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the start of a New Year and perhaps for some the start of some New Year’s
resolutions. If one of those is researching a new project or discovering
something new we can help. In this week’s blog we provide a guide to using our
online resources to research the history of Royal Voluntary Service.
From an in-depth
analysis to a short overview of the history and origins of some of the charities most enquired about services.
fact sheets can be found on the Royal Voluntary Service website and include
- Hidden Histories of a Million Wartime Women - kickstarter updates
- Welfare work in
hospitals 1938 - 2013
- Origins of WVS
- WVS Housewives'
- One in Five
school resources pages Voices of Volunteering you’ll also find brief overviews
of many services including among others:
- Books on Wheels
- Clothing Depots
- Good Neighbours
- Lunch Clubs
- Services Welfare
mentioned above we have the Voices of Volunteering resources; these resources
are for teachers to use with students age 14+ studying Citizenship, PHSE,
English language and History or who are involved in extracurricular activities
such as the Duke of Edinburgh Award. Titled Citizenship
and Service, the activities and oral histories illustrate to
students the significance of volunteering through the volunteers’ own eyes and
how volunteering has adapted to the changing needs in society. The resources
are available free for all. Visit Voices of Volunteering: 75 Years of Citizenship and Service.
There is a
very handy list of some of the collections held in our Archives which you can
find on the Archive & Heritage Collections page.
As you are
already doing you can keep up to date with the Archive and find out about the
history of the Charity in this blog. An archive of these blogs is also available
on the right of the page. There is also access to the six volumes of the Heritage Bulletin printed between 2010 and 2012 which provide a variety of stories about
WVS and WRVS.
or not Social Media can be a fantastic resource for research and finding out
about what we hold in the collection that may not be found on the main website
pages. As well as a number of Facebook and Twitter posts we have also created a
small number of vlogs and videos on YouTube and podcasts and oral history clips
- The Hidden History of a Million Wartime Women
- A history of Uniform
- Three Heritage Bulletin Blogs
- Two 80th Anniversary Films
- Coloured Thread
- Archives and Motives
- Women in Green on the Silver Screen
- Clothing Store (Oral History)
- The Gift of Time
- Bromham Hospital Fire (Oral History)
been through our extensive collection of secondry sources and finding aids you
may want to look at some primary material. ArchiveOnline is a fully searchable catalogue
contains listings, many with preview images of a selection
of historical material housed in our Archive & Heritage
Collection. It is also the gateway to our digital, downloadable version of all
419 issues of the WVS/WRVS Bulletin from 1939-1974, over 60 Oral Histories and the 84,000 pages of the
WVS Narrative Reports 1938-1945.
also a guide available to help you use our extensive catalogue; Guide to searching the Archive Online.
Why not have
a go at running a search and see what you can find! We searched for New Year
there were 497 results including this 1963 New Year message from Lady Reading.
Enquiry Service and visiting
Of course if you are in need of help or can’t find what you are
looking for you can contact us through our enquiry service. Also if you are a
researcher and are interested in visiting the Archive & Heritage Collection
the collection is open by appointment only the first Tuesday and Wednesday of each month, 10:00-16:00 (closed for
lunch between 13:00-14:00). To ensure we can provide a high standard of
service, access is by appointment only and we ask that these are made at least
a month in advance. You can find more information here about this service.
We hope this brief
outline of what we can offer has given you food for thought and some New Year’s
Year from all of us at the Royal Voluntary Service Archive & Heritage
The Second World War started (in Europe) on 1st September 1939 nearly 80 years ago. WVS had been established just over a year; not long after the start of the war it was Christmas. As I was thinking about writing this blog to go out the week before Christmas Eve I wondered what the WVS were up to at this time of year. I could have chosen anywhere but one of the first documents to jump out at me was a programme of Christmas activities from Rickmansworth WVS 1939. Looking at the Narrative Reports from the area for December 1939 to 1944 you can clearly see that just because it was Christmas WVS work didn’t stop. These are just a few examples of activities in Rickmansworth, taken from the Narrative Reports.
