THERE are labours of love, and then there is Colchester’s first ‘homeless bus’.

It has been 14 months since the Colchester Rough Sleepers Group picked up their double decker bus, with a vision to transform it into a mobile sanctuary for people on the streets.

There have been many bumps in the road, but a date has finally been set for the grand reveal.

The bus will be showcased at an open day tomorrow, which will take place outside Colchester Town Hall.

It has not been an easy ride, but with the graft of a 12-strong team and a total of £50,000 in funding, the Chariot 180 is now roadworthy.

Vic Flores, project manager, said it was a transformation beyond imagination.

He said: “The bus was being used for running school children around in Harlow, we bought it from bus company as it was too big for what they needed.

“It was perfect for us.”

The bus alone would set the group back a whopping £23,000 - but in February last year a mystery benefactor stumped up £25,000 to pay for it.

It saved the group a year of fundraising, and meant they were ahead of schedule.

But how does one get from gutting out an old school bus to creating a sustainable home for eight rough sleepers?

Vic said it took a huge amount of research.

“There are a few projects around the country that have tried to do a similar thing so we visited them,” he said.

“We also joined an association for mobile vehicles, it’s people who have turned vehicles into something they weren’t originally designed for.

“We got lots of hints and tips there.”

The group also had to pull together a team of eight for renovation works, a resident bus mechanic, and a marketing expert.

There was also the small problem of needing £25,000 for the renovation itself.

However thanks to grants and fundraising events, the bus has been decked out with sleeping pods, showers, a lounge and relaxation area, a TV and sofas.

Vic said: “We wanted to have it finished by the winter just gone but we are relying on people’s good will and generosity, people have other priorities and jobs to run so we can’t start jumping up and down asking why things haven’t been done.

“We would have loved it to have been finished quicker but we have gone as quickly as we possibly could.

“After it’s launched there will be other bits that need doing, it will evolve over time, eventually we want it to have solar power.”

The aim is to take eight homeless people and rough sleepers off the street each night by picking them up in the town centre and driving to an out-of-town location.

Crucially, the bus will include a number of dog crates for the dogs of the homeless people and rough sleepers who do not want to part with their canine pals - an issue which can be a barrier to indoor overnight stays elsewhere.

It is safe to say the bus is something of a lifesaver, but it has not been without its problems.

In January the the project was delayed when the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency struggled to decide the correct tax band for the bus.

In its early days heartless thieves stole the crucial electricity generator from the bus, which set them back in terms of time and money.

The final hurdle to get over is the complex water system.

“It’s custom built,” Vic said. “We wanted to be able to provide people with showering facilities and getting instant hot water in a mobile home for up to eight people is quite difficult, I didn’t realise it was such a technical thing.”

If this project was not challenging enough, the team has a second role to play in the community.

The bus is just one string of the group’s bow, as they have been offering outreach support for people in tenancies for the past year.

Vic said: “We are part of the council’s joint agency in supporting rough sleepers, so for the past year we have been helping people fill out tenancy forms, make sure they go to doctors appointments and meetings, and make sure they are healthy and attend therapy.”

Thankfully life has been made a little easier as close to 80 volunteers have signed up to support the bus project, by offering cooking and laundry services.

An extra £2,000 in funding has also been awarded by the Essex Community Foundation and Mersea Homes Charitable Fund, which will go towards upkeep and outreach services.

The vision 14 months ago was to inspire others to prevent homelessness, and the team is already well on the road to achieving it.

The open day will run from 10am until 3pm outside the town hall, with mayor Peter Chillingworth cutting a ceremonial ribbon at 1pm.