SafeZone ‘drunk tank’ staff quit and set up rival operation

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Dozens of “drunk tank” volunteers who walked out earlier this year in a row with management have set up their own treatment bus for revellers near the Grassmarket.

Close to 40 workers on the Edinburgh SafeZone bus are understood to have quit the project, which offers help to partygoers, the homeless and other vulnerable people on the Capital’s streets.

Myself and many of the other staff felt we couldn’t continue to work there. The buses were breaking down, we were having to pay for equipment from our own pockets.

Frank Scott

The SafeZone project, which scooped the Evening News’ 999 Local Hero award last year, operates from a converted bus outside St Mary’s RC Cathedral near the top of Leith Walk. It also runs two ambulances that patrol hotspots across the city, such as Cowgate and Lothian Road.

Bosses from the charity running the bus, known as Working on Wheels, suspended operations in February for more than six weeks to investigate volunteers’ health and safety concerns, including maintenance of vehicles, lack of equipment and a lack of checks for staff.

A group of former volunteers have now set up a rival project known as Edinburgh Street Assist, which will be based in King’s Stables Road on Fridays and Saturdays.

Frank Scott, a former SafeZone team leader, who is now working at Street Assist, said: “Myself and many of the other staff felt we couldn’t continue to work there.

“The buses were breaking down, we were having to pay for equipment from our own pockets.

“When I tried to raise it with management I didn’t get anywhere.”

Frank, 47, who works in maintenance for a care home, added: “We felt our concerns weren’t being taken seriously. The volunteers are all experienced people and they shouldn’t be treated like this.”

The Street Assist project, which launched at the weekend, is currently funded by the volunteers themselves.

Neil Logan, director of Roadshow Solutions, which runs Street Assist, said: “We are delighted to offer this new service to the city of Edinburgh in collaboration with supporting agencies. We have decided to rebrand our project to Street Assist as we believe it better reflects our range of services and our provision of assistance to anyone who requires help and support.

“Many people become vulnerable due to a range of circumstances and if we can stop just one person coming to harm because of our intervention then we know our service is worthwhile.”

The SafeZone project was piloted in 2013 and has been running in its current form since December 2014. It has been hailed by emergency services for helping to reduce the burden on accident and emergency departments by offering first aid and support to vulnerable revellers who might otherwise end up in casualty.

A SafeZone spokesperson said: “SafeZone Edinburgh restarted on Easter weekend.

“During the downtime we came to the conclusion that ex-employees, at the very least, misinterpreted guidance on vetting volunteers – something which has now been remedied with new policies and procedures in place following several meetings with the project’s steering group.

“We’re not aware of Street Assist, although this would have been the second time an alternative to SafeZone has been touted on social media in as many months. Our focus is to continue delivering a safe, well-managed service with the support of our stakeholders, notably Edinburgh Council, Police Scotland and the Scottish Ambulance Service.”

lizzy.buchan@edinburghnews.com