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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

Who volunteers? Recruiting for the WVS in wartime

Guest post from Charlotte Tomlinson, University of Leeds.

Why do we volunteer? This is an incredibly important question for charities in the 21st century. Volunteering is as significant as it was in 1938 when Lady Reading was asked to found the WVS, we rely more and more on those people who dedicate their skills, energy and time to supporting those in need. Today, Royal Voluntary Service currently has  c20,000 volunteers who provide much-needed support to older people in hospitals and local communities in an increasingly ageing population.

As a historian, my own research looks a little further back in Royal Voluntary Service's history. My PhD project, based at the University of Leeds, studies the everyday experiences of the women who volunteered with the Women’s Voluntary Services (later Women’s Voluntary Service (WVS)) during the Second World War – of which there were more than one million at its peak. These women came to volunteer in countless different ways, helping civilians before and during air raids in rest centres and canteens, knitting for troops and running ‘Make Do and Mend’ classes, staffing Citizen’s Advice Bureaus, collecting pots and pans for salvage, and much more. Lately I’ve been trying to understand how and why these women volunteered, and what this tells us about life in wartime Britain. Answering the question ‘why do people volunteer?’ can be tricky, but the rich records held by the Royal Voluntary Service archive give us clues by detailing how the organisation tried to recruit new members.

In its earliest years, the WVS focused heavily on recruiting more and more women to help support those in need, and each centre was encouraged to record its own efforts in attracting new members. Using the Narrative Reports created in 1938 and 1939, I’ve been able to build a rich picture of how the WVS recruited its volunteers in wartime. Like many propaganda campaigns in wartime Britain, attempts to recruit women to volunteer often happened on a national scale. Printed material such as posters and pamphlets were distributed widely from 1938 onwards, calling on women to enrol at once for Air Raid Precaution services. Some made broad calls, but others were more specific, asking women to offer their time as ambulance drivers or to help with evacuation. Films such as ‘Britannia is a Woman’ celebrated the voluntary spirit of the WVS, hoping that it would inspire others to sign up: ‘The call is sounded, and women fall in for service in their country’s call’. (IWM MGH 171). Lady Reading herself travelled extensively around Britain to speak at public meetings and recruit women for the WVS, covering more than one thousand miles each month.

Like today, the wartime WVS worked closely with local communities, and at the local level a wider variety of methods were used to recruit new volunteers – the extensive Narrative Reports accessible online today paint a detailed picture of how women were encouraged to join the WVS differently from place to place. In July 1939 in Gateshead, sixty representatives from various women’s organisations in the area met to discuss creating a new WVS centre, whose first job would be to help with evacuation in the event of war. This new centre therefore drew on a pool of women already involved in organisational life.

At the same time in Bradford, Yorkshire, a Mrs Cook attended the Yorkshire Show as a representative of the WVS, attempting to recruit new members from the general public, many of whom had probably never volunteered before. In 1939, the popular agricultural show was held in Halifax, not far from Bradford. The Bradford centre also distributed their own posters, instead of national ones, which advertised introductory meetings for potential WVS members at a local school.

Local efforts often worked alongside national campaigns, too. After the film ‘Britannia Is A Woman’ was screened at the Plaza Cinema in Portsmouth, existing WVS members set up a table to distribute leaflets and talk to cinema-goers as they bustled through the cinema’s vestibule. Similarly, at Leamington Spa volunteers displayed WVS posters after another recruitment film, ‘The Warning’, stressed to the audience that it was ‘the duty of everyone’ to play a part in the war effort. By 1940 Narrative Reports for Lewes, Sussex, simply recorded ‘cinemas usual posters’, suggesting that the practice had become a routine form of recruitment.

The Narrative Reports written by the WVS in York during 1939 are particularly rich records which describe in detail how women enrolled for volunteer work in the city and surrounding area. Over the summer of 1939 the centre organised for notices to be published weekly in the local press, and at the same time existing WVS members canvased potential members on their doorsteps while completing evacuation censuses, and while fitting gas masks.

