Norwich rallies to SOS from life-saving project

By 2007 it had become evident the much-loved SOS Bus which had helped thousands of people enjoy a safer night out in Norwich over the years was operating on borrowed time.

The project itself might have been a success, but the bus from which it was operating, which was sponsored by the Evening News, was proving increasingly fallible with repeated mechanical breakdowns. Sometimes not able to take up its position at the weekends.

With the mechanical gremlins, which afflicted almost every moving part on the bus, from the gearbox to starter motor to the suspension bags which inflated the bus, becoming more frequent and the repeated bills to repair the bus soaring, a decision was made to try to find a replacement.

And, in December 2007, a fundraising drive was launched to get a replacement SOS Bus for Norwich which could reliably serve for the forseeable future and beyond.

Bus staff set themselves an ambitious target of raising �200,000 by March the following year to give them the chance of getting a state-of-the art replacement on to the streets by the end of 2008. An appeal was made to businesses and the public.

The Brickmakers pub in Sprowston was one of a number of organisations to help by holding an all-day bank holiday 'bandathon'. The event helped raise almost �2,000 and landlady Pam South said it was a project well worth supporting.

She said: 'We have young people who use us and then go into the city and there's been occasions where a couple of them have had to use it.

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'As a parent you're worried out of your mind if you've got teenagers in the city but if the SOS Bus is there it is somewhere people can go and get help.' Despite the country being on the brink of a recession, Colin Lang MBE, who helped set up the bus, revealed in August 2008 the money had been raised to buy, not just one, but two life-saving buses for Norwich.

The plan was for one of the buses to be used as a safe haven for drunk and vulnerable people at night and as a mobile classroom during the day, visiting schools warning about the dangers of alcohol and drugs.

The second bus was to be a fully equipped medical unit, complete with qualified staff, to operate as a mobile accident and emergency department.

The two buses, which cost between �350,000 and �400,000, were bought after �10,000 received from Liquid nightclub in Prince Of Wales Road helped unlock a further �10,000 of Norwich City Council funding to almost complete the target figure.

Mr Lang said the old 55ft Mercedes bus, which started its life on the streets of Berlin, would be broken up and sent to a breakers yard.

Mr Lang said businesses in Norwich had been generous and all the county's district councils, with the exception of two, had contributed – with Broadland District Council giving �30,000.

To find out more about the SOS Bus project or how you can donate or volunteer call 01603 763111 or log onto

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

Have you been helped by the SOS Bus? Call reporter Peter Walsh on 01603 772436 or email

The city's new SOS Buses

Together they cost a total of �500,000 but these two machines will prove they are worth every penny as they bring the work of the city's life saving SOS bus project into the 21st century.

The new 12m-long Optare bus andplus the new 8.8m-long medical unit bus , bothalso made by Optare, have been helping to provide a safe haven for drunk and vulnerable people in the city since November 2008.

The medical unit is staffed by three people, a clinician, an assistant and a registered door staff supervisor, and effectively operates as a mobile accident and emergency department.

The equipment in the medical unit is similar to what would be found in a cubicle at A&E and has been approved by the East of England Ambulance Service Trust (EEAST) to come up to NHS standards.

Equipment inside includes a defibrillator, suction devices, oxygen and the qualified staff will be able to stitch glue and steri strip to prevent people having to go to A&E.

The technology on board also includes an SMS (short message service) messages system which can send messages up to 2km away about safety issues, missing people;persons, mobile internet connections; wi-fi; and radios that connect with pubs in the area.

CCTV cameras are on the top of the bus and inside there is space for staff to sit make food and drinks and for revellers to wait for taxis or for a lift home.

The project also now has two new additional vehicles, a new support vehicle which is a London taxi cab and a community responder vehicle which will work in conjunction with the ambulance service to respond to heart attacks and other medical emergencies.