"You often don't know what you've got until it's gone," said clinical nurse specialist, Tracey Slater.

"People often compliment us and tell us what a great job we're doing. 

"And now we need their support more than ever."

Norwich Evening News: Tracey Slater (left) and Belinda Buxton (right)Tracey Slater (left) and Belinda Buxton (right) (Image: William Warnes)

Tracey is one of a number of volunteers who sacrifices her Friday and Saturday evenings to work on Norwich's SOS Bus. 

The service, which operates from the bottom of Prince of Wales Road between 9.30pm and 3.30am, provides vital nightlife assistance to anyone in Norwich whose wellbeing is at risk.

But now the future of the Bus is under threat due to NHS funding cuts.

Norwich Evening News: L-R: Mel Betts, Daniel Rowe, Tracey Slater, Tim Lukosevicius-Spooner, Belinda Buxton, Millie Stephenson, Adrian Jones and Paul DodsonL-R: Mel Betts, Daniel Rowe, Tracey Slater, Tim Lukosevicius-Spooner, Belinda Buxton, Millie Stephenson, Adrian Jones and Paul Dodson (Image: William Warnes)

"I moved to Norwich about a year ago," said Tracey. 

"One night around Christmas 2021, I got a call at 3.30am to say my son was on the SOS Bus.

"We just thought he was drunk, but the alcohol had mixed with medication he was taking at the time.

"Someone found him off the beaten track and brought him here. 

"That's when I decided to sign up."

Norwich Evening News: The SOS Bus is run almost entirely by volunteersThe SOS Bus is run almost entirely by volunteers (Image: Newsquest)

Last year, the SOS Bus - which is run almost entirely by volunteers - helped 2,623 people. 

Some 205 of those attended with injuries and 33 needed help with their mental health. 

It is estimated that 160 ambulance call-outs were prevented, saving the NHS more than £123,000, and 107 A&E visits were avoided, saving more than £34,000.

"If we weren't here, people would be piling up outside A&E," said Paul Dodson, a paramedic of 43 years. 

Norwich Evening News: Paul Dodson, a paramedic of more than 43 yearsPaul Dodson, a paramedic of more than 43 years (Image: William Warnes)

"We can get call-outs to people collapsed in the street from minute one.

"We serve as a safety net that helps to ease the pressure on the NHS."

For the last four years, Voluntary Norfolk has been providing the gap in resources - with funding failing to cover the costs of the Bus, even with donations from members of the public.

And now local health service chiefs are believed to be weighing up whether the service is surplus to requirements - with the new wellness hub that opened in Castle Quarter this year potentially expanding.

Norwich Evening News: Inside the SOS BusInside the SOS Bus (Image: William Warnes)

"There is quite a bit of misunderstanding about what we do," said Belinda Buxton, a volunteer for more than 10 years. 

"People seem to think we're just the drunk bus. But we're so much more than that. 

"We help with accidents, medical problems, assaults and mental health.

"If needed, we take people to A&E and sometimes even drive them home. 

"We have support staff who will drive to call-outs from clubs or venues and bring people back here who need our help.

Norwich Evening News: A space in the back of the bus for volunteers to take a well-earned breakA space in the back of the bus for volunteers to take a well-earned break (Image: William Warnes)

"We'll also charge mobile phones and offer flip flops to stop people hurting themselves on nights out.

"If someone needs our support we will stay with them until a responsible carer picks them up or we are confident they are okay - even past 3.30am.

"We wouldn't just kick someone out who's vulnerable."

Norwich Evening News: The Evening News' SOS for SOS campaignThe Evening News' SOS for SOS campaign (Image: Newsquest)

The big, yellow SOS Bus was launched in April 2001 after the tragic deaths of Nick Green, 16, and James Toms, 21, in the River Yare

Since then, it has become a staple of Norwich's nightlife scene.

"This is an incredibly important service," said volunteer Tim Lukosevicius-Spooner.

Norwich Evening News: Tim Lukosevicius-Spooner (left) and Adrian Jones (right)Tim Lukosevicius-Spooner (left) and Adrian Jones (right) (Image: William Warnes)

"It's a non-judgemental space that supports people when they need it most.

"I have a daughter and knowing something like this is here just makes Norwich safer."

The Norfolk and Waveney Integrated Care System launched a public survey last month about the future of the SOS Bus.

It claims no decisions have been made about closing the service.

"We are inviting people to share their feedback and experiences to ensure that the SOS Bus meets the needs of those who have used it," a spokesman said.

"The Wellness Hub is keen to develop the services it currently offers."