York’s Narrative Reports also hint at potential barriers for women wanting to volunteer, such as a lack or free time, or not knowing where to enrol:

Narrative Reports, York, March 1939

Furthermore, reports from York reveal that while some methods were very successful, others were less so. In June 1939 the WVS sent a speaker to the Odeon Picture House to give a short talk on the work of the local centres, and this was so popular that she was asked to return to future film showings. In the same report, the centre leaders decided that placing more notices in the local press was ineffective, comparable to ‘flogging a dead horse’!

But sometimes efforts to recruit new members weren’t needed at all. A report from Bath in September 1939 suggests that after war was declared, women became acutely aware of the necessity of volunteers to help the war effort, and often came forward with little prompting from recruitment propaganda:

Narrative Reports, Bath, September 1939

Understanding how the WVS recruited its members in the early years of the war is just one piece of the puzzle of how and why women volunteered. Women’s own stories, revealed through their diaries, letters, memoirs and other sources, give us more clues as to how women saw their own relationship to volunteering. But the Narrative Reports held by the Royal Voluntary Service Archive & Heritage Collection are crucial to this overall picture. They are unique sources, which help us to dismantle the idea of war as played out on a national level, and better understand how women’s relationship to volunteering was tied to their local communities too. Through the Narrative Reports, I have been able to build a picture of women’s lives as they were lived, through the streets, neighbourhoods and communities of wartime Britain.


Charlotte Tomlinson is a PhD researcher in the School of History at the University of Leeds. Her PhD explores experiences of female civilian volunteers in Second World War Britain and is generously funded by the White Rose College for the Arts and Humanities.

Posted by Jennifer Hunt, Deputy Archivist at 09:00 Monday, 04 March 2019.

Labels: Volunteering, WVS, Royal Voluntary Service , guest blog, historian, Second World War

A Brief History of Lunch Clubs

Originally known as Luncheon Clubs, Lunch Clubs were a place where ‘older people, not housebound or in need of Meals on Wheels, may get a good nourishing meal on several days each week, find friendship and help whenever they ask for it, and where they can enjoy a hot meal in the company of others, always a stimulus to those living alone.’[1]

During the Second World War WVS provided meals for older people in British Restaurants. In the immediate post-war period meals were provided through Meals on Wheels services to some Darby and Joan Clubs.[2]

The first mention, in the Archives, of a dedicated Luncheon Club is the Malvern Luncheon Club in 1949 it had 220 members and met once a month. Other Luncheon Clubs appeared through the 1950s in different areas including St Marylebone, Bakewell Rural and Mablethorpe.[3]

However it was not until 1962 when the scheme really took off and WVS realised the need to increase the number of clubs providing midday meals.[4] Clubs provided tea, coffee, a two or three course meal and in some clubs activities such as Bingo, a quiz or a raffle.

Every Luncheon Club had a club leader, cook(s), pot-washers, and servers, all of whom were volunteers though in some cases the local authority paid for permanent cooks. In some clubs members who came for a meal would help volunteers with the washing-up. However in some areas the meals were cooked in kitchens outside the clubs, such as Guys Marsh Open Borstal for the Parish Centre luncheon club in 1974.[5]

WRVS continued to provide Luncheon Clubs all over Britain for older people to enjoy a hot mid-day meal into the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s. Today Royal Voluntary Service volunteers still run Lunch Clubs and there is now a Cooking for a Crowd cookbook, a collection of favorite Royal Voluntary Service Lunch Club recipes.


[1] RVS A&HC, Luncheon Clubs, 812, 1967 [2] RVS A&HC, Report on 25 Years Work 1938-1963, 1963, Report of Ten Years Work for the Nation 1938-1948 [3] RVS A&HC, Bulletin, WRVS/HQ/PUB/BUL/BUL-1949-04, April 1949, pp10-11, Bulletin, WRVS/HQ/PUB/BUL/BUL-1953-01, p15, Bulletin, WRVS/HQ/PUB/BUL/BUL-1954-06, June 1954 p14, Narrative Report, WRVS/HQ/NR/R3/1958-LINC/MTP, Mablethorpe, Lincolnshire, May 1958 [4] RVS A&HC, 807, Work for Old People, 1962 [5] RVS A&HC, WRVSA&HC/WRVS/HQ/PUB/BUL/BUL-1974-09, Sept 1974 p11

Posted by Jennifer Hunt, Deputy Archivist at 00:00 Monday, 15 October 2018.