WVS Rickmansworth, like all other WVS centres in Evacuation zones, during the war organised various entertainments for children and adults who were a long way from home just after being evacuated in September 1939. Activities included film showings, dancing, gymnastics, games, singing and parties. Over the years activities changed, in 1941 the Evacuee Club held an exhibition of needlework including clothing such as frocks, dressing gown and children’s clothes. In 1942 the WVS held two parties for under-fives which was considered a great success as you can see in the extract below from December that Year.
Of course the WVS didn’t just spend December running children’s parties they also had other duties to perform. Activities included salvage in 1941 they campaigned to collect paper from houses driving around using the loudspeaker on the WVS Van. Knitting also continued during the season of good will in 1941 47 pull overs were knitted for the Merchant Navy and members began knitting gum boot stockings for Russia. In 1942 they received an urgent request for sweaters and socks for Malta; 114lb was distributed to knitters for the job. Work with the Red Cross also continued in 1941 they had the Russian Red Cross sale for Mrs Churchill’s Fund and the WVS were able to raise £210 (c£8262.74 in today’s money). In 1942 a WVS party made soft toys and raised £59.16.8d (c£2,354.23 in today’s money) for the local Red Cross group. As you can see many activities were business as usual for WVS of Rickmansworth.
Supporting the Armed Services based in Hertfordshire was a large part of WVS Rickmansworth’s work in 1941 and 1942 with a variety of activities in December of Both Years. In December 1941 The Troops Hut was completed with electricity and lino installed. It also had a radio gram and ping pong table. The WVS opened the Hut on Christmas day for 200 men who spent the evening playing games. In Both years WVS held a concert for the RAF Benevolent Fund in 1942 they raised £18.10.0d (c£727.91 in today’s money) for the fund. Looking after the services didn’t just include the Army and RAF there was also the Home Guard to support. In Both years the Home Guard were on exercises and WVS served tea to them from a mobile canteen. Another Service provided by the WVS all year round was camouflage nets. WVS’s role garnishing camouflage nets began in the early years of the war but the scheme wasn’t official until June 1943. Rickmansworth WVS were already working on this before it became official and included other work for the services in this role as you can see from this Narrative Report Extract, December 1942.
This week’s blog has focused on WVS Rickmansworth’s work during the Decembers of 1939, 1941 and 1942. Unfortunately in our Headquarters collection of Narrative Reports there are not many for this area in Hertfordshire and we haven’t been able to look into the Christmases of 1943 and 1944. It is more than likely that these missing reports were written and one of the quadruplet copies arrived at Headquarters. However in 1970s Region 4 was heavily weeded as all regions had different rules for what was kept at that time we have less information about local offices in the Home Counties and East Anglia areas. Although this is the case for Rickmansworth you can see from just a few reports how much was going on during the Second World War and how much time the women of Rickmansworth were giving to help people keep up moral at this time of year.
Reading a number of articles, social media posts and calls
for papers once again archivists seem to be obsessed with the idea of identity.
The Oxford English Dictionary gives two definitions “The fact
of being who or what a person or thing is.” And “A close
similarity or affinity”; synonyms include: character, originality and
specification. Previously in this blog we have explored what archives are, what is an archivist and how that has changed in 20th century. There are
many topics which could be explored surrounding archives and identity; Archives
themselves are the keepers of identity for particular communities, groups or
organisations. In this week’s blog through the Royal Voluntary Service Archive
& Heritage collection we’ll explore how a charity’s identity can be
projected by its archive.
In Charity Archives in the 21st Century Matthew
our Archivist described Charity Archives as holding “the collective memory of
this vitally important part of our history” in reference to philanthropy and
charitable work in previous centuries when volunteering started to develop in
the form it takes today. So what do charity archives tell us about identity in
terms of the charity, the nation and in case of RVS in particular the character
Of course this isn’t the place for an in-depth discussion on
identity so these are just some examples of identity in archives; the whole blog is a refection of parts of Royal Voluntary Services identity and many more can be found in the archives and the work it does today. The
development of WVS to Royal Voluntary Service can be traced through its
documents but also the items of clothing it holds. Since the rise of the
teenager in the 1950s part of people’s identity has been their clothing, their
unique style. Looking through our extensive collection of uniform and how it
has changed over the years you can see why WVS was referred to as the ‘women in
green’. Over the years styles changed but not the colours showing how
recognisable the WVS and later WRVS wanted to make itself through a physical
identity and that it was an organisation that moved with the times. Along with
other organisations in the 1980s and 1990s it moved towards more casual wear.
