Some people thought they were the only ones experiencing memory loss, or finding it hard to concentrate, and being able to talk to others in the same boat was really valuable for them.

“There were a lot of common themes, whether it was trouble eating or sleeping, or their feelings about surviving COVID-19 when the news is full of people who are dying from it.

“Others were worried about persistent coughs, or fatigue, and we were able to do a lot of trouble-shooting and reassuring.”

Lucy, and specialist critical care physiotherapist Sarah Gotke, usually run the groups in the gym at the Kent and Canterbury Hospital. It is open to anyone who has been in intensive care for a prolonged period, whether after major surgery, cardiac arrest, seizures or conditions such as meningitis.

But meeting in person isn’t possible because of restrictions due to the virus, so the pair decided to see if a virtual group would work instead.

Lucy said: “Normally we find patients talk as they exercise and share experiences, and they always find that really valuable.

“Most patients who have been in intensive care lose muscle tone and strength and we work with them to rebuild this through a package of rehabilitation and physiotherapy.

“Sarah led a session of seated exercise for the first half of the meeting, then we opened it up for them to chat.

“They all found it helpful, although some of them needed a nap afterwards, and they are all going to join us next week.”

The group is part of a package of support, which usually includes ward visits from the outreach team, telephone support, follow-up clinic appointments and accompanied visits to the intensive care unit to see where they were cared for and meet the team. There is also a monthly support group.

During the coronavirus outbreak, the critical care outreach team is providing more support to patients on the wards before they are discharged home, and physiotherapists and occupational therapists from across the Trust have made individual calls to patients at home.

Stephen Robinson, who spent a month in hospital – including three weeks in intensive care – with COVID-19, said the group was a great help.

He said: “It has been fantastic to be able to talk to others who have been in the same situation and to find out that they are going through the same things as you are. When I came out of ITU I couldn’t walk, I couldn’t talk or swallow, I couldn’t eat or drink.

“I still get fatigued and hearing others say the same, and getting reassurance from the staff, has been really valuable.”

Parkinson’s UK

This Volunteers Week (1 – 7 June), charities across the UK, including Parkinson’s UK, will be thanking and recognising volunteers virtually on social media, highlighting their commitment to supporting people and communities during lockdown.

In Thanet Parkinson’s UK volunteers have organised virtual afternoon teas and coffee mornings, and feedback from the Parkinson’s community has been overwhelmingly positive.

Before the coronavirus pandemic, almost 4,000 Parkinson’s UK volunteers ran and organised around 1,000 local activities across the UK and supported 26,000 group members.

During lockdown, many volunteers have been able to quickly and safely adapt many activities virtually and reach out on the phone, helping the local community stay connected.

Parkinson’s is a degenerative neurological condition which can happen at any age and has a major impact on everyday life. It develops when cells in the brain stop working properly and are lost over time. Around 145,000 people in the UK are diagnosed with Parkinson’s, including around 19,800 in the South East.

Parkinson’s is one of the underlying health conditions identified by the government as increasing the risk of serious complications from coronavirus. Although not classified as extremely vulnerable, many people with Parkinson’s have chosen to shield, increasing their risk of feeling isolated at a difficult time.

Stephen Hill, Head of Volunteering at Parkinson’s UK said:  “Thank you to all our amazing volunteers who have supported people with Parkinson’s in Thanet over this uncertain time.

“Our volunteers are at the centre of everything; shaping research, fighting for fair treatment and better services, and providing support when people need it most. Their ongoing contribution and commitment to people with Parkinson’s over this time has been invaluable and we’re looking forward, together, to continuing our vital work.”

To say thank you to volunteers, share your story on social media using #VolunteersWeek2020 or #nevermatteredmore

Kent Association for the Blind

A £1,000 grant from housebuilder Persimmon Homes has paid for a specialist piece of equipment that helps visually stimulate older members of Kent Association for the Blind (KAB).

Persimmon donated the funds through its Community Champions, a nationwide match funding scheme helping community good causes and organisations.

Kent Association for the Blind is a charity supporting people with a sight impairment to live independent lives.

Sue Piper, from the charity, said: “Thank you so much Persimmon Homes, this is hugely appreciated. Kent Association for the Blind connects older people in the late stage of their dementia journey with each other and with their surroundings, all while stimulating movement. Interactive games break through apathy by stimulating both physical and cognitive activity and encouraging social interaction.

“The Tovertafel is a little box that can be mounted on the ceiling, for instance above the dining room table. Inside the box is a high-quality projector, infrared sensors, speaker and processor that work together to project games onto a table. Because the colourful objects respond to hand and arm movements, visually impaired older people get to play with the light itself.”

Martin Crick, sales director at Persimmon Homes South East, said: “We are really pleased that our donation has enabled KAB to buy a Tovertafel – what a difference it must make to family and friends to see their loved ones stimulated and enjoying themselves.”

Persimmon’s Community Champions scheme gives away two awards of £1,000 every month. From April, as the country feels the effect of the Covid-19 outbreak, all funds will be diverted to help groups working with the over-70s. To apply, visit