22nd Jul 2019 in Business

A vital mobile service working with vulnerable people is celebrating its success working with local businesses to create a safer city centre.

Destination CQ, the private sector-led business improvement district group operating in Belfast’s rapidly growing cultural and social heart, invested £8,500 last year to the SOS NI whose volunteers, in partnership with the emergency services, other community groups, bars and clubs, offer a ‘safe space’ on the streets of Belfast in the evenings and  provide non-judgemental support.

Joanne McQuillan, Director for SOS NI, said Destination CQ’s “incredible” support had given them the opportunity to further invest in volunteers and resources and to increase the quality and efficiency of their services.

“Last year (2018) trained SOS volunteers worked over 18,000 volunteer hours over 164 shifts during the night-time economy period, festivals and events across Belfast.

“Throughout the year SOS Volunteer supported over 30,000 and provided crisis interventions for almost 1,500 people – aged from 13 to 84 – were treated on board the SOS buses and 220 volunteers tackled serious issues such as alcohol abuse, homelessness and poor mental health whilst acting as a safe space for anyone out in the city centre at night, whether they needed directions, provisions or were just in need of a friendly chat over a cup of tea or coffee,” she said.

Mrs McQuillan said that as Belfast continued to grow as a centre for retail, tourism and culture there was an increasing need to develop strategies to maintain a safe and welcoming city centre during the evenings.

“We hope that this network will continue to grow and are aiming to achieve our Purple Flag status, which would be a welcome further recognition of the services we provide,” she added.

Gareth Neill, Destination CQ BID (Business Improvement District) manager, said the BID were committed to working with businesses in the area, along with a variety of services, to ensure the safety of people in the area.

“The work SOS NI do through their buses in the city is invaluable, most commendable and very welcome.

“Unfortunately, there are people out at night who, for whatever reason, can find themselves in difficulties – so having the SOS NI volunteers in the area is absolutely vital.

“This service has most probably saved lives in some of the more extreme cases so we are delighted to be able to provide this investment to help them continue with their fantastic work,” he said.

Overall, since SOS NI started in 2007, volunteers have interacted with 342,000 people, providing tea, coffee and a listening ear.

The charity has also supported over 12,800 clients with in-depth medical and welfare support.

The 60-ft SOS Buses are usually based at the City Hall and Shaftesbury Square each Friday and Saturday evening.

Last year ….

  • 235 people were transported to Accident and Emergency or the Bradbury ARC by SOS NI minibus response teams;
  • 151 clients received ‘listening ear support’, of which 12 had been experiencing suicidal thoughts;
  • 407 were transported home or to a place of safety by SOS minibus response teams;
  • 114 vulnerable people were treated for a medical problem;
  • 1,065 vulnerable people came to the buses with injuries or illness as a result of substance abuse;
  • 250 people were referred to the buses by the PSNI or bar/club security staff.

Ms McQuillan explained: “Our presence on the streets eases pressure on the PSNI, emergency departments, the NI Ambulance Service and Belfast City Council, allowing them to focus their time and effort on more serious and pressing issues.

“Last year our volunteers also provided crisis intervention and welfare support on an additional 19 shifts across Belfast, such as A level results night, the Belsonic and T-Vital music festivals and at events in Bangor and Portrush.

“The sponsorship from Destination CQ is enabling us to further develop our an annual Volunteer Development Programme, provide in-depth training, new uniforms and practical resources.

“We have also been able to purchase eight radios and a radio licence for use on shift to improve communication between volunteers and minbus response teams to ensure we can react immediately to calls to the SOS emergency number.

“SOS NI has also been building relationships with the University of Ulster, Queen’s University and Belfast Metropolitan College to create ‘safe spaces’ at events such as Halloween, Freshers’ Week and St Patrick’s Day.

“It is important that students, many of whom are living away from home for the first time, feel safe when they are out and know they can receive non-judgemental welfare care if they are become vulnerable.

“We also believe in early intervention, so we have volunteers working in schools to help educate young people about the dangers of drug and alcohol abuse, especially when they are out socialising in the evenings and attending music events, etc.”

SOS NI has also supported the Vulnerable Refugee Consortium over the past four years by providing transport and other logistical support.

Working with Bryson House, Extern, Red Cross and Barnardos, the scheme resettles displaced refugees who are currently living in countries neighbouring Syria.

For more information about SOS NI go to www.sosbusni.com or call 028 9066 4505.

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