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What I saw on my night spent with the SOS Bus in Norwich

PUBLISHED: 11:13 22 December 2019 | UPDATED: 11:13 22 December 2019

Scenes in Norwich on Black Friday with the SOS Bus and emergency services. Photo: Emily Thomson

Scenes in Norwich on Black Friday with the SOS Bus and emergency services. Photo: Emily Thomson

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The Friday before Christmas is notorious for being one of the busiest nights of the year for emergency services as party-goers celebrate the festive holidays. Our reporter EMILY THOMSON spent the night with Norwich's SOS Bus to see how this year's 'Black Friday' would unfold...

Scenes in Norwich on Black Friday with the SOS Bus and emergency services. Photo: Emily ThomsonScenes in Norwich on Black Friday with the SOS Bus and emergency services. Photo: Emily Thomson

It was the first call out of the night. At 11pm on Friday, December 20, volunteers from the SOS Bus turned up outside of St Andrews Brew House where they were met by a man with his head between his legs.

A glimpse of what was to come, this was the start of Norwich's Black Friday night and the 20-year-old, who was out on his work Christmas-do, was its first victim.

He claimed he wasn't usually a drinker as the St John Ambulance volunteers placed a sick bowl under his mouth and assisted him onto the bus where he was eventually collected by his parents.

Scenes in Norwich on Black Friday with the SOS Bus and emergency services. Photo: Emily ThomsonScenes in Norwich on Black Friday with the SOS Bus and emergency services. Photo: Emily Thomson

The SOS Bus is a multi-agency initiative to reduce unnecessary ambulance callouts by offering immediate assistance to anyone at risk.

Abi Debnam is shift coordinator on the bus, but she says "it's not just the drunk bus" calling it a safe haven for those in need of warmth, safety, a pair flip flops or even just a chat.

She said: "Historically it's a very busy night and I have done quite a few now but we are here for everything, even for people who are just trying to get a taxi home.

"It's somewhere to stay if they have lost a friend or to charge their phone It's a great service and it keeps people safe."

Scenes in Norwich on Black Friday with the SOS Bus and emergency services. Photo: Emily ThomsonScenes in Norwich on Black Friday with the SOS Bus and emergency services. Photo: Emily Thomson

Police requested the attendance of the SOS volunteers when a man, who was heavily intoxicated, was hit by a car but appeared to be okay.

Despite claiming he was fine and that he only hurt his shoulder the man, who appeared to be in his 50s, was kept on the bus and assessed by Mike Tillyer, the paramedic on board - he was later taken to hospital.

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Mr Tillyer also works for the East of England Ambulance service. He said: "As a paramedic I have previously responded to the bus and responded to the city centre in general on Black Friday.

Scenes in Norwich on Black Friday with the SOS Bus and emergency services. Photo: Emily ThomsonScenes in Norwich on Black Friday with the SOS Bus and emergency services. Photo: Emily Thomson

"It can often be carnage and it's the one night of the year people like to go drinking. There are lots of work-dos and office parties so it can be one of our busier nights.

"As a service we are busy all of the time but this time of the year with regards to people drinking recreationally and needing that extra support."

READ MORE: Ten people arrested on 'aggressive' night in Norwich

A young woman asked for the help of the SOS Bus after she had lost her friends and her phone had run out of battery.

Scenes in Norwich on Black Friday with the SOS Bus and emergency services. Photo: Emily ThomsonScenes in Norwich on Black Friday with the SOS Bus and emergency services. Photo: Emily Thomson

Whilst in the care of volunteers she explained she was a new mum and it was her first time drinking since giving birth, which is why she got so drunk.

Beth Williams, the bus manager, charged her phone and they were able to find someone to pick her up.

Although the night was not as busy at the team expected, Ms Williams said they had quite a few challenging situations including a man who had passed out in the street with no home to go to, fights outside of the bus, and call outs for their assistance when help was already at hand.

Belinda Buxton is an advanced paramedic who has been a volunteer at St John Ambulance service for 25 years and with the bus for seven years.

Scenes in Norwich on Black Friday with the SOS Bus and emergency services. Photo: Emily ThomsonScenes in Norwich on Black Friday with the SOS Bus and emergency services. Photo: Emily Thomson

She was on the scene when a girl at Mantra night club had taken a cocktail of drugs which had left her unresponsive needing urgent medical assistance - she was already being cared for at the scene and an ambulance was called.

After a steady night of call outs which stopped at around 4am, all of those dealt with by the SOS Bus team were able to make their way home or they were picked up by family or friends after being discharged.

Beth Williams added: "As long as we help one person, we have done our job. We have a fantastic team, apart from security and the paramedic they are all volunteers who donate their Friday and Saturday nights to help others."

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