SOS Bus Engagement

15th September 2023

Everyone in Norfolk and Waveney deserves to live well. That’s why our NHS organisations, councils, public services, and voluntary and community partners are working together as an integrated health and care system.

We asked local people about their experiences and opinions regarding the SOS Bus which can be found on Prince of Wales Road in Norwich on most Friday and Saturday nights. We were keen to understand the local community’s opinion on the SOS Bus, whether they have used the service before and whether they value a “safe space” in Norwich on a Friday and Saturday night. As part of the process, we also engaged with a number of local stakeholders to ascertain and understand their views in relation to the SOS Bus and the issues facing Norwich’s night-time Economy.   

The SOS Bus service was established in April 2001 to provide a ‘first point of contact’, support and first aid to people who are in Norwich City Centre on Friday and Saturday nights.

The current service is being delivered by Voluntary Norfolk. The funding given to Voluntary Norfolk (VN) is on a grant basis. VN requested additional funding to which the ICB could not support. It was therefore deemed appropriate to ask our local service users if it met the needs and where any improvements could be made.  This also allowed the ICB to explore other options once the engagement closed.

For a period of five weeks, we carried out an engagement exercise to understand and gain feedback from the local community about their views and opinions on the SOS Bus

Our approach

Our survey asked people very simple questions to understand if the current service is being used, what improvements could be made to the service, or whether a “safe space” is still required in Norwich on Friday and Saturday nights. This would help us to inform the requirements for grant funding to a provider who is able to deliver a quality service which offers best value for money.

The feedback

There was a total of 578 respondents of the survey.

Key themes were:

Safety and Security: Many respondents reported that they felt safe and secure when using the bus service, particularly in situations where they were vulnerable, such as being intoxicated, lost, or having lost contact with friends.

Medical Assistance: A number of responses highlighted the immediate medical aid provided by the bus service, ranging from dealing with injuries and incidents of spiking, to potentially serious situations like severe intoxication and assaults.

Support for friends or family: Responders detailed scenarios where the service was used to support friends or family who were in need of help, emphasising the value of the bus as a resource for the wider community, not just for the individuals directly using it.

Prevention of additional strain on emergency services: There are instances where respondents have suggested that the SOS bus service potentially alleviates the burden on other emergency services such as the ambulance service, A&E departments, and the police, though this perspective is from their personal experiences and not based on quantifiable data.

Role of Volunteers and Staff: Respondents appreciated the role of the volunteers and staff, who are often mentioned as being professional, helpful, and caring.

Potential for Improvement: While largely positive, there were a few responses suggesting room for improvement or expressing dissent.

Drugs and Spiking: Several responses specifically mentioned the bus service’s role in helping victims of drink spiking.

We also engaged with a number of local partners, to understand their views regarding a “safe space” within Norwich.

In summary,

The engagement conducted by the ICB evidences the current model of a “safe space” for Norwich is still required and important to the community. The engagement highlighted the resource is valued, utilised by both members of the public and local stakeholders, elevates pressure on critical services, as well as providing safety and support.

Unfortunately, the increase in funding requested by Voluntary Norfolk was unable to be met by the ICB in isolation, so a new provider was sought who is able to deliver a “like for like” quality service which offers best value for money within the same funding envelope. 

We did

Following feedback from local people and partners, and a thorough evaluation of the service it was clear a night-time provision was valued and needed within Norwich.  You, our residents, staff, and communities told us we should keep this service for many different reasons.

The SOS Bus service is delivered by Voluntary Norfolk. From April 2024, NHS Norfolk and Waveney has agreed to award grant funding to St John Ambulance (SJA) to deliver a like-for-like late-night ‘safe space’ service to support the night-time economy in the Prince of Wales Road area of Norwich.

SJA has a long history of supporting the NHS and currently run late-night ‘safe haven’ schemes across the UK in partnership with local police and councils, delivering emergency medical care as well as welfare support.

Therefore, a mobile unit will continue to be present in the locality of the Norwich Night-Time Economy.