Focus On: The SOS Bus

SOS Bus and volunteers

The SOS Bus is a safe space in the centre of Norwich’s nightlife for anyone needing help or feeling vulnerable.

The “big yellow bus” has been a feature of Norwich’s night time economy for over 21 years and has helped enormously with keeping ambulance callouts and A&E admissions down. In 2022 we prevented 160 ambulance call outs and 153 A&E visits. More than 2,620 people sought help and assistance from the SOS Bus in 2022 and our volunteers gave over 4,300 hours of their time to help keep the revellers of Norwich safe and well. The Bus also helps free up Police time by looking after people they feel are vulnerable and in need of help.

SOS Bus on a shift

SOS Bus on a shift

On an average Saturday night how many people does the SOS Bus help? 

We could help 20 or more people with various needs. We do everything from handing out bottles of water, to providing flip flops for sore feet, giving people taxi numbers for them to call, or a place to charge their phone all the way through to dealing with injuries that may otherwise require a trip to hospital.

How can people avoid needing to take a trip to the SOS bus? 

It’s important to plan your journey home even before you leave to go out. Make sure your phone is fully charged (although we can charge your phone for you if its flat or getting low).  Drink in moderation or stagger your drinks with a soft drink instead.  We provide bottles of water free of charge for this purpose.  Stay together with friends and look after each other.  If you need our help, put our number in your phone 07833 505505.  It is extremely helpful if you have entered details in your emergency / Medical ID section on your phone.  It means we can get contact details for friends or family if needed, if you are not able to help at that time.

Can people seek the help of the SOS Bus if they believe they have been spiked?

Yes they can.  We are part of an Anti-Spiking Campaign which has been running since before Covid in partnership with Norfolk Constabulary, SSY Group and Norfolk & Norwich University Hospital.  We can give people a safe place to be assessed by our medical team. Spikings can make you feel incredibly vulnerable and unwell.  We have anti-spiking kits onboard which can be completed with the client’s co-operation and sent for testing to the Pathology Department at the Norfolk & Norwich University Hospital.  The results of this can be requested by the person involved and forwarded to the Police if they so wish.

To avoid calling an ambulance what do staff on the SOS Bus do to help people?

SOS Bus and volunteers

SOS Bus volunteers help people in need on Friday and Saturday nights

We have a paramedic and emergency first responder on the bus and they can assess and treat a variety of injuries and medical conditions, including wound closure, possible fractures and bone muscle and joint injuries and monitoring intoxicated casualties who would otherwise have been taken to hospital via ambulance. If after someone has been assessed by our medical team, they decide a visit to A&E is necessary but not via ambulance, our support vehicle can transport them to the hospital without the need to call an ambulance.

Here is a case which highlights our prevention: Three young men had been out on a night out and came to the SOS Bus. One of them had a wad of bloodied blue roll on his mouth. First aiders on the SOS Bus had a look at him – he had split his bottom lip. It turned out that the young man in was laughing so hard in the pub that he had bent forward and cut his mouth on his pint glass sitting on the table. Once the lip had been glued and dressed by the paramedic, they decided to call a taxi and head home. The SOS Bus therefore had prevented an A&E visit as the client was able to be treated on the bus. It also avoided a police intervention as the injury was clearly not the result of an assault.

How can the general public support the SOS bus? 

We are always in need of more volunteers, so if you have a non-judgemental approach, are caring and patient, that’s all you need to be a volunteer with us. We also have a donation page on our website where you can make a donation towards keeping the service running.  It costs over £1,500 per shift to run the service. We do receive funding but we do have a shortfall between funding and actual running costs that we have to try to find each year. So, any donations or offers of help would be gratefully received.

How many staff members and volunteers work on board the SOS Bus?

Generally we have 5 or 6 volunteers on each shift, depending on whether it’s a particularly busy weekend like Halloween or perhaps a new volunteer on their 1st observer shift. The team consists of a Shift Co-Ordinator who leads the team, a Support Vehicle driver and 3 shift support who are there to care and look after our clients. We also have 1 person working security, along with a paramedic and emergency first responder, all working as one team to help.