The Club actively supports both financially and with members volunteering the SOS Bus (Belfast) - an award winning charity based in Belfast. The project originated from a similar project in Norwich which has approximately 50% of the population of Belfast and where over the past 8 years some 5500 people have benefited from it. After a 2 year consultation process a case was made for an SOS Bus to be established in Belfast and it was launched on 27th November 2007. The project has a small fleet of vehicles including 2 x 60ft ‘bendy’ buses each equipped with a fully functioning medical centre that are crewed by a Pro Paramedics medical team together with audio visual equipment and IT access wherever they go, a bespoke minibus and 2 towed generators.
The Club's involvement began with a presentation by Chief Executive Officer Joe Hyland (now a Club member). Since its inception the bus has been used in Shaftesbury Square, Belfast as a means of support for people who have become distressed or vulnerable through over-indulgence of either alcohol or drugs or who feel threatened or isolated after becoming separated from their friends. The dedicated teams of volunteers reach out to those in need and bring them to the bus where they receive tea and biscuits, medical attention or hospitalisation if required and safe transportation home. From October 2010 a second bus has been deployed at the Odyssey Arena where already they have saved lives and protected vulnerable youngsters in quite desperate need. Overall this project has been a huge success and drawn praise from many quarters including the PSNI, local politicians and the media.
To date, SOS Bus has interacted with over 157,000 people, had over 4,700 individuals on board the buses receiving care or medical support and potentially saved 9 lives.
Without the generosity and dedication of about 150 volunteers and supporters the bus could not operate. Several Club members have volunteered for the late night shift at the weekend, befriending young people in difficulty from alcohol or drugs, in the Odyssey Arena and ensuring they get home safely. They have found the work gratifying and powerful and intend to continue working to make a difference. Their experiences, shared with Club members, testify to the importance of this project and its value to vulnerable young people.
Funding is desperately needed - they need to raise just over 6,000 per week to provide Paramedical and logistical support to run their core services. The Club has been pleased to support SOS Bus in this way with funds over the last years from the Club charity disbursements, Tree for Life Collections at Christmas and and in particular the SOS Bus received some of the funds generated from the Charity Garden Party held in June 2012.
On his recent visit to District 1160 RIBI President John Minhinick and his wife Shiela visited their Rtn Joe at his headquarters with President Alan and was highly impressed. Also there were (from 3rd left) District Governor Jack and his wife Maisie, District Governor Nominee Phillip Beggs and Club Past President Derek Baxter. (click on image to enlarge)
Community Outreach is a becoming significant area of their work and they commenced delivery of this activity during 2009 in Ballymurphy, Sliabh Dubh and Glencairn. Having ascertained local needs from June 2010 they now bring the SOS Bus to the Hillhall Estate, Lisburn – a community suffering from significant social disadvantage. Key projects currently being delivered include:
- Diversionary projects for young people to help reduce anti-social behaviour
- Support for carers of people with long-term illness
- Taster sessions on areas such as IT, numeracy and literacy
- Community clean-ups
- Inter-generational projects involving the elderly and young people to promote active partnership and respect
- Health projects with local partners
- Community volunteer programme.