From Home Helps to Community Companions

This week’s blog is an updated version of an article from Volume 6 of the Heritage Bulletin and The Good Neighbours Fact Sheet on the Voices of Volunteering School Resources pages.

During the Second World War WVS started to develop its work to help people be active in their communities such as setting up Darby and Joan Clubs. WVS also realised that they needed to provide services for those who were housebound or needed help in their homes. Over the years there have been different schemes before the current service Community Companions. The first scheme to develop was one which doesn’t really resemble the visiting service which provides practical help. Home Helps was setup to provide help which would eventually be given by the NHS after it was established in 1948.

Originally intended to be the Home Workers Scheme, Home Helps assisted those in need of domestic service for thirty years. During that time it was an essential part of social welfare in Britain.

In 1944 the WVS Centre Organiser for the City of Oxford, Theresa MacDonald, asked the Local Authorities permission to pioneer a new scheme, Home Helps. Its purpose was to work alongside and form an attachment with the Local Health Services. At first it dealt with maternity as its top priority and then concerned itself with old people as well as chronic cases. Eventually the Helps took on any cases which were a health emergency.

As a public health service, Home Helps took on jobs such as washing, cooking and child care. They were employed by the Local Authority but administration was in the hands of a voluntary organiser. The WVS trained the Helps and promoted the scheme, at first very little formal training was given but later Helps could work towards the National Institute of Houseworkers’ Diploma.

WVS Bulletin January 1947 p5

In 1946 WVS opened a Home Helps Department at headquarters in London and used its network to publicise the scheme. The department also ran residential training for Home Help Organisers. Different local schemes added their own flare to training meetings including celebrations such as Christmas, birthday and anniversary parties. Buckinghamshire went further and held a county rally for its Home Helps.

When the National Health Service Act (1948) came into force the Ministry of Health stated that Home Helps was vital to the new service. Many Health Services however wanted to take full control of the scheme. In some areas the WVS remained very involved with Home Helps, though over the years many handed over to Local Authorities and paid organisers. By 1964 only a few WVS run schemes remained in counties such as Cornwall, Worcestershire and East and West Sussex. Home Helps was finally wrapped up in 1974 with the closure of the final scheme in East Sussex. However this wasn’t the end of WVS visiting people in their homes and providing support and companionship.

From the late 1960s onwards WRVS tried to get a scheme off the ground to help people who were having difficulty with running their home. Good Neighbours was originally called Good Companions and had a number of forerunners and names including: the Home Aid Scheme (in 1967 it was merged with the Home Helps Scheme) and Voluntary Daughters. Pilot schemes were launched in East Sussex in 1971 and by the end of 1972 the 12 regions had at least one scheme each.

The aim of the scheme was to alleviate loneliness and encourage people to help others in their local community. Volunteers did not need to sign up as WRVS members but were assigned people to help by the organisation who were usually referred to them by Social Services or Doctors.  Good Companions were drawn from a range of people including men, women with young children, young people (mostly from the WRVS London Evening centre) and even Darby and Joan club members. Those who need them as a Good Neighbour were usually older people, disabled, housebound or anyone in need of help.

Good Neighbours allowed people to stay independent and continue to live in their own homes. Volunteers would often escort people on outings, go shopping, collect pensions, send post, mend clothes, change lightbulbs, cook, and do other odd jobs around the home as well as taking time to talk to the person they were visiting. 

From 1977 to 1985 the service also ran campaigns with the Department of Health and Social Security to raise awareness of the needs of older people and the disabled. These campaigns also included work with the police to raise awareness of ‘bogus officials’ calling on older people.

Royal Voluntary Service continued to provide Good Neighbour schemes for older people through the 1990s and into 21st Century which included practical help, home visits and telephone calls. In March 2019 with the ASDA Foundation they launched funding for Community Companions to continue the work started by Good Companions in the 1960s and 1970s. You can find out more about today’s Community Companions service on thiswebsite.

Posted by Jennifer Hunt, Deputy Archivist at 09:00 Monday, 01 April 2019.

Labels: Home Helps, Good Neighbours, Community Companions, WVS, WRVS, Royal Voluntary Service

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