Labels: Luncheon, Lunch, Clubs, WVS, WRVS, Royal Voluntary Service

Welfare for the disabled

Work in the field of welfare for the disabled was part of WVS from the beginning through Health and Hospitals, Meals on Wheels, Clothing, Children’s Holidays and Old People’s Welfare, among other services. In the late 1960s WRVS set up the Welfare for the Disabled Department. This was a reflection on growing public awareness, the requirements of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act (1970) and advances in medical science. WRVS provided many services through the department including clubs, handicrafts, holidays and diversional therapy. In this week’s blog we’ll explore the work of WRVS providing these services.

After the war the welfare state became a prime focus for the nation including social care for those in need of it. As usual WVS was at the forefront of any developments. In 1956 the Government produced the Piercy Report, it considered the rehabilitation of disabled people and accounted for what they could expect from the welfare state. Local Authorities responsibilities included catering “for the social need of the disabled in employment” and meeting “social and occupational needs of other disabled persons”. In some places WVS was already running clubs or helping Local Authorities with their own clubs. WVS also aimed to help people become as self-reliant as possible in their own communities and complete any medical care which would allow them to go home from hospital.

When WVS established Evening Centres in the 1960s to encourage younger people to join the organisation one of the tasks they gave them was to run clubs for the disabled. In London in 1962 the Bermondsey Evening Centre ran a club. Also in the 1960s the WVS Winged Fellowship Holiday Scheme this allowed anyone with a disability to go on holiday. WVS also provided services such as transport to clubs, activities and appointments for example in 1964 WVS in Golborne (Greater Manchester) took a lady who had suffered from polio on a walk (c.1.5 hours one way) and shopping trip to Leigh. Over the years Royal Voluntary Service hasn’t just provided services it has also promoted the latest research into the areas it focuses on. In 1968 WRVS raised awareness about a project at Edinburgh University into access for the disabled.

By the late 1960s WRVs had expanded its role in creating the Welfare for the Disabled Department which included the diversional therapy, reading, letter writing, mobile libraries, visiting, holiday centres and providing flats as part of WRVS’s Housing Schemes. Nationally in the 1970s there was a movement towards care in the community rather than keeping people in institutions, hospitals and psychiatric hospitals. WRVS provided many services which would help people being discharged from these places or moving out as they were closed.  Many of these services listed above were already in place in many departments of WRVS. This included clothing, the department produced a number of publications. The organisation also ran sessions to discuss the clothing needs of people with disabilities.  (WRVS Magazine 1971 p.14)

Through the Children’s Holiday Department WRVS Scotland provided holidays for blind and death children in the Glasgow and Helensburg area. They also informed the world on volunteering work and in 1974 told Japanese visitors, connected with welfare work in Japan, on a visit to HQ about care for older and disabled people in Britain. In the 1980s/1990s WRVS continued with all the services it had gradually been developing for 50 years. This also included arranging riding lessons for children with disabilities as Riding for the Disabled began to establish centres in the 1980s.  In 1992 WRVS established its charity status, with the need to fundraise and changing focus to Hospitals, older people’s welfare and emergencies the Welfare for disabled people’s department faded away. However many of the services it provided for example home libraries, talking books, wheelchair escorts in hospitals and clubs were continued and integrated into the areas it chose to focus on to support the welfare of all and the welfare state as Royal Voluntary Service continues to do today.

Of course in a fortnightly blog there isn’t enough time to discuss the huge amount of work done by Royal Voluntary Service in a single area. This whistle stop tour is here to give you an idea of the work the charity has been doing for society from a time of war to peace and beyond. You can find more detailed information about services we’ve provided on ArchiveOnline, Schools resources and Factsheets page.

Posted by Jennifer Hunt, Deputy Archivist at 00:00 Monday, 16 July 2018.

Labels: Disabled, WVS, WRVS, Royal Voluntary Service, Welfare, Social care

Compassion in Crisis – A museum exhibition about 80 years of voluntary service

It may surprise you to learn that for three days last week the Archivist, Deputy Archivist and Archives Business Manager were setting up a new exhibition at Wiltshire Museum in Devizes. The Archive team have been planning this since the middle of last year writing content, selecting objects and preparing resources. Finally it is already in place ready to be seen by the public, this is a taste of what to expect from Compassion in Crisis.

