Medway Council has thrown the SOS bus a lifeline after donating £10,000 to keep the service on the road.
Since its launch in May 2009 the project has become a key part of efforts to improve the safety and enjoyment of people enjoying a night out in Medway. In a number of cases the intervention of its volunteers have been credited as saving lives.
Since that time nearly 1,300 people have been on board – some to rehydrate after a night on the town; others seeking help to get home or for a warm place to go away from the cold.
It has also significantly reduced pressure on A&E services at Medway Maritime Hospital with on board Red Cross volunteers treating 156 people – not all for drink-related issues - who may otherwise have required medical attention. The project is estimated to have saved the NHS £8,837 so far.
The donation by Medway Council follows an agreement by the Council for Voluntary Service (Medway) to underwrite the SOS bus project until the end of June and will give it the breathing space needed to put funding on a more permanent footing. That includes a bid for lottery funding, the outcome of which is expected later this year.
Cllr Mike O’Brien, the council’s portfolio holder for community safety and enforcement, said: “I am delighted to be able to donate £10,000 to the SOS Bus project in recognition of the vital role it is playing in ensuring Medway stays safe at night.
“Over the past two years the bus has become a place of refuge for people out enjoying themselves in Rochester and across Medway, and in many cases quite vulnerable people seeking help and support.
“On a number of occasions the intervention of the SOS project has saved the tax payer money by preventing ambulances from being called and in some cases actually saving lives.
“It has also built up a reputation as a vital promotion service for day time health education programmes.
“In the long run I hope that the SOS Bus can become self funding with a greater financial input by the pubs and clubs and other night time businesses for whom it has brought such benefit.”
The bright orange single-decker and support vehicle are managed by the Council for Voluntary Service Medway based in New Road Avenue, Chatham.
Martin Featherstone, CVS(Medway)chief executive, said: “The SOS bus project has been shown tremendous support by the police, council and the health service before and since the project launched in May 2009.
“But in these difficult economic times we realise that we cannot take their future support for granted and if we are to make this project a permanent fixture we need greater community support.
“This donation will give the project management board sufficient breathing space to seek further funding with decisions awaited on various potential sources, including lottery funding.
“Our big hope remains that we can follow the example of Norwich, the location of the UK’s first SOS bus, and become self-financing. They took 10 years to achieve that so we have our work cut out.
“I hope that people are beginning to see the value of the service here in Medway and will show their support if they possibly can by making a donation – big or small – or by signing up as a volunteer.”
To make a donation send a cheque or postal order to CVS Medway, Under 1 Roof, 5A New Road Avenue, Chatham, ME4 6BB. To find out more about sponsoring the SOS Bus project call Robin Wharfe on 01634 812850.
To find out more about the SOS bus, including the latest on the project's weekend work, signing up as a volunteer or hiring either vehicle for events, visit the SOS Bus website www.sosbusmedway.co.uk.