After its creation in 1938, the Women’s Voluntary Service’s main focus was the war effort, recruiting women to assist civilians during and after air raids. After the war, however, the aim of the organisation shifted, and more attention was focussed on the older generation. Since then, the Royal Voluntary Service (RVS) has worked closely with older people, hoping to improve their lives in every way possible. Today we will look at the achievements of the Royal Voluntary Service and how its efforts have changed over time.
After realising the ever increasing population in the older generation, the WVS set out to assist them in a number of ways, many of which are exist in some form today. These included Darby and Joan clubs
, residential clubs and the Meals on Wheels
. Special clubs were set up for old people in a few places during the war, but after seeing its success, the number increased rapidly after 1945. By 1962, there were over 2,000 Darby and Joan clubs, with membership exceeding 150,000. In this friendly atmosphere, the old people enjoyed spending time with each other, dancing and going on regular holidays throughout the year. Mary Curtis, a former club leader who spent 45 years with the WVS, talked about her time spent on holidays with members in 2015 in an interview with Jennifer Hunt. She said that she went in a variety of places across the UK, starting from 1970 – with the last holiday taking place in 2008. These included Morecambe, Llandudno, Newquay, Ayr and Bournemouth. But these places did not come without excitement. “On one occasion our coach skidded off the road and went into a ditch” she quotes, when speaking of a foggy morning in the Isle of Wight. “Nobody panicked” she says and “it was a lovely holiday”.
Residential Clubs were also established, where members would assist permanent staff in homes for the pensioners. By 1963, 23 homes were established by the WVS. As purpose-built flats and bungalows were being provided by the government, the WVS also helped with re-housing the retirees. Some would lay carpets, whilst others would hang curtains, making life easier for people who were moving house.
The changing role of RVS
In 1960, it was estimated that around 12.5% of the country’s population was of a pensionable age. This has since increased to 18%, an increase of over 5 million people. As a result, through the 1970s WRVS established many other services; transport schemes
(Country Cars 1974/1975) have also been put in place whereby volunteers undertook thousands of journeys each year and still do, taking people to and from hospital, trips into town or shopping trips, adding to the pleasure of day to day lives and allowing people to be closer to their local community. Other opportunities include the Good Neighbours Scheme
(1974), which started as a visiting scheme but has now developed to offer help, whether it’s walking the dog, changing a lightbulb or collecting a pension. Helping an older person in small ways can make life much easier for them. Home library services started in the 1960s but took off in the 1970s. Today, volunteers still bring a range of books
, as well as DVDs and CDs to older people who wouldn’t normally be able to get out of the house. In 1992 WRVS became a charity and as a result became more focused on the welfare of older people. The Charity works today to meet the very different needs of older people, including more community focused schemes such as Cafes, Lunch clubs
and social events, encouraging people to get out and about and meet new people. In every way we are working to support changing lifestyles and tackle loneliness later in life.
Over the years WVS and WRVS has worked to improve the lives of older people with a range of services including the home library service and befriending. The RVS has adapted to provide for the ever increasing population in the older generation. By introducing and continuing schemes such as the Good Neighbour scheme and Lunch Clubs, the RVS has encouraged people to socialise with one and other, an essential part in anyone’s life that boosts morale and mental wellbeing. The RVS has continued to support the elderly and the Archive holds lots of records about the welfare of older people from 1938 to the present day. This demonstrates our success in providing needs for older people, from 80 years ago and for many more years in the future.
Credit First photograph, R44353/80 - "Old People Dancing" taken by CH Wood, published by the kind permission of Museums and Galleries, Bradford MDC