Skip to main content

Our history

For over 80 years, WVS, WRVS and today as Royal Voluntary Service, has inspired around 2 million women and men to give their time to help others.

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

"As a nation we require voluntary service today as much as we have ever done in the past. It is a proud expression of individual duty."

Stella, Lady Reading

Royal Voluntary Service inspires and enables people to give the gift of voluntary service to meet the needs of the day, in hospitals and in local communities.

"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."

Stella, Lady 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 1 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 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 to simply WRVS. In 2013, we became Royal Voluntary Service. We are a volunteering charity, with thousands of volunteers who give their time to help make communities stronger, provide support to improve the health and wellbeing of vulnerable people, and to allow the NHS more time to care.

Explore the collection

This fully searchable online catalogue contains listings, many with preview images, of a selection of historical material housed in our Heritage Collection.

Discover more about our history

Explore our fact sheets and Heritage Collection, or if you can’t find what you are after why not ask us a question using our enquiry service.