I owe my life to Norwich SOS Bus

The SOS Bus has been providing a safe haven for those in need in the city for almost 10 years. In the fourth of a six-part series, reporter PETER WALSH speaks to one of those people that owes their life to volunteers working on the bus.

Since it hit the streets of Norwich in April 2001 the pioneering SOS Bus project has come to the aid of more than 6,000 people in need of help.

The original bendy-bus offered help and support to 5,050 people until it was replaced in November 2008, while the new buses – the replacement SOS Bus vehicle and the medical bus – have helped a total of 1,363 people since then. But of those 6,413 people to have been helped, one person in particular has special reason to be grateful the SOS Bus is there.

John Stanford, 20, from Eaton, pictured above, was celebrating on New Year's Eve with a group of friends when he fell down a flight of stairs at Essence bar on Prince of Wales Road.

Door staff at the venue alerted the nearby SOS Bus team, and St John's Ambulance first aider Julie Reeve and SOS Bus volunteer Derek Smith sprinted to the venue to give immediate assistance, followed closely by support vehicle driver Paul Corder.

The volunteers rushed to where John was unconscious at the bottom of the flight of stairs and took immediate action to ensure that he was protected in case he had suffered a spinal injury. For the Stanfords, it was a nightmare start to 2011, as the family, including mum Jeanette and brother James, 17, kept a vigil by John's bedside at Addenbrooke's Hospital in Cambridge.

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John had an operation in which part of his skull was removed and he spent more than a week in a coma because his injuries were so severe.

But after a week John woke up and surprised everyone by being well enough to leave hospital and return to the family home in Norton Drive within three weeks.

The marketing worker for Gasway, at Sweetbriar Industrial Estate, still does not have part of his skull, where it was removed to reduce the pressure caused by any swelling, and he will have to have a plate put in later this year.

But thanks to the care he received from the very start, the former City of Norwich School pupil is now making an astonishing return to fitness.

He said: 'I'm on the road to recovery now and am really quite well. I've been quite lucky and am very grateful for all the help everyone has given me, from the SOS Bus to the hospital.

'I think the SOS Bus is a great service, it really helped me after my accident. If they hadn't got there as quickly as they did it could have been a lot worse, they saved my life. I will always be grateful to them for that.'

John said it is vital the SOS Bus project remains on the streets of Norwich and urged others to support it.

John's father Colin handed over �1,500 to the SOS Bus project, which he and his colleagues at NatWest raised as a way of saying thank you to the life-saving service.

Mr Stanford, 50, said: 'The work of the SOS Bus Project is vital and if it wasn't for them my son might not be here today. It's not the first charity that would come into someone's mind, but without it there would be no help there.'

A group of nine of John's friends, who all went to the City of Norwich School sixth form, have also teamed up to organise a five-day charity bike ride from Norwich to Amsterdam and back in July.

To sponsor the bike ride to Amsterdam, log on to www.justgiving.com/sos-savedourstanners.

See tomorrow's Evening News to hear from some of the volunteers who have given their time to ensure the bus is such a great success story.

The SOS Bus Project is always on the lookout for volunteers and offers training to anyone over the age of 18 who might be able to help, whether as a potential driver, or shift leader. For further information, contact Jenny Smith on 01603 763111.

To find out more about the SOS Bus project call 01603 763111 or log onto www.sosbus.co.uk/

To contact the SOS Bus's emergency number call 07833 505505.

Have you been helped by the SOS Bus? Call Peter Walsh on 01603 772436 or email peter.walsh@archant.co.uk