Our history

For nearly 80 years and at every part of Britain’s history, WVS, today Royal Voluntary Service, has inspired more than three million ordinary women and men to give their time to help others.

The driving force behind the organisation has been our founder, Lady Stella Reading. Our world today may be very different to that of 1938, but her words still resonate with us.

"The ultimate strength of a nation lies not in her trading, nor in the multitude of her financial transactions. It’s not found in her banking operations nor in the acumen of her leaders. The ultimate strength of a nation lies in the character of the men and women who are that nation and voluntary service is an integral part of that character."

Lady Stella Reading, Founder, WVS

We aim to harness that strength and character and use it to reach two million older people in the next ten years. We need to achieve this as the UK’s older population is growing and needs more support.

Royal Voluntary Service wants to help create a society where everyone feels valued and involved whatever their age. Our volunteers will help us to do this – just as they have done since the beginning.

"Too many people think of volunteers as a means to an end, as cheap labour. True voluntary service is nothing of the kind. It is, in fact, the gift of a thoughtful person of their skill, their energy and their time."

Lady Stella Reading

Originally founded in 1938 as the Women’s Voluntary Services for Air Raid Precautions, Royal Voluntary Service is the largest volunteering organisation in British history.

WVS was initially formed to help recruit women into the ARP movement assisting civilians during and after air raids by providing emergency rest centres, feeding, first aid, and perhaps most famously assisting with the evacuation and billeting of children.

By 1943 the organisation had over one million volunteers and was involved in almost every aspect of wartime life from the collection of salvage to the knitting of socks and gloves for merchant seamen. After the war Royal Voluntary Service transformed to become a leading organisation in the field of social care, pioneering the practices that formed the cornerstone of modern social services.

In 1966 in recognition of the service WVS and its volunteers had given to this country we were granted the honour of adding ‘Royal’ to our title by our Patron, Her Majesty the Queen. We became the Women’s Royal Voluntary Service.

Since then Royal Voluntary Service and our services have evolved. We became an independent registered charity in 1992 and in 2004 changed our name once more to simply WRVS. In 2013, we became Royal Voluntary Service. We are now a major service provider giving practical help, particularly for older people, to enable choice, independence and dignity so people can enjoy an improved quality of life - all with the help of around 25,000 volunteers.

You can find out more of the history of WVS and Royal Voluntary Service, by exploring our fact sheets and schools' resources, or if you can’t find what you are after why not ask us a question using our enquiry service. You can also find out more about the Archive & Heritage Collection.

Voices of volunteering

Voices of volunteering

Voices of Volunteering: 75 years of citizenship and service is a pioneering oral history project bringing the voices of WVS, WRVS and Royal Voluntary Service volunteers to life.



Our fully searchable online catalogue contains listings of historical material in our Archive & Heritage Collection.

Fact sheets

Fact sheets

Want to know more about Royal Voluntary Service? Here you will find all you need to know in facts sheets about how and why the charity got started, the origins of Meals on Wheels, WVS uniforms and much more...


Schools' resources

We've produced resources for teachers of Key Stage 2 and Key Stage 3 classes, focusing on the Home Front, drawn from the Royal Voluntary Service Archive and Heritage Collection.

Enquiry service

Enquiry service

Royal Voluntary Service offers a free enquiry service, where we will spend up to one hour answering enquiries about our history using the records held in our Archive & Heritage Collection.

Archive & Heritage Collection

Archive & Heritage Collection

The collection keeps and preserves all historical records of WVS and Royal Voluntary Service and other closely associated bodies and organisations.

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