 In 1938 Lady Reading started to mobilise an army of women who would be essential in winning the Second World War. By 1941 this was over 1,000,000 who were often referred to as ‘the women in green’ because of their uniform and they were known for offering tea and comfort to all who needed it in a time of crisis. At the end of the war dangers to civilians didn’t just fade away and a new threat of nuclear war was ever on people’s minds.

The exhibition looks at the emerging role of WVS inemergencies during the war and how this developed in the post-war world. Part of the exhibition explores the One-in-Five scheme which aimed to educate one in every five women on what to do in the event of a nuclear attack. Women also joined the Food Flying Squads part of the Civil Defence Welfare Section. These women didn’t just have training exercises they also provided relief to those affected by floods in 1953. There were also other skills and services providedby WVS during the war which did not become obsolete in the post war era.

Dutch and Belgium refugees as well as evacuees had been helped by WVS; with the war, revolution and natural disaster in other nations fresh waves of refugees arrived in Britain in 1950s to 1980s. WVS or WRVS by the time Vietnamese, Ugandan Asian and Kosovan refugees arrived were always ready to comfort those in need and give them a safe place to stay. Compassion in Crisis looks at how WVS/WRVS showed compassion to refugees and gave them comfort intheir time of crisis. It also reflects on how voluntary service and what itmeans to be a volunteer has changed as we have moved into the twenty first century.

The Exhibition at Wiltshire Museum will run from the 7th May to 24th June, we hope you will take the opportunity to get a rare glimpse at some of the objects, uniform and records preserved by the Royal Voluntary Service Archive & Heritage Collection. If you have children we also have an exciting trail to follow round the exhibit and the chance to build a model emergency cooker. 

If you would like to know more about the history of Royal Voluntary Service or WVS in Devizes during World War II there are lectures from Matthew McMurray and David Dawson on 6th and 20th June.

Posted by Jennifer Hunt, Deputy Archivist at 09:00 Monday, 07 May 2018.

Labels: WVS, WRVS , Royal Voluntary Service, Museum, Archive, Heritage

“Many archives have digitisation programmes. Is this digital preservation?” - @ArchiveHour

There appears to be a growing trend of debate on twitter; It’s usually an hour during the day where like minded people discuss a topic using #somethinghour. Now Archives appear to have jumped on the bandwagon with #archivehour (not that jumping on the bandwagon is a bad thing). Unfortunately I was unable to take part in the first #archivehour on 26th October as I was in Russia. However the intriguing topic hosted by @ARAScotland was digital preservation. One question posed was: 

I would now like to answer this question from the perspective of Royal Voluntary Service Archive and Heritage Collection’s digitisation projects.

Over the years we have had a few digitisation projects including the Bulletins, Narrative Reports, photographs, posters and now the publications (more on that in a later blog). One reason for these projects was to provide online access to our records as we cannot currently provide physical access to the collection. Another reason was the general preservation of the physical document, not the digital reproduction. Digitising means less handling of fragile items and keeps them in the ideal environment rather than constant temperature changes as they move from store to search room. This is digitisation providing access to analogue/traditional archives to help preserve the originals. Therefore digitisation is not digital preservation but preservation in its wider sense, for Royal Voluntary Service digital preservation applies to its born digital records.

Interestingly we have very few born digital archives, a lot of our records are still produced in a physical format. However we do have a set of born digital records which have been mentioned several times; the Voicesof Volunteering Oral Histories and their transcript/summary sheets. The oral histories were recorded as WAV the transcripts and summary sheets were typed as word documents. Over time we will need to monitor how these records are kept the word documents have already been converted to pdfs. An open source document which follows archive standards of digital preservation and allows easy access, they have at least three backups each. The WAV files are already at an archival standard for audio records however the file format makes them two large for access purposes we have created MP3 versions for Archive Online. Over time we will need to make sure these files don’t become obsolete, corrupt or suffer from bitrot as well as making sure they are not accidently deleted. This is digital preservation protecting born digital documents from many dangers and keeping them accessible for future generations.

