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'It's not just a drunk bus' - inside the city's SOS Bus

PUBLISHED: 08:14 21 November 2019 | UPDATED: 08:14 21 November 2019

The SOS bus. 
Picture: Denise Bradley

The SOS bus. Picture: Denise Bradley

Archant © 2011

It's not just a drunk bus. That is the message from the team behind Norwich's well-known SOS Bus, as it embarks on a new chapter.

SOS Bus on Prince of Wales Road, Norwich on a Saturday night. Photo: James BassSOS Bus on Prince of Wales Road, Norwich on a Saturday night. Photo: James Bass

The 17-metre-long vehicle was originally founded in 2001, after the deaths of Nick Green, 16, and James Toms, 21, whose bodies were found in the river after separate nights out.

Since then, the distinctive yellow bus has helped thousands of people enjoying the city's clubland - but along the way has picked up a reputation as the go-to for those who are drunk, or under the influence of drugs.

Having been run by the Open Youth Trust for 11 years, in April the management of the bus - which parks on Prince of Wales Road, towards the train station, on Friday and Saturday nights - was taken over by Voluntary Norfolk.

And the team is keen to show another side to its work.

Beth Williams, volunteer and SOS Bus development manager, said: "We are not reinventing the bus, what we are doing is moving forward. We want Norwich to be proud of it.

"It's not just a drunk bus. We don't want people to feel as though they have to be intoxicated to come on - people come on for all sorts of reasons, whether that is to feel safe, have a chat or to get a bottle of water."

A key part of the new chapter, she said, is raising awareness of its many other uses.

As well as supporting those who have had too much to drink, Ms Williams said its volunteers assess people with medical concerns, hand out water, plasters and safety pins, sell flip flops, offer vulnerable people a safe haven and provide a safe place to wait for a taxi.

Some people will arrive just to talk, sometimes about their mental health - or sit and wait while charging their phones.

"Today a mobile phone can be a payment method," Ms Williams said, "a way of getting home, a way of finding their friends. It's a form of security."

In July, August and September, the team saw 185 people, with 96 having made contact themselves, another 46 referred on by venues, 31 by police and one by the ambulance service.

The reasons for visits included homelessness, drugs, mental health concerns, injury or to seek information and advice.

The SOS Bus in numbers

- Seven volunteers, including two St John Ambulance members, a dedicated security member and paramedic, staff the bus on each shift.

- 07833 505505 is its number. Volunteers can leave the bus to support those in need calling from nearby.

- 9.30pm to 3.30am - the time the bus is out on weekends. The team said the shifts sometimes run later.

- £125,000 - the overall cost of the SOS Bus project each year.

- The three NHS clinical commissioning groups (for Norwich, north Norfolk and south Norfolk), as well as the county council's public health team, which part fund the bus.

- 2001 - the year it was founded.

- The team has three vehicles - the main SOS bus, the medical unit and a mobile support vehicle.

- 26 - the average age for SOS bus users. From July to September the youngest visitor was 15, and the oldest 69.

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