Youth outreach bus commissioned in Dereham

The donation of a new youth outreach bus has been celebrated by a volunteer group aiming to provide refuge and advice in areas where help is most needed.

The converted single-decker was formally commissioned on Saturday during a special service at the Breckland Resource Base on London Road in Dereham.

It will be used by Splag, a bus ministry founded by street pastors Lyn Milns and Chris Olley, who have been involved in youth outreach work in the town since 2002.

Although they have previously hired buses to take their experience further afield, the group has not owned a vehicle of its own until the offer was made by Bob Dennison, engineering director of Stagecoach East.

The Splag bus will provide a safe place to socialise or a refuge if necessary, acting as a signpost to other agencies if specialist help is needed for family, health or addiction problems.

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It will include a 'listening post' service where a counsellor will hear the concerns of troubled youngsters and help them access appropriate services.

The group hopes to work with police and councils to target antisocial behaviour trouble-spots across Breckland, building mutual trust and respect by meeting young people in the areas where they congregate and feel comfortable.

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Mrs Milns said: 'Chris and I have both worked on the streets and in hostels, so we know how much this bus was needed.

'When we saw it for the first time, it was very emotional because it was the dream bus we had always hoped to have.

'The key to the project is to provide a safe place and a shelter wherever those young people are at. We will go to where they are hanging around and where they feel comfortable. If they just want to come and have a drink with their mates, that's fine. But at the same time, if they know someone who needs help, then we will try to give them that support.'

Mrs Milns said the interior of the bus had previously been converted for an art project, with all the seats removed and a set of lift-up tables installed along with electrical sockets and heating.

'There is even a space at the back to put a plasma TV if we wanted to,' she said. 'It is everything we could have wanted, and we are so grateful for it.'

When called into specific areas, the group also hopes to engage volunteers from local churches to provide long-term support to youngsters within their community.

The name Splag is short for splagchnizomai, a biblical Greek word meaning 'compassion'.

The volunteer-run group relies on gifts and donations to make the project succeed, and is encouraging schools or community groups to get in touch if they want to use the bus. 'It is a fantastic resource which has been given to us, but we want it to be used by everybody,' said Mrs Milns.

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