In conclusion digitisation programmes are not digital preservation because they are about access to original documents and digital preservation is about protecting born digital records from destruction once they have made their way to the archive. I am sure at some point someone will raise the question is a digitised copy of a traditional archive a born digital record i.e. an archive/document in its own right and therefore keeping it a case for digital preservation. However I don’t have enough words in the blog to look at this now it is a discussion for another day.

Posted by Jennifer Hunt, Deputy Archivist at 09:00 Monday, 06 November 2017.

Labels: Archive, Royal Voluntary Service, Digitisation, Digital Preservation, Access, Twitter

Receiving Reports at Headquarters

From 1938-1942, our collection holds 31,401 pages of Narrative Reports. These reports were sent to the headquarters of the WVS at 41 Tothill Street, London. This allowed members at HQ to be able to keep track of all WVS activities in the country.
Due to the unique structure of the WVS, duplicate copies of the monthly diaries were also sent to our county offices, whilst keeping the original reports at the individual centres. This set up allowed each section of the organisation to monitor what was going on. It also meant that a chain of communication could be rapidly established between WVS Headquarters and WVS members throughout the country. Due to the existence of these multiple copies, an identical monthly report will occasionally pop up. Whilst it would be wonderful to have duplicates of every diary, it would rather limit our shelf space.

To handle the massive influx of Narrative Reports each month, members at headquarters tagged specific reports that were considered important enough to be read by the heads of department. By 1942, there were just over 2000 centres across the country. With each centre sending in one report per month, Tothill Street must have had one of the busiest letter boxes in London.

After the introduction of the archive in 1958, the reports were filed in brown card folders with their respective location hand written in blue and red ink. The reports are still in their original files today, but they have been repackaged in acid-free folders and placed into boxes to help maintain their condition. Unfortunately, members of the WVS probably didn’t realise how significant these documents would become so not all of the reports have survived the test of time. This is particularly stark in Region 4 (Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Hertfordshire, Norfolk, Suffolk), as the reports were weeded to save space. As a result, Region 4 has by far the fewest number of reports.

Nevertheless, their survival is testament to the members of the WVS that decided the reports were worth keeping. A member from the WVS centre for Worcester wholeheartedly agreed with the great work happening at headquarters and consequently wrote this excellent poem.


A most exciting place to be,
I’m sure that you will all agree,
is in Headquarters, Tothill Street,
For, there, you’re almost sure to meet
With many famous people who
Are bent in seeing their country through.
The smallish muddles that arise
And cause the gov’ment much surprise;
The minor details that occur,
Apart from battles, as it were.
For instance, take Evacuation;
Who copes with urns at every station?
Who takes the children for a ride
Into the pleasant countryside?
Who kindly helps the I.C.C
To sort out each evacuee
Who has some clothing coupons owing
Because their clothes they are outgrowing?
Who interviews the under-fives
And helps to save their little lives?
And who persuades the very aged
A dang’rous war is now being waged
And they could better serve the nation
By going to some safe situation?
Who manages the Clothing Centres?
And laughs at all such misadventures
As parcels of damp frocks and jackets?
Or books in ladies’ clothing packets?
Or take the case of Demolition!
Who gets the canteens in position?
And helps to feed with buns and tea
The men who labour constantly
To make the place “as safe as houses”?
And who is it the police arouses
Whenever any help is needed
Knowing the always have succeeded?
The noble wears-out very slowly!
And may they be successful wholly
How good they are, p’rhaps you guess!
Our grand H.Q., WVS!

E.M.

Posted by Jacob Bullus (Archives Assistant) at 00:00 Monday, 30 October 2017.

Labels: Headquarters, WVS, Royal Voluntary Service, Poem, Narrative Reports

A Coloured Thread



This week the Heritage Bulletin Blog comes to you in the form of our first podcast.  Have a listen to Matthew McMurray talking about his inspiration for the archive's upcoming (2018) museum exhibition and journey to get there.



For those who can't listen to the podcast, which I modestly recommend, the transcript is below.

This last week I have been putting together my first ever museum exhibition plan and it’s fascinating how the approach of museums differs from that of archives. I had merrily sat down with the idea that I was going to come up with a story, nice and ordered and linear and then write some beautiful text and add some nice pictures; What my colleague rather inelegantly called the ‘book on the wall’ approach. This though, to misquote Mr Punch is ‘not the way to do it’!

