Belfast Telegraph

SOS bus pioneer quits charity, revealing the constant fight to fund work was 'killing' him

By Cate McCurry

The founder of a lifesaving night bus service that has reached out to thousands of people is stepping down from his role at the charity.

Joe Hyland MBE, founding chief executive of the SOS bus service, said he has resigned from his position after 10 years at the helm of a charity that has saved countless lives.

The outreach project is easily identified by its big yellow buses that are dotted throughout Belfast and other parts of Northern Ireland at night.

Opened in 2007, the 60ft bus first served the Shaftesbury Square area at night offering food, tea and coffee and medical treatment to the public.

Last month, Joe handed in his notice, bringing an end to his tenure following a mutual decision between Joe and the charity's board.

"It wasn't any easy decision to make," he said.

The 62-year-old cited the charity's financial future as a major factor in deciding his next step.

"The environment that we have built SOS in has been really tough," he added.

"Like all charities we have suffered over the last few years because of cuts and austerity but we have managed to fight and build this thing and SOS today has grown to three big buses worth £160,000.

"We collect from 19 different stores and supermarkets. In total we collected 36,000 trays of food. We are feeding lots of people using mini-buses and volunteers who are out every day and every night.

"We reached a point where the pressure on funding was enormous and I was the major funder and it was my networks that was providing most of the money and it was killing me.

"Last year really hurt me when I had to find a quarter of a million pounds in the last three months of the year. Not unfairly, my board said you can't keep on growing this thing, whereas I want to keep on growing it and my board want to make it safe and sustainable.

"I left reluctantly and wasn't overly happy with it."

The charity, which was given the Queen's Award for Voluntary Service, first started as a provision of night-time services on the streets of Belfast.

It has since grown into other areas including a schools' Education and Empowerment Programme and a rapidly growing food redistribution programme.

It comes at a high cost, however and the bill for running the charity has gradually grown to around £10,000 a week.

Joe added: "I am worried as I was the major fundraiser and they (the board) have taken on that responsibility.

"These are services that are needed more today on the streets of Belfast than they ever have been. We had a 54% increase in the number of young people we looked after between 2015 and 2016.

"There are more drugs out there than ever, but there's fewer police.

"I am not happy as our youngsters are often left to their own devices when they need us most, and that's why I created SOS."

Speaking about his future plans, he said: "I've been approached to do some things and they excite me.

"I have had 10 of the most fabulous years with 240 volunteers and a wonderful team in the office and great staff.

"I know I want to continue making a difference on the streets of Belfast."

Stephen McClelland, chairman of the board said: "As a result of Joe's outstanding vision, leadership and dedication, the last 10 years have seen the charity grow into a significant organisation committed to enhancing the well-being and safety of our community.

"Since founding the charity with two other leading business people in 2007, Joe's hard work and commitment have been recognised in several ways.

"We wish Joe every success for the future and recognise the debt of gratitude we owe him.

"The Board of Trustees of SOS NI has every confidence in the Staff Team as Pete Loughins now takes up the position of interim chief executive going forward."

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