In 2004 WRVS changed its brand identity completely losing the red and green and
going for orange and purple; a physical representation of the twelve year
transition from crown service to charity. However during 75th
anniversary celebrations WRVS became Royal Voluntary Service and went back to
red and green identifying with its roots and heritage. While the archive
represents the identity of the charity it also epitomizes the identity of a
Our archives do not just signify the identity of the charity;
it represents the story of welfare for a nation. WVS was founded at a time when
the nation was preparing for war but also at a time when ideas about how to
care for society’s most vulnerable were changing. The poor houses and work
houses were disappearing but there wasn’t yet the provision of the welfare
state and the NHS but they were on their way. The Records of the Royal
Voluntary Service’s Archives show how WVS bridged the gap through 1939-1945
with clubs, feeding, clothing exchanges, welfare foods and many others.
Posters, Photographs, Narrative Reports and documents on policy all demonstrate
the identity of Great Britain as a philanthropic nation with many people
wanting to give their time to help those in need. Today Royal Voluntary Service still enables
people across Great Britain to give their time to help others.
A prime example is work in hospitals particularly Trolley Shops,
this year some hospitals are celebrating 70 years of having a trolley run by
our volunteers. WVS covered a whole range of hospital services during the
Second World War including supply depots, food, fundraising and domestic work.
When staff started to return at the end of the war WVS were asked not to
overlap but to still support hospital services. WVS developed a
range of services for the benefit of patients’ physical and mental wellbeing as
well as supporting the hospitals’ needs. While developing the NHS, the Ministry
of Health asked Lady Reading for support where hospitals would not meet
patients’ needs. Lady Reading of course agreed; while personal shopping
services had existed since 1946 Trolley Shops were one of the first WVS
services to appear within the NHS in 1948 by 1949 there were 183 trolley shops
across the country. For members then and volunteers today trolley shops
were/are all about providing a service to make patients feel special, to give
them independence and connections with the world outside and supporting the
NHS. A pivotal part of our national identity and in the archives this identity
can be found in photographs, publications and central registry files which help
us give local services a clear identity and heritage. The Archive
represents many identities and another of these is the character of the
The Character of the
Founder Chairman Lady
Reading was one of the first women to sit in the House of Lords, in 1958 she
had a coat of arms designed for her title Baroness Swanbrough. She wanted it to
epitomise WVS and the motto was “Not why we can’t but how we can”. Lady Reading had many strong views on the
subject of volunteering which have informed people’s own beliefs today about
giving their time for RVS services, in an interview in 1960 she said:
“Voluntary service, to my mind, is
the proud expression of responsibility undertaken by an individual as an
The shelves of our archives are full of examples of that
proud expression, many selfless acts of volunteering and what it means to be a
volunteer. Oral histories and reports written by centre organisers on a monthly
basis provide us with first-hand accounts and memories of service beyond self
over 80 years of history. I know of many examples which would show you the
character of volunteering but I have chosen the following:
Narrative Report, members of Sheffield WVS after an air raid
12th-15th December 1940
Oral History Barbara Statham, rebuilding the Hospital Canteen
at Bromham, Bedfordshire (1990s)
To me these examples show how volunteers will try and help
where ever they can and shows how we can use archives to find the identity of
the concept of volunteering and use it influence us today.
Having a strong identity helps us to make decisions and being able to identify it from their archives can allow charities to learn about their past and look in to their future. The Royal Voluntary Service represents three identities that of the charity itself, the nation and the character of volunteering. All of these identities of course represent a charity which has been part of the fabric of the nation for 80 years. This blog has given just a few examples of the records and objects which can represent these identities; there are many more to be discovered on the Archive Online
and Our History
pages of the website.
In this week's Blog we share with you our Archivist Matthew McMurray's speech given at the OXO Tower Launch on 31st October. Although we can't recreate the electric atmosphere of that event I would encourage you to listen to get the true message of what photographic archives are all about.
Recently I have been doing
a lot of interviews.