Some research later and some sage advice from those with more experience than my none in museum exhibition design and I was trepidatiously ready to begin.

The key, apparently, with any museum exhibition is to start from the objects, let them tell your story. Hmmm I thought to myself as I visualised the towers of several million pieces of paper in our strong rooms and rather fewer objects and felt despondent.

While as an archivist I love nothing more than reading reams of text (preferably with footnotes) apparently not everyone else does, Horror I thought.

Visual impact is unsurprisingly the order of the day, with interactive displays for different levels of understanding from children to adults, short and sweet descriptions (in 25-30 words) and constant repetition. As a lover of detail, as someone who prefers to use ten words when one will do, and also someone who makes every effort to use the English language in all its glory, how was I going to inculcate my audience to the amazing work of the Royal Voluntary Service with so few words.

The answer was a single thread. Most great enterprises come from a small idea, and as a colleague said rather poetically in an e-mail today, quoting the 14th century proverb ‘Great oaks from little acorns grow’.

Much like a tin of Ronseal paint, Royal Voluntary Service has always done what it says on the tin, provided ‘Voluntary Service’. Our founder Lady Reading, whose portrait stares down and scrutinises my every action here in the archive, was the epitome of that ideal which she championed all her life with a zeal most could never hope to match. I have read volumes of her speeches, letters and writing and I find myself repeating her grand eloquent style frequently, in-fact this podcast is becoming a good example. But my point here is that a single bright thread came into my mind and I pulled at it.

In her 1970 treatise entitled simply ‘Voluntary Service’ she said

“Voluntary Service is a coloured thread in the fabric of a Nation and without that thread the fabric is neither as beautiful nor as strong as it should be”


That single coloured thread is literally going to run through my exhibition joining disparate activities and ideas into a story of voluntary service over 80 years; joining objects from wartime uniforms to models of Atlantic longboats and medals denoting a thousand years of service beyond self.

That single thread now has a lot to answer for and the ideas are coming thick and fast.


Posted by Matthew McMurray - Royal Voluntary Service Archivst at 09:00 Monday, 16 October 2017.

Labels: Royal Voluntary Service, Podcast, Museum, Heritage Bulletin Blog, Coloured thread

Tea & Co at Addenbrooke’s

On 23 August the Tea & Co. Café at Addenbrooke’s Hospital, Cambridgeshire was officially opened. It is one of a range of developments in the charity’s Healthier Choices retail transformation programme which also includes Shop & Co. The Café is run by a staff and volunteer team in Cambridgeshire. This week we thought it might be interesting to look at the history of Addenbrooke’s and Royal Voluntary Service.

The first canteen was established in 1950 in “a passage between the out-patients' department and the hospital itself. There was room for only two people behind the counter and a row of customers in front, with a constant stream of stretchers, chairs and nurses passing behind”(WVS Bulletin January 1954, page 5). It quickly expanded as a new canteen with work space was opened; in the 1950s 80,000 people were served annually.

Canteen helpers were needed weekly to prepare food, defrost refrigerators, keep statistics and accounts, serve customers and wash up. In 1960 Cambridge City held a meeting of WVS Hospital Helpers to celebrate their ten years' service in the Out-Patients' Canteen at Addenbrooke's Hospital. “This very modern and up-to-date canteen was equipped from the profits” gifts from further profits given to the hospital in the 1960s included a television set for the Children's Ward, 160 trays, one carrying chair, and two geriatric chairs (WVS Bulletin May 1960). In the 1960s Addenbrooke’s opened a new hospital which meant the opening of a new canteen for WRVS in the late 1960s.

By the 1970s WRVS ran two canteens one in the old and one in the new hospital; they funded a house for the relatives of patients who lived a long way from the Hospital. When the old hospital closed a second canteen was opened to cope with increased demand. The new canteen opened in 1972, at the time WRVS also provided trolley shops, a patient helpers’ service, reception duties and flower arranging. The Narrative Reports which we talk about so often recorded the story of voluntary Service until the early 1990s in Cambridge. Reports mentioned Addenbrooke’s had canteens in Radio Therapy and Out Patients. They also started to serve new lines including toasted sandwiches. In the early 90s the Hospital Organiser continued to provide the service to the hospital as well as a trolley shop.

