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Volunteers' Week takes place on 1st to 7th June and is dedicated to celebrating the fantastic contribution made by millions of volunteers across the country. In this week’s blog I thought we would celebrate the contribution made by millions of volunteers for nearly 80 years through WVS/WRVS/Royal Voluntary Service. Over the years these volunteers haven’t just made a contribution to the UK but have inspired volunteering across the globe; one example is the Home Help Service.
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.
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.
It’s interesting what can motivate you to do research, recently I was reading a novel set in in Italy in 1945 so I wondered what connections WVS had with the country. Sure enough we had a file titled Italy in the Central Registry Series. In this file I came across a report titled Milan Italy which discusses the Associazione Amici Buona Causa, the literal translation Friends of a Good Cause, the Italian version of Home Helps.
Originally this service focused on urgent or needful cases such as maternity and sudden illness but had not really focused on older people who might need regular visits. It’s development pretty much mirrored the WVS Home Helps. In 1956 Donna Ina Gallaritti Scotti who worked with the Associazione Amici Buona Causa travelled to England to research how Home Helps assisted older people in their own homes and talk with WVS about their work. Her main objective was to attend the Home Helps Conference which was attended by WVS members representing their local authorities. It was also attended by the Public Assistance Minister from Rome which, she felt, would aid her cause back in Milan. During her visit to Britain she spoke with the Older People’s Welfare Department at Headquarters who provided information about the costs of their various services. She was very impressed and felt able to carry out this work when she returned to Italy.
WVS continued to run this service but 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 it inspired many other services which still continue such as Good Neighbours and befriending.
Thank you to all our past and present volunteers for being so inspiring not just on volunteers' week but in the past, present and future.
The 1950s was the decade which saw Britain start to really recover
from World War II and entre the Cold War with involvement in the Korean War 1950-1953
and Suez Crisis in 1956. For the WVS there was the 1953 East Coat Floods, The Lewisham Train Crash in 1957 and a 21st
Anniversary in 1959 to keep volunteers busy. In the Archive we have a
collection of over 1,400 photographs from the 1950s; you can see their full descriptions on
our online catalogue. For this week’s
blog I have chosen five which I think represent the work of WVS in this decade.
Judging a garden
provided by Garden Gift Scheme, London 1951
The Garden Gift Scheme was started in 1945 to collect plants
and shrubs to replenish gardens destroyed by the bombing. In 1947 Queen Mary
presented a Challenge Cup in a competition to find the best pre-fab garden
created from donated plants. These competitions continued into the early 1950s
with WVS Judging gardens like the one in this image. Here you can see four WVS
members with the man who planted the garden looking at the flowerbed and lawn
in an unknown location in London.
Food Flying Squad, Lancashire
Although in January/February 1953 the WVS volunteers
involved in Emergency Feeding, Food Flying Squads and Civil Defence had been
called out to help the thousands of victims they still had much to do during
the rest of the year. This including training with the Food Flying Squads a service
which was established by the Ministry of Health to provide
food during large scale emergencies such as flood or fire. There were 20 convoys
in Britain, including two in Scotland working with the Scottish Department of Health.
Volunteers, like the ones in this picture from Lancashire, would train with
groups such as the Army in preparation for an emergency.
WVS Van Distributes
Welfare Foods, Scarborough 1955
At the request of the Medical Offices of Health WVS was responsible for
the distribution of welfare foods including codliver oil, orange juice and
dried milk. Before the end of rationing in 1954 this service was very important
for providing mothers, babies and children with adequate nutrition. This service
continued into the 1960s; as you can see from this image WVS members were very
proactive in their campaign to provide the nations children with the vitamins
and health foods they needed. In this image two children have just received welfare
foods from WVS on Eastfield Estate, Scarborough, North Yorkshire.
