The Club has supported, both financially and with members volunteering, SOS NI - an award winning charity, formerly named SOSBus NI, based in Belfast that is making a real difference to children, young people and adults on the streets of Belfast during the night time economy period. It helps, unconditionally, vulnerable people in their time of need. It also works to educate and empower young people to make enhanced life-style choices.
The project originated from a similar project in Norwich which has approximately 50% of the population of Belfast and it was launched on 27th November 2007. A pool of over 230 trained volunteers and medical staff operate from specially designed and equipped vehicles, deploying satellite foot and mobile patrols to extended areas of need. Their fleet of vehicles includes 60ft 'bendy' buses each with its own electrical generator leaving them independent of the national grid and each fully refurbished to provide emergency medical interventions and be a 'Safe Haven' for people in need; mobile SOS Response units, minibuses to 'Reach Out' and proactively seek out the injured, sick and vulnerable wherever they are and to bring them to safety for medical assessment and support. Volunteers also operate foot patrols throughout Belfast City Centre that provide visible reassurance to the public helping them to be safe and to feel safe.
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 with a second bus now deployed at the Odyssey Arena.
They work in partnership with the ambulance service, pubs and clubs, and the police service to make streets safer at night. So far they have interacted with over 248,000 people on the streets of Belfast, had over 8300 individuals on board the SOS Buses requiring in depth medical or emotional support and have been proven to have saved over 14 lives.
Overall this project has been a huge success and drawn praise from many quarters including the PSNI, local politicians and the media - see video.
Without the generosity and dedication of its volunteers and supporters the bus could not operate. The Club's involvement began with a presentation by former Chief Executive Officer Joe Hyland (now a Club member). 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. The Club has been pleased to support SOS Bus in this way with funds over the last years from the Club charity disbursements, Christmas Charity Collections as well as specific Club and personal members' fund-raising efforts. The Club have also awarded the John A. Savage Trophy 2011-12 to SOS Bus NI for their services to young people. Inaugurated in 2009 the Trophy is awarded by the Club to the individual or group selected as giving great service to the Community - more here.
On his visit to District 1160 2012-13 RIBI President John Minhinick and his wife Shiela visited their headquarters and were highly impressed (click on picture for caption and to enlarge).