Unfortunately the archive does not hold many records of the charity’s activities in the 1990s however we do know that volunteers from Addenbrooke's went to London to assist Cilla Black with the launch of the “Give us a hand campaign” in 1998. It was designed to encourage people to volunteer with WRVS. The campaign embraced the power of celebrity, asking famous people to pledge their support by sending in an autographed outline of their hands. Over a hundred celebrities took part, including Imogen Stubbs, Stephen Fry, Sir Ian McKellen, Robbie Coltrane, Sean Bean and David Suchet. The campaign also saw ordinary people make colour paper cut-outs of their own hands at the WRVS stand at the Ideal Health Show, then hang them on a cardboard tree. The WRVS continued to run services at Addenbrooke’s into the 2000s when changes began to take hold.

The early 2000s saw a few changes to WRVS’ role at Addenbroke’s. A new Coffee Shop was opened in 2003 which was rebranded after the rebranding of Women’s Royal Voluntary Service to WRVS (Green and red to purple and orange) in 2004. In 2013 the charity was renamed Royal Voluntary Service and more recently plans for hospital shops, canteens and tea bars were updated to provide healthy options in hospitals and to bring back the red and green branding. Addenbrooke’s is now one of Royal Voluntary Service Tea & Co. cafés and the volunteers and staff will continue this partnership steeped in history.

If you would like to learn more about Royal Voluntary Services history with hospitals then read our fact sheet Welfare work in hospitals 1938 – 2013.

Posted by Jennifer Hunt, Deputy Archivist at 09:00 Monday, 09 October 2017.

Labels: Tea and Co, Royal Voluntary Service, WRVS, WVS, Cambridge, Addenbrooke's

A rose by any other name

(or an archivist by any other name would still be an archivist)

Very recently there has been a lot of discussion about what an archivist is and how they identify themselves within the world of heritage and history. The most recent term to be used is the Hybrid Archivist. They are defined as an archivist who manages hybrid collections (mix of analogue and digital) but also bring traditional and new skills together, but isn’t this what every archivist has been doing, even since Jenkinson and Schellenberg’s time?

The rapid changes in technology, culture and society through the twentieth and twenty-first Centuries have meant archivists have had to adapt new ways to conserve archives such as film, cassette tapes, CDs and photographs. Looking after a collection does not just mean preserving it archivists should have IT, communication, volunteer management and social media experience to name a few examples. Thus again I will point out that archivists should be whatever their collections need them to be to balance preservation and access. They should not be trying to identify themselves to fit with new terms or theoretical thinking.

Here at the Royal Voluntary Service we use a range of skills every day for example this was all the different tasks we completed last Monday.

08:00 – arrived at the archive on foot, I could not be bothered to get the bicycle out of the shed. Checked emails for enquiries had none and proceed to start my “favourite” job labelling. Our Archives Assistant also arrives and sets up the digitisation equipment to begin photographing more Narrative Reports written between 1943 and 1945.

09:00 – first volunteers arrive one is working on sorting a photograph collection, the other is writing a blog we have a quick discussion about this and other jobs which can be done today.

10:30 – the blog is finished and ready to be posted, my labelling is abandoned for a while I lay this up, post it online, send out update to mailing lists and prepare social media posts. In this time two more volunteers have arrived they are repackaging and have a question about the reference for Radnorshire it is RAD.

11:00 – discussion with volunteer who is working on a local office collection about how to create labels for the boxes. Also talk about Continue with my own labelling. Man arrives to check the fire alarms.

12:00 - an enquiry has arrived as I have chosen to answer any enquiries today I work on this. The enquirer wants to know if we have any images for Carshalton WVS making Chess Pieces out of Cotton reels in World War II we do, which is a nice surprise and I ask them to fill in a copyright form. Also help volunteer who is working on the photograph collection to identify what is happening in each image and where they belong in the collection.

1:00 – Lunch time conversation turns to The Silk Worm and Strictly Come Dancing

2:00 – back to work on the labelling for the afternoon as well as the odd administrative task.

Posted by Jennifer Hunt, Deputy Archivist at 09:00 Monday, 18 September 2017.

Labels: Archivist, Royal Voluntary Service, Hybrid, Access, Preservation, skills