Usually I am asked
What did the WVS do during
or even; What is your favourite
picture in the exhibition?
The first is an easy list
of over 40 different services from garnishing camouflage nets to knitting
comforts for troops and of course the provision of food and hot drinks from
mobile canteens. The list goes on but I
have been told I only have 10 minutes!
The latter is harder, and
I am not sure I could really pick any.
There are so many beautiful and iconic images here, but perhaps these
aren’t truly representative of our organisation and the work of our members and
volunteers over the past 80 years.
Displayed here are Just 35
of about 30,000 images we have in our archive.
Despite our surroundings here at the OXO tower the work of our
volunteers has never been glamorous, in fact our founder Stella Reading said to
an audience in 1960
“In these days we are not
living in the atmosphere of drama, we are no longer being called out at night
for Evacuation or the Blitz. We are
working on day to day work which has perhaps no glamour at all, and yet which
is much more worthwhile, because in-fact it can only be appraised in terms of
For every one of these
beautiful atmospheric images there are hundreds more,
less beautiful and less
More than a few are
slightly blurry candid shots of volunteers going about their everyday work
making a difference to ordinary peoples’ lives through their selfless gift of
their time and there energy. But a
photograph on its own can only tell you so much, and with history context is
Behind these 35 archive
images and the thousands more we have are millions of pieces of paper which give
that context, they are the stories behind these pictures which I, my colleagues
and my volunteers protect on behalf of all past, present and future volunteers
and for the nation as a whole. Our
archive is recognised by UNESCO as one of the most important sources for
Women’s history in the 20th century in Britain, and it is only
through truly understanding where we have been that we can truly know where we
Some of you will be thinking,
‘he hasn’t answered the question yet’ but I promise that I am getting to my
Anyone who has read a good
novel will understand exactly what I mean.
For me photographs, like
anything else, infrequently tell the whole truth.
For me, the pictures I
paint in my mind from the first-hand accounts of our volunteers held in our
archive are the most real, the most honest and the most vivid.
Whether that is the
description of a damp, filthy basement flat occupied by an old man in late
1940s London, or the hard, unchanging and endless struggle faced by centre
organisers over the years to recruit volunteers to help them make a
These are my favourite
Going back to the
questions though: I always like a
slightly more challenging one, it keeps me on my toes, and the other day a lady
asked me a good question.
“Why is Royal Voluntary
Service celebrating its 80th Anniversary?” the tone of her voice
said a million things the question itself did not.
That was a very good
question in the way she meant it and in the probably less than three seconds
before I opened my mouth with my mind doing a million miles an hour, which
seemed like a panicked eternity, a very simple answer came.
Why would you not
celebrate the contribution of over 2 million women and men to British society
over 80 years? A recent estimate I did,
suggests that between them they have given 14 million years of service. Placed end to end that quickly covers off the
whole of human history, passing beyond the origins of Rome, ancient Egypt and way
back into geological time when the first apes started to emerge in Africa.
To be honest I find that a
little difficult to properly comprehend; that so many people have given so much
of themselves to help others.
Looking across the river
to the City of London reminds me that ultimately the strength of a nation is
not measured by its banking operations nor by its financial transactions, it is
measured by something much more important, the character of the men and women who
are that nation.
The contribution of the
men and women of the WVS/WRVS and now Royal Voluntary Service is woven into the
very fabric of this nation. Lady Reading
called Voluntary Service a coloured thread which runs through that fabric, and without
it the fabric is neither as strong nor as beautiful.
These pictures then and
the eight new ones by Nicky which will join those 30,000 others I already look
after, are like the light shining through the crack under a door, they tempt
our innate curiosity to open that door, to look inside and to discover
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.’
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.
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.
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. 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.
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.