Emergency Feeding at Lewisham
Train Crash 1957
The Lewisham rail crash
occurred on the Lewisham by-pass line in London at about 6:20 pm on 4
December 1957. In dense fog, an electric train to Hayes stopped at a signal
under a bridge and the following steam train to Ramsgate crashed into it, the
collision causing the bridge to collapse onto the steam train. Of Course WVS
were on the scene to feed rescue workers, in one week they cooked 4,000 meals
and provided countless cups of tea. Here four WVS Civil Defence members carry a
tea urn and polystyrene cups on the tracks near St. John's Station, Lewisham,
London after the train crash. The damaged bridge, wreckage and workers can be
seen in the background.
WVS services welfare barbecue,
RAF Sylt 1959
In the 1950s
the WVS Services Welfare Department worked with NAAFI to organise leisure activities
for men based overseas in the Armed forces. In 1959 WVS celebrated its 21st
Anniversary in many of the traditional ways with a service at Westminster Abbey
and an Exhibition. However by 1959 WVS didn’t just have members in Britain but
all across the world. WVS Services Welfare Members based at RAF Sylt North
Frisian Islands, West Germany organised a barbeque to celebrate with the
soldiers in their care.
Of course WVS provided many other services in this decade including Hospital canteens/shops and trolleys, Older People's Welfare such as Darby and Joan and Lunch Clubs and of course preparing people for nuclear attack through the One-in-Five department established in 1955. Today Royal Voluntary Service are still providing practical and emotional help where and when it’s needed.
Part of an archivist role is to allow access to the archives
they care for, one way of doing this is through outreach work. As many of you
will know here we run a remote enquiry service and cannot allow the public
physical access to our records however we still manage to provide outreach
through online educational resources. Over the years I have found that a lot of
archive outreach programmes focus on history but if in theory we don’t keep
archives for historical purposes why should we only promote them in teaching
that subject? Last year we launched the Voices of Volunteering School Resources; they aim to provide learning materials for educators teaching a
variety of subjects and skills.
Using our resources can actively help pupils to take part in
volunteering and learn how to be good citizens and improve society. Firstly
pupils learn about the role of Royal Voluntary Service today caring for older
people through the memories of volunteers recorded in oral histories. The other
resource discusses how in the 1990s WRVS moved from a Crown Service to a
Charity and how volunteers started to fundraise in their local areas. They aim
to encourage pupils to raise money for the charity in schools. It also uses
some recipes from the Bulletin, volunteers and Civil Defence Cards to inspire
ideas. Both resources focus on Citizenship, English and volunteering using
archives and teaches skills such as planning, collaboration,
problem solving, advocacy, campaigning and evaluation.
The second set of lesson plans encourages students to get involved in debates surrounding
volunteering and citizenship by using oral histories to highlight volunteers
opinions and experiences. The debates include:
- Why do people volunteer?
- What are the benefits of volunteering?
- How has it evolved in over 75 years?
You might be thinking these resources just give students
basic comprehension skills listen to a few short clips and then answer some
questions. However they are more exciting than that; they allow pupils to interpret,
discuss and debate helping them to form their own opinions on how we can
For example we have one resource titled “How does volunteering enhance your life as a volunteer?” This uses volunteers'experiences of working in different WRVS services including Meals on Wheels and Hospital Canteens. Using
these archives pupils on the roles of different types of active or potential volunteers:
They then debate the following topic:
Afterwards pupils reflect on the different interpretations
of the situation and come to a conclusion about how volunteering can enhance people's lives. Using oral histories in this way teaches:
KS3:To describe the roles played by voluntary groups in society, and the ways in which citizens work together to improve their communities
KS4: To describe the different ways in which a citizen can contribute to the improvement of his or her community
GCSE AQA English
To respond to the questions and views of others, adapting talk appropriately to context and audience.
As you can see Archives can be used in
different ways in outreach programmes in a verity of subjects and not just to
answer set questions.
You can see how we’ve used archives to teach secondary
school and further education students about a other topics including: PHSE,
drama, volunteering and history on our Voices of Volunteering resource site.
Today is VE day, it was the day marked to celebrate the end of war in Europe in 1945. It is also a year since we launched our Kickstarter project Hidden histories of a million women wartime women; women who contributed to victory. After 30 days of continuous campaigning we successful funded the project and then the hard work began to digitise 30,000 precious pieces of paper. In this week’s blog we are going to look at how the Narrative Reports which tell the WVS’s story are being digitised, preserved and made ready for online access later this summer.
