Money raised for Comic Relief is having an impact on Norwich’s nightlife
PUBLISHED: 09:18 31 January 2017 | UPDATED: 12:33 31 January 2017
Deserving community groups benefitted from almost £40,000 in charity cash last year, distributed by the Evening News in association with the Norfolk Community Foundation and Comic Relief - and this year we’ve teamed up with the charity again, to give away even more money.
For 2017, this newspaper will be looking to support more local causes, as we join forces with Comic Relief - whose 2017 national appeal launches today.
Reporter Geraldine Scott met volunteers at a Norwich organisation to see how grants given away last year were put to work on our doorsteps.
From cuts and grazes to making sure a young Mexican woman was able to fly home, a small team of volunteers is keeping Norwich’s revellers and homeless safe every weekend, from an unassuming hut perfectly placed at the top of Prince of Wales Road.
Safe Haven, also known at City Response, has been going for four years, and simply aim to help anyone who needs their assistance.
On Saturday night, it was a shift the same as any other for the volunteers, with hi-vis jackets donned and tea flasks filled, they took to the streets to first make the rounds and check on the city’s rough sleepers.
They looked to see whether known people were sleeping, if they needed anything and doled out much-appreciated hot chocolates and biscuits.
One man, who was sleeping rough outside Superdrug on St Stephen’s Street, said he saw the team most weekends.
“I sell the Big Issue during the day,” said the 41-year-old Big Issue seller who wished to remain anonymous.
“I’ve been sleeping rough around two and a half years, I walked out of Bishopbridge House, it all got too much.
“Obviously it’s not very nice being on the street but you get used to it, you have no choice but to do it. There are more people now, they’re coming from other places to here.
“The work this team do for the people sleeping rough is brilliant.”
As they walk the city’s streets, checking doorways and offering advice, the volunteers are in constant contact with HQ - whether to report that someone is fine, or to ask for more supplies.
This is, in part, thanks to technology funded by Comic Relief, after the service secured a £980 grant last year.
Peter Wright, who set up Safe Haven, said the money had helped them to update their technology.
“We were able to get phones, a land line, some volunteer training,” Mr Wright, 66, said.
And it wasn’t only the city’s homeless who received support, as anyone could come in off the street, whether they just wanted to get warm, charge their phone, or were having more serious issues.
One woman, who was out for her birthday, began to have breathing difficulties and was able to sit somewhere safe while she waited for her mother to pick her up.
And volunteers sat with another woman who fell over and broke her wrist outside Stadia until an ambulance came. Mr Wright had already checked whether her wrist was broken, in the hope of saving her an unnecessary trip to A&E.
“There isn’t much a cup of tea and a biscuit won’t solve, we’ve got that here,” Mr Wright said.
“But we don’t get any statutory funding so we have to raise all our own.
“Without the money from Comic Relief we wouldn’t be able to watch the taxis to see people get to their doors, we wouldn’t be able to call parents to come and pick up their children.”
Mr Wright said he first had the idea after seeing an opportunity to support under-pressure emergency services.
“I just thought there was a gap,” said Mr Wright, who was formerly in the building trade.
“People were falling through the net, there are different problems, not one size fits all.”
He said the police and paramedics were stretched, and that’s where he thought he could step in with first aid trained volunteers.
“It frees up their time, we can call a taxi for people if their phones have died, or patch them up if they might otherwise go to A&E.”
Stadia doorman Jack Freeman, 21 said: “We use them every time we need the first aid, if people are drunk or vulnerable, or for the homeless people who sleep near here. It frees me up to carry on with my job, what they do is brilliant.”
Most memorable case
Mr Wright pointed out there had been some more unusual cases over the years.
“Last year, we got a young girl back to Mexico. She came over here from a dating site to meet a man in Norwich, and one of our volunteers Paul found her walking on the street near Thorpe station,” Mr Wright said.
It transpired the man she came to live with had thrown her out after two days and the woman, who was around 23 years old, had no where to go.
“We took her to Norwich airport, but her partner had brought her a ticket home and she couldn’t change any of the details. We ended up having to get special branch in to check she could fly, as she didn’t have any documents, and managed to get her on a plane home thanks to KLM.”
Through the eyes of a volunteer
Lily Ozanne, 22, a student at UEA has been volunteering with the service for around four months.
She said: “It’s something productive to do and I really like the people here. I’d like to work in the charity sector, so it’s good experience too.”
She said her nights consisted mainly of speaking to homeless people, and giving them hot drinks.
“We also help drunk people but that’s a lot less, we’ll help people find their friends, sometimes it’s a little distressing if people are upset or saying ‘I want my mum!’.”
This year’s appeal
Now, Comic Relief is again calling on the people of the East to fundraise and help change lives across the region, UK and Africa.
The last time a Comic Relief appeal was run - as it operates on alternate years with Sports Relief - more than £2.5m was raised and donated by people in the East of England.
And a whole host of local celebrities are getting involved too, including Stephen Fry and Ed Sheeran who is supporting this year’s Red Nose Day on Friday, March 24, when more details will be released on how groups can access funding this year too.
East Anglian-born Ed visited children living on the streets of the Liberian capital Monrovia, many orphaned by the recent Ebola outbreak.
During his trip, Ed visited the Street Child Liberia project which uses Comic Relief cash to help give vulnerable children a better future, reuniting them with their relatives and helping them get back into school.
And Norwich YouTuber Jim Chapman - along with Marcus Butler - are kicking off an awareness campaign to fight for change for vulnerable young people.
They’ll be vlogging about their recent trip to Sierra Leone where they saw the progress that is being made in communities to empower young people and create lasting change.
Red Nose Day will culminate in a night filled with television treats on the BBC as a host of comic favourites preside over a night of live comedy, sketches, music moments, fundraising films and more. For more information, visit bbc.co.uk/rednoseday