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1st October is International Older People’s Day so to celebrate let’s take a look at one of the ways Royal Voluntary Service has forged friendships since the 1970s.
Since the 1970s Royal Voluntary Service has been running Good Companion services across the country. They may have changed their name over the years including Good Neighbours and Befriending but the premise has remained the same, to alleviate loneliness and encourage people to help others in their local community.
In Cheshire the scheme tried to get off the ground in Stockport in 1971, the County Borough Organiser has appeared to spend the first few months trying to find volunteers to take on the scheme. However she succeeded in recruiting volunteers for Meals on Wheels instead. Later on the organiser asked to be excused form the piolet as many women in the area were already being “Good Neighbours” under visiting or local council services. This was the case for many areas across the country.
Other areas of Cheshire however appeared to have more success with the scheme, Alsager reported that “At Present a list of old people in need of visits is being drawn up and many members have undertaken to visit.” By 1972 Sale WRVS were also making progress with the Good Companion Scheme and requested 30 record cards in March for members visiting older people under the scheme. By 1973 both schemes were official with another starting in Congleton, Alderly Edge appeared to have an unofficial visiting scheme for residents in a local nursing home and Ramsbottom were interested in starting a scheme for the disabled. So despite the initial hiccups Cheshire really started to embrace the scheme in the mid-1970s.
In the 1980s and 1990s these services were often referred to as Visiting throughout Cheshire including Congleton, Chester, Crew and Nantwich. In June 1980 it was reported that Nantwich had a member who visited an “old lady every evening winter and summer to fill her hot water bottle for a bit of comfort”. Once again proving no job was too big or too small for WRVS.
Over the years this service has allowed people to stay independent and continue to live in their own homes. Volunteers 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. Today volunteers are still making friends in the North, running Good Neighbour Schemes including the Brightlife Buddy Scheme in Cheshire West.
With VE Day just gone and the new ITV series Homefires, about the Women's Institute, (WI), on our Sunday night television sets, you might be forgiven for thinking that the WI was the only women’s organisation working on the Home Front in WWII.
The WVS during WWII was led by a grand coalition of over 60 women’s groups, but not including the WI (except for on matters relating to evacuation). This seems to have been caused by a clash of personalities between Lady Denman and Lady Reading, the leaders of the respective organisations. This however did not stop the WI and the WVS co-operating closely together at a local level, where central politics was of little consequence to winning a war!
As a follow on to this I thought we would look at the contribution of the WVS to the war effort in and around the Village of Bunbury in Cheshire, where Homefires was filmed.
Bunbury did not have its own WVS centre, but was part of the Nantwich Borough and Rural District. The Rural District which covered all of the villages around Nantwich and had representatives in 41 villages and hamlets. In total nearly 500 WVS members served the area, specialising in canteens for the troops (which on occasion fed over 1,500 troops in a day) first aid post and rest centres, work parties and rural transport. With 20 members touring the villages collecting for National Savings.
The WVS did, as everywhere else, just about anything; distributing ration cards, darning socks, undertaking billeting surveys, and providing food and entertainment for troops. The WVS even had a ‘herb committee’ which was tasked with collecting nettles herbs, rosehips (if which in September 1943 they collected 1 tonne) and other forage.
Transport in rural counties was also a big issue, as it is today, and over 1,500 passengers were transported by the Volunteer Car Pool (VCP) every month. This on top of knitting over 300 comforts every month for troops and 30 camouflage nets were woven (when the webbing was available!).
Jam making is never mentioned, but it may be that in this area the links between the WI and the WVS were not so strong. Whatever the case, women made an amazing and often unsung contribution to the war effort, and without their sacrifice things may have ended very differently.
Posted by Matthew McMurray at 00:00
Monday, 04 May 2015.
Heritage Bulletin Blog,
Manchester County Borough made over 1,000 meals parcels for Meals on Wheels recipients and 350 boxes of toys (some of these boxes were for families with eight, nine and ten children), A Christmas party was given in Manchester in the New Year for 400 children which WVS was asked to plan and operate. There was a parcel for each child in addition to the above boxes.
When Peterculter won a prize in the Blanket Competition they were thrilled and on its return to them it was put on show. Yet they felt that they wanted to use it for a special purpose so at Christmas it was included in a parcel sent to a refugee priest in South Germany where it could bring warmth, be admired and appreciated.
We are feeding a maximum of 22 at our lunch club in Cheshire, and more would like to come. As we don’t like to refuse people in winter we hope to manage the extra few. Our Club members are most appreciative, which is nice. One old lady, however, is quite convinced that mince gives her asthma; and an old man bags his wife’s dinner if he thinks her helping is larger than his, and says he would not mind helping us if he were paid as much as we are! Many shops are very kind in knocking the Shillings off our bills.
One of the members at the St. Pancras WVS centre has a young schoolgirl daughter who is very interested in the WVS Club for the Elderly at Chalk Farm, where her mother is a leader. Margot persuaded her little friends to sing carols to neighbours at Christmas time and give any proceeds resulting from their efforts to the club to provide a Christmas Treat. It was a proud moment for them to come to the club to sing Christmas carols in costume to the old people and to hand over a donation of £5 14s.