Firstly we had to choose how we were going to digitise as the decision was to do this in-house it was between a flatbed scanner or a digital camera. We decided on the Cannon EOS 700D with lights to help balance the colour and image quality. A camera stand was then mounted to the wall so the camera could be level and take an aerial view image of each document. The camera settings were decided on to create the best quality images and are as follows:
a. ISO to 200
b. F Stop to F.8
c. Shutter Speed to 1/80
The camera is connected to the PC and the images once captured (yes ok this bit involves pressing a button) sent to Lightroom where they can be edited, usually rotation and cropping. This is stage one of the digitisation process and once a Region has been completed, you can find out more about the admin history on our fact sheets page, they are transferred for storage to our server. As you may or may not know Tiff is the archival standard for images but it does take up an awful lot of space and several separate images, 112 in one case for one centre! Thus we have to consider what would be the most space saving, safe and easily accessible format to upload the Narrative Reports online. In this case we have used pdf; this format is open source, saves space, easily manageable as a preservation copy (for now) and archival standard.
When creating the pdf the images are first water marked like our Heritage Bulletin pages as you can see in the image on the left. They are also resized based on one side to exactly 2500 pixels. Once this stage is completed the reports for each centre for a particular year are converted into PDF documents which are 150dpi and Greyscale but perfectly readable and easier to open than a 200 MB document. They will be added to a multimedia field in CALM and then uploaded to the online catalogue, a red pdf icon will denote if a document is available for download.
The Narrative Reports digitised as part of the project will be uploaded and made available online in the near future. Keep up to date by watching this space, visiting our Kickstarter page, liking us on Facebook and/or following us on Twitter.
It’s interesting what you find when researching for an enquiry even if Lincolnshire and the Women’s Liberation movement are two different things. Finding the Bulletin article below got me thinking about Feminism and WVS/WRVS.
Feminism first appeared in the mid nineteenth century focusing on the promotion of equal contract, marriage, parenting, and property rights for women. It moved on to focus on women’s suffrage and rights which continued into the Twentieth Century. However by the time WVS was founded in 1938 the first wave of feminism had died down; possibly calmed by the role many women played in factories and other traditional men’s roles in World War I and some women obtaining the right to vote in 1918. In my mind WVS/WRVS was never a feminist organisation but a women’s organisation. It never really suited the definition of the ideological and political movement but it was one which used women’s skills to improve the lives of everyone in Britain. During the War WVS took roles in Evacuation, Hospital Supplies, Make do and mend, knitting and many others which used skills traditionally taken on by women in their homes. However some roles such as fire watching had been assigned to the ARP whose reluctance to include women in a way led to the establishment of WVS.
These less traditional roles appeared only to last as long as the War; the re-emergence of Civil Defence in the late 1940s early 1950s didn’t lead to a revival for WVS who took on the Welfare section. Some services they provided were different such as training in what to do if there was a nuclear attack or driving in the Food Flying Squad but they weren’t promoting a political ideology or actively campaigning for women’s rights. In a way WVS did more without having a political cause because they actively changed people’s lives through their actions and gave women a voice through volunteering.
The second wave of feminism came along in the 1970s along with the Women’s Liberation movement campaigning to make women equal to men and give them more control over their lives. WRVS at this time was still striving to make British society a better place for all. The Organisation focused on offering care to those who needed it either on a regular basis or during an emergency. They were also providing children with the opportunity to go on holiday when they might never have got the chance; patients in psychiatric hospitals were also benefiting specially designed canteens/shops to help rehabilitate them in the outside world and those with disabilities were given the chance to progress in the world of work with occupational therapy. However one member must have felt inspired by this new wave as she wrote an article in the WRVS Magazine; though as she says it was an unorthodox contribution.
WRVS Magazine No.377 June 1971
In short although WVS/WRVS wasn’t known for being a feminist or political organisation in its own special and of course unique way it strived to make everyone equal. Today Royal Voluntary Service continues working to help create a society where everyone feels valued and involved whatever their age.