 RVS A&HC, Luncheon Clubs, 812, 1967
 RVS A&HC, Report on 25 Years Work 1938-1963, 1963,
Report of Ten Years Work for the Nation 1938-1948
 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
 RVS A&HC, 807, Work for Old People, 1962
 RVS A&HC,
WRVSA&HC/WRVS/HQ/PUB/BUL/BUL-1974-09, Sept 1974 p11
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
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
It’s another of those
famous lines from a Sherlock Holmes story “Data! data! data!" he cried
impatiently. "I can't make bricks without clay.” (The Adventure of the
Copper Beeches) but it can be applied to many areas including archival practice
particularly digitisation. Archives @PAMA recently covered the topic of digitisation
in their blog Why Don’t Archivists Digitise Everything? Part of their argument covered Meta Data and how
important it was to give archives context before digitisation. This has
inspired us, in this week’s blog I would like to look more at the importance of
cataloguing records before digitising them in relation to the Royal Voluntary
Service Archive and Heritage Collection.
What is cataloguing?
Cataloguing is the
process of creating a formal description of records held within an archival
collection. This is based on a hierarchical structure showing where Items,
files and series best fit within a collection and describes details such as the
content, context, admin and custodial history, date and access details.
Cataloguing records can help to make collections more accessible with details
and keywords which help researchers find what they are looking for and link
different records together on the same topics. If you would like to know more
about Archival description why not read Organising Archive material HeritageBulletin Volume 6.
Why is it important for digitisation?
important to digitisation because it turns a single item on its own which may
not tell us much about the activities of an organisation into a record which
has context, a history of its own and links it to the rest of the collection.
For example when cataloguing photographs, publications or posters if there are similar
items or a series relating to each other we record their references in the
Related Material Field. This helps lead researchers in looking at all the
material available on a chosen topic. Recording this data before digitising
records also gives the archivists the opportunity to assess the preservation needs
of the material and repackage it into archival standard folders, boxes, papers
etc.. It also allows of consultation on the need to digitise material and if digitised
material could be published online depending on condition, content and
copyright. This work can be very important in terms of preservation and access.
Our Collections and how cataloguing has helped make them more
parts of the Archive & Heritage Collection has allowed us to publish the catalogue records online for people to search for themselves. This work has
given the team a greater knowledge of what materials are held in the collection
and led in some case to digitisation.
Photographs and Posters
The Archive has been
focusing on cataloguing and digitising records since 2010 and started with a
collection of publicity photographs. Creating detailed descriptions of
photographs allows researchers to find photographs easily and quickly by
searching key words. Cataloguing also allows the Charity to record useful data
about copyright holders and to distinguish which images can be used in
promoting its rich history and heritage in many of the services it provides
today. The Poster collection was catalogued and digitised in 2012 which has
provided the same advantages as the photographs.
WVS/WRVS Bulletin/Magazine and WRVSAssociation
Over the years Royal
Voluntary Service has produced a number of publications including magazines
containing news stories and information about its activities and that of the
Association (1971-2013). Using the description field on our catalogue to its
advantage and OCR software we were able to record all the information in each WVS/WRVS
Bulletin/Magazine and WRVS Association Newsletters and make it searchable. Being
able to do such a specific search can save time in trying to find articles
covering particular services or activities. Recording months and dates also allows
us to pin point key dates such as the first Trolley shop or mobile canteen.
Between March 2012
and March 2014 we catalogued all the Narrative Reports held in the collection
which were written between 1938 and 1965. The information recorded included the
areas the reports were from and this work enabled the archive to develop the
Kickstarter Project Hidden histories of a million wartime women. The £27,724
raised via the crowdfunding site meant we could digitise all the reports
written between 1938 and 1945 and publish them online. This allows more people
access to these hugely important documents and it all started with a
The items mentioned
above are also very fragile and cataloguing means we can pinpoint the exact
records we are looking for without rifling through a number of documents before
finding the correct information. Digitisation which leads on from this helps us further in preserving fragile items
as digital images are used as preservation copies for research meaning we
reduce handling the original. Cataloguing also assist with the creation of
finding aids such as the Guide to Archive Online; using data and description
fields from the catalogue means we can assist researchers in their search for
more knowledge about WVS/WRVS.
I have not included
Voice of Volunteering Oral Histories in this week’s Blog as they are born
digital records and in a future blog we’ll look at the difference between
digitisation and born digital.
Cataloguing is the
process of creating a formal description of records held within an archival
collection. It is important to create these records before digitising to
provide context and allow archivists to assess the need for the material to be
digitised. Working on a project to both catalogue and digitise material can
also help with preservation and digitisation which are very important activities