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How the SOS Bus volunteers brave Black Friday and help keep Norwich’s club revellers safe

PUBLISHED: 20:10 22 December 2018

The SOS Bus on Prince of Wales Road. Picture: Abigail Nicholson

The SOS Bus on Prince of Wales Road. Picture: Abigail Nicholson

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Reporter Abigail Nicholson joined volunteers on the Norwich SOS Bus for one of the busiest nights out of the year - Black Friday.

The SOS Bus is a multi-agency initiative to reduce unnecessary ambulance call-outs by offering immediate assistance to anyone at risk. Picture: Abigail NicholsonThe SOS Bus is a multi-agency initiative to reduce unnecessary ambulance call-outs by offering immediate assistance to anyone at risk. Picture: Abigail Nicholson

A man stumbles aboard carried by two first responders and his friend, who says ‘he couldn’t handle the free booze at the Christmas party.’

He is handed a sick bowl and, after half an hour, volunteers are able to rang his father to pick him up.

It is only 9.41pm, and the start of a long night on the SOS bus.

The bus is a multi-agency initiative to reduce unnecessary ambulance call-outs by offering immediate assistance to anyone at risk.

The SOS Bus is a multi-agency initiative to reduce unnecessary ambulance call-outs by offering immediate assistance to anyone at risk. Picture: Abigail NicholsonThe SOS Bus is a multi-agency initiative to reduce unnecessary ambulance call-outs by offering immediate assistance to anyone at risk. Picture: Abigail Nicholson

Or, in other words, a lifeline for those who are ill, injured, in emotional distress or prone to some other vulnerability while out on Norwich’s Prince of Wales road.

Its team will usually consist of seven volunteers, including two St John Ambulance members, a dedicated security member and a paramedic.

The two men who first came aboard the bus on Black Friday were a glimpse of the night to come.

They herald a steady stream of people who, in most cases, have drunk too much, or in others, are the victim of someone else who didn’t know when to stop.

Some SOS Bus essentials, absorbant granules, sick trays and kitchen roll. A volunteer said: “10 grams will solidify one litre of liquid.”Picture: Abigail NicholsonSome SOS Bus essentials, absorbant granules, sick trays and kitchen roll. A volunteer said: “10 grams will solidify one litre of liquid.”Picture: Abigail Nicholson

The bus was set up after two teenagers were found dead in the Wensum in late 2000 and a third young person was found dead in a nightclub toilet due to alcohol related problems. They aged from 17-21.

Since its founding in November 2008, it has helped thousands of people in Norwich’s clubland and saves the NHS £274,000 worth of ambulance visits each year.

Belinda Buxton, shift leader on the SOS Bus said: “A lot of people think we just help people that are intoxicated and are throwing up, but we do much more than that.

“The bus is a safe place for anybody who may be in danger or feels at risk of harm. We charge people’s phones so they can get into contact with friends, hand out flip flops to women who may have hurt themselves in their stilettos, and give out free water.”

The bus is in radio contact with the police, ambulance service, CCTV, local pubs and nightclubs via the Siren digital radio system.

Throughout the six hours we were on board, only two females were attended to, with volunteers explaining how unusual this was.

The average age for users of the SOS bus is 26, and one first responder said: “A lot of people expect that we attend to underage drinkers that haven’t thought of how to get home.

“In reality we do tend to a lot of women in their 20s that have hurt themselves or had too much to drink.”

On our shift, two head injuries were attended to in the early hours of Saturday morning and one man collapsed in a club on Prince of Wales Road and was kicked in the head.

Another man had a nasty wound glued closed by an on-board paramedic before he was sent on his way.

But while old fashioned medical techniques are vital tools for the volunteers, there are more modern methods the bus can tap in to.

A member of St John Ambulance spoke about the importance of revellers having a ‘medical ID’ on their mobile phone.

“About 50pc of what we do is look for a patient’s medical ID so we can contact somebody they live with,” he said.

“I can’t emphasise enough, the importance of having the ID set up with contact numbers, allergies and medications in case of an emergency.”

When asked about why they give up their time to volunteer on the bus, one shift support worker said: “I like knowing that when people are in danger and too drunk to know where they are, that I helped them get back to their bed, safe.

“I’m a mother and would hate to wake up to my child’s bed empty.”

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