Driving Force Chequered Flag
We are a not-for-profit Community Interest Company (CIC) delivering events for businesses and the general public and donating the profits to charity. We don’t just organise a get-together, our events are centred around our state-of-the art driving simulator which lets you experience the breath-taking feeling of driving a high-speed racing car via a 49-inch curved HD monitor and force feedback controls. This isn’t just a Playstation attachment, it’s a professional piece of kit that racing drivers use!
The events are totally free to attend or host, all we ask is that people donate to a charity each time they use the simulator. If you’re a business that wants to host a free, fun event or a racing competition – to reward your staff, promote your brand or products or entertain some important clients, we can do that.
I was struck down by a stroke in 1994 at the age of 31 and found myself completely paralysed down my left side, unable to talk or walk and faced with a mountain of challenges to get my life back to something like normality. The focus for after care was very much on the physical side so as soon as I was up and moving about I was deemed ok and sent on my merry way, but afterwards I struggled hugely with my mental health. I also lost my career and struggled financially. The experience made me want to fundraise to help others but the time wasn’t right.
In 2018 I was made redundant and, having been left with a small amount of money and some spare time, I set about looking into how I could make money for charity. Purely by chance, I visited a motorbike factory where they had a simulator. The idea struck me: if I could find a mobile one of these I could take it to events and charge people to use it. I found a manufacturer and that was it.
I run each event as a competition. We select one track and one car from the simulator programme and stick with that for the night and people can have a go and see how fast they can complete it. We have a prize, usually donated by the motorsport community – things like signed racing memorabilia or an alloy wheel coffee table – and we have a leader board, a bit like in the TV programme Top Gear. We also do a presentation at the events about our charities, so people are aware of what they are supporting by taking part.
It’s the competition aspect that really makes it work because it takes over. People become very focussed on that leader board and they will go on the simulator again and again in order to get to the top of it – paying each time of course. So people have a good time, there’s a bit of fun, a bit of excitement, a bit of competition. And if it’s a business event is also helps to stimulate networking naturally because it’s a fun, social setting.
We did our first event in February 2020, just before the first lockdown. So as you can imagine, the pandemic has slowed us down a bit. However, we have since managed to hold a few events including a business networking event in Newcastle attended by 30 small companies. We also ran an event for the charity Support Dogs in Sheffield.
Both went well and proved that the model really works. In Newcastle we had a guy who was very keen on the simulator. I said to him “Darren, why do you keep coming back to this when you have a Porsche in the car park?” He said: “I don’t care how much it costs, I want to get to the top of that leader board.” That was music to my ears!
We have four core charities that are close to my heart. Different Strokes supports people of working age or younger who have suffered from a stroke. PACES is an amazing Sheffield charity that operates a school for kids living with neurological conditions like cerebral palsy and they have recently expanded to help adults too. We also support two local charities: Wakefield Street Kitchen which provides meals, clothing, toiletries, and books to those in need and Rainbow Baby Bank, which provides young and vulnerable families with food and clothing they can’t afford. Both of these charities have had to expand their services since the pandemic because there are more people needing their help.
The plan is to host lots more events so that we can support our charities. We also want to attend charity events, like golf days and gala balls. I have a bit of a side project connected to a friend of mine, a young guy with a family and kids who very unexpectedly became an amputee. Like me, he struggled with his mental health but he got rally into fitness and now runs bootcamps for amputees. His philosophy is “I’ve lost a limb, not my life.” I wanted to do something for him because he’s always looking out for others and he told me his ultimate dream is to drive a racing car. My search to fulfil this led me to a professional racing organisation for the disabled and we are looking to host a driving event for amputees. We have around 200 people who are interested and it’s being turned into a TV documentary!
As a result of this, we have bought our own race are and have plans to run a 24-hour race next year with a team of neuro-diverse, disabled, and less privileged drivers. Running a CIC has given me a reason to get out of bed, a purpose.