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Movement and music

Today we all know the importance of keeping fit and moving around at any age. As usually Royal Voluntary Service have a history of pioneering activities for older people before they become popular. In the 1970s WRVS was pioneering Music and Movement classes in local communities One WRVS volunteer who helped with this was Elizabeth Kay. In 2014 I interviewed her for the oral history project Voices of Volunteering. Elizabeth had first joined WVS in the late 1960s to be a speaker giving talks about Drugs, volunteering helped her develop this skill and she gave talks on many other topics which also led to  training as a keep fit instructor skills she used to help WRVS set up local Music and Movement classes in Hounslow. This is Elizabeth’s story in her own words:

“I gave a talk on history of nursery rhymes, and most people didn’t know how nursery rhymes started and why. Oh, and I’d talk about tortoises because my son had a tortoise which I was looking after, again people didn’t know about tortoises and how they were creatures of veneration. When I was in China I went to see this enormous marble tortoise which was a symbol of longevity. So yes as, I did find giving those talks were very interesting and because my husband had died I had to make an income from somewhere and so that’s what I did.

It [WRVS] gave me more that, it gave me more than just, mm, learning to do the drug talks, it gave me a feeling that people liked to listen. … While I was in the WRVS I decided because I was a keep fit teacher, I thought these old people sitting all day in chairs not talking to anybody, long before local authority had started, which they do now, and movement classes.

I went to our local care home and asked the matron there if she’d like me to go in and, and do some musical movement. And so, and I used all the old songs that they knew. Some of them I had to learn, I didn’t know there was a song called He Played His Ukulele As The Ship Went Down,  and I got the songs from these old, I say ‘old people’, I mean heavens some of them are younger than I am now. But, but they were and they sat all day and they did nothing, and so I felt that this was a really good idea. And so I, I went and we used these songs that they knew and we did actions to the songs. Now it’s done, local authorities are doing this all over, but at that time it was quite revolutionary and nobody had done that.

 …

I always wore my uniform and as you can see one or two of them are actually lifting their arms but they used to like singing the songs as well.

That was actually breaking new ground because it hadn’t been done until then. I had a woman who played the piano for me and I went to all kinds of old people’s clubs and she played the piano and I did the movements, mm, and it was, that was then sponsored by the local authority.  

One of them [the Matrons in one of the homes] apologised to me because I used to go in to this particularly [home], if they sit in their living room, the social room, in chairs all around because I used to say ‘Don’t put them in rows, I like them all round me’ because I work to every single one, which I do. And every week when I used to go in one woman used to get up from her chair, look at me and say ‘Stupid cow’ and walk out. And matron said ‘I’m so sorry’. I said ‘Look, if that’s the only exercise she gets all week it’s exercise, don’t worry, she’s moved’.

It was, it was so satisfying because I felt that the, they just loved having somebody to be with them and do these and think about how it used to be when they were young, the songs that they could sing. And we used some wartime songs as well. And before, as I say, I never knew there was a song entitled Three Pots a Shilling which is about a gypsy selling honey from door to door. And I learnt these, I actually looked them up.  I went to Charing Cross Road to the, the archive shop there and looked up all these songs and bought the music so that my pianist could play them for me. And it was great. And then sadly Greta, who was much older, was not able to do the playing anymore and so another, another lady took over and she didn’t need music at all, and it was lovely because she used to play for my keep fit classes.” 

Elizabeth Kay WVS/WRVS Volunteer July 2016
Stories from volunteers really helps to tell the story of Royal Voluntary Service and how volunteering has benefited society in many ways. If you would like to hear Elizabeth’s story or those of many other volunteers in full you can visit Archive Online and search our Voices of Volunteering oral history collection.

You can also listen to the story above on SoundCloud


The second image in this week's blog is taken from WRVS Magazine No.371 December 1970

Posted by Jennifer Hunt, Deputy Archivist at 09:00 Monday, 27 August 2018.

Labels: Keep Fit, Music, Movement, older people, WRVS, WVS

Reports from everywhere - September 1965

This week, a return to Reports from Everywhere’ this time from September 1965. There were so many stories included in this issue of the bulletin, I found it hard to cut down so you have an ‘extended’ selection this week.

Straight to the point
The District Organiser for Lewisham received a letter from a 10-year-old boy in a local primary school. He explained that he was writing an essay about the social work being done in the Borough and he would like to know about WVS. The Organiser invited him to see some of the work if the school would give him permission- WVS was very surprised one morning when the boy arrived with 24 other pupils and his teacher. It proved a very enjoyable morning and the children seemed to ask hundreds of questions and promised they would ask their Mums to help and also to send any cast-off clothing. One small boy asked ‘Do you take ladies who are bored?’

Layettes from Salvage
During the past five years Finchley (a district of the London Borough of Barnet) Centre have made 564 nightdresses, 473 vests and 416 dresses for the Refugee Layette Scheme. This has been accomplished by using the good parts of worn garments destined for the Salvage sack. Shirts and sheets are used to make the nightdresses and vests, summer dresses and underclothes for the little dresses. Hand-made jumpers are undone, washed and re-knitted into shawls; 395 of these have been sent.

Members and friends, most of the latter being elderly, some being disabled and with failing sight, are tireless in sewing and knitting - Their policy is: ‘We are sending a present to these babies, so let us make it as attractive as possible’.

Not once but many times
When we see the students are enjoying themselves at their annual romp and they rattle the collecting boxes before our face, we sometimes forget the enormous amount of good the money will do when they have shared it out among the many local needs.

Money from the Aberdeen students’ campaign and the Welsh Caird trustees took 58 elderly people from Stonehaven on a bus run inland to some of the loveliest villages in Scotland. In a year when the broom and gorse was a mass of blooms they saw whole hillsides covered in golden yellow. Memory pictures to cherish through the dark days of the year.

From unwanted to wanted
One of our ‘Make and Mend’ members in Herne Bay has made about 550 babies’ day and night dresses out of unwanted cotton frocks and skirts in the five years she has been working for WVS; at 82 years of age an excellent record.

A word in time
A member working with the Bath Meals on Wheels service had been delivering meals to the elderly occupants of a very old house. The smell of the house had for some time been slowly getting worse, and when she went one week it was so dreadful that she felt something should be done about it, so she telephoned the Gas Board and asked that someone should be sent along to investigate.

They thought she had made a mistake and should have telephoned for the Sanitary Inspector, but said they would send an engineer along forthwith.

When the gas installations were inspected it was found that all the leads or pipes going into the meter were completely adrift. When they telephoned our member to inform her of this they said that had it not been for her prompt action, undoubtedly all the occupants of this apartment house would have been gassed.

Music in Braille
A blind woman living at Putney, who is being taken care of by a Wimbledon WVS member, is getting on well. Our member is taking great interest in her welfare, and is making every effort to get her some music written in Braille. She is teaching herself the piano and is very keen on music which is one of her greatest joys. She is so happy with her visitor and evidently appreciates this interest in her wellbeing very much indeed.

Posted by Matthew McMurray, Royal Voluntary Service Archivist at 09:00 Monday, 28 September 2015.

Labels: Braille, Putney, Music, Piano, Bath, Somerst, Meals on Wheels, Gas, Make do and mend, herne bay, stonehaven, Scotland, Finchley, Layettes, Refugees, barnet, lewisham