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Bus scheme expands to enhance safety

by Andy Clutton

A public safety initiative is reducing risks for people enjoying nights out in Cardiff city centre. The Safety Bus scheme, run by South Wales Police and Skills & Volunteering Cymru, supported by Cardiff’s universities, brings together police officers and volunteers to provide on-the-spot help for anyone who needs it in the city centre’s nighttime economy.

The project has run for around a decade, but for the first time, the mobile responder teams now have two fully-equipped buses as a result of Home Office Safer Streets funding granted in the last year – with defibrillators, first aid equipment, folding wheelchairs and power-packs for mobile phones and laptops. The SafeZone app, from CriticalArc which is also promoted by the team, allows people at risk to request immediate support for themselves and others, and first aid treatment if needed.

To prevent people from becoming victims of crime, including drink spiking, those who are vulnerable can also be taken by the Safety Bus teams to a safe place – back home, to A&E, to the Alcohol Treatment Centre, or to be reunited with friends and family.

The scheme receives yearly funding from a range of partner organisations, and operates every Wednesday, Friday and Saturday including additional event nights across the city. Every Freshers period there is extended coverage which this autumn includes the 17-day period from September 15 to October 2, covering the start of term for the city’s Universities and Colleges.

The focus started with Cardiff’s student community, but the Safety Bus team will help any member of the public who needs assistance, says Mike Neate, Police Community Safety Student Liaison Officer and Chair of the Police Association of Higher Education Liaison Officers.

In fact, since September 2021 alone, more than 2850 people have been helped in this way, he says. And now the initiative has been extended.

“From this year we will be able to operate two safety buses, thanks to Home Office Safer Streets funding and sponsorship from organisations including CriticalArc. The additional funds are also allowing us to develop bespoke mental health first aid training for all our volunteers.

“Mental health wellbeing is a matter of increasing concern, and students can be particularly vulnerable when they first leave home. In addition, the problems that people experience can be made worse by alcohol or controlled substances.”

The Safety Bus initiative is run with the support of Cardiff University, Cardiff Met, the University of South Wales, the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, and University of Wales Trinity St David, and volunteers are recruited from all of them.

Students and Staff from Cardiff University & the University of South Wales also have the added protection of SafeZone, which makes it easy for them to call for advice, assistance or emergency help 24/7, wherever they are, and for their locations and identities to then be seen by emergency responders.

Bringing together the Safety Bus initiative as a wider partnership has many benefits, including allowing university welfare teams to provide better support to students, and freeing-up police to focus on crime prevention resources where they are most needed. There are significant benefits for the volunteers too, adds Mike Neate – participation provides a way for young people to contribute to the community, gain valuable experience, and grow in confidence. Many of those who have participated in the scheme have gone on to build careers in or around the Criminal Justice System.

“There are now serving officers across the UK, from the Metropolitan Police, Thames Valley to Gwent, who were volunteers with us five years ago – including PCs, DCs, and PCSOs. And others are working in probation, criminal justice, and law courts.”

CriticalArc’s SafeZone technology is a unified platform for safety, security, emergency management and wellbeing support. It enables users with the SafeZone phone application to request immediate assistance for themselves and others, including rapid support for people experiencing mental health difficulties.

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