One of the most recognisable symbols of British culture – a famous London double-decker bus – is to be transformed into a mobile sanctuary where Blackpool’s vulnerable homeless population can take refuge from the biting wind and rain.
The Big Red Night Bus, organised by the Amazing Graze soup kitchen on Bolton Street, hopes to provide emergency accommodation to up to 10 homeless people each night following an ambitious renovation project.
Soup kitchen founder Mark Butcher said the night bus had been a pipe dream for the charity for years – and is only now able to begin thanks to generous donations from businesses.
He said: “This will be for the most vulnerable left in shop doorways, who have been turned away from other services because they have no local connections, the ones who feel they have been given up on completely.
Sean Ryan from Shop It Local, and the London bus which is to be turned into a mobile homeless shelter
“It will provide emergency shelter for people for at least two nights, and while they are on the bus we will be carrying out drug and alcohol tests, talking to them about recovery programmes and talking to them about accommodation. If possible we will help them into supported living ourselves, if not we will refer them to other supported living programmes.”
The double-decker was donated by Odyssey Coach Sales, which each year donates one bus to good causes around the country, and is currently parked at Blackpool Coach Services on Burton Road, awaiting renovation.
This is no small task however, as the cost of transforming the bus into a mobile accommodation and recovery unit stands at £75,000.
So far, Amazing Graze and its supporters have raised £13,000 towards the project, with significant donations from Blackpool-based housing company Rowland Homes, and Michael Cullen, better known as ‘Speedo Mick’, who is raising money for good causes while trekking across the country in nothing but a pair of swimming trunks.
The interior of the bus which needs renovating
Rowland Homes boss Paul Rawley has also made a generous pledge to match pound-for-pound all donations made to the Big Red Night Bus up to £25,000.
He said: “Blackpool has quite a serious homeless issue. There are a number of charities in Blackpool, including Amaing Graze, wthat provide people with food and clothing on a daily basis, but I think what’s really important is to try and get people off the streets and get them reintegrated into society, if possible.
“The Big Red Night Bus will provide beds, but it will also be used as a sort of processing centre. In essence it will receive homeless people for a couple of days, during which time their needs can be assessed and there can be steps taken with the aim of getting them off the streets – whether that’s making contact with family and trying to get them back into a supportive home, or getting them into an address so they will be able to receive benefits and get into work.
“The long term goal is to get as many people off the streets and into accommodation as is possible, and deal with whatever problems they have got along the way.
“Blackpool is clearly a magnet, in a lot of respects, for homelessness, as are a lot of the larger cities. People have fond memories of it. There’s a significant problem of homelessness in Blackpool and elsewhere in the UK, and there just aren’t enough resources at a local government level to provide for them.
“The Big Red Night Bus is quite an innovative solution. I’m delighted to be supporting it.”
It is hoped the Night Bus will be fully operational by this time next year – by which time it is hoped the question of where it can be parked will be resolved.
Mark said: “It’s a big project. Some people may not want it. What we want to avoid is becoming a hotspot for antisocial behaviour, so we’re hoping to be able to park it in different places around the town.
“We want to get it up and running by this time next year, at least. It will be a life-saver. What it will mean is the difference between being desperate and desolate on the streets, and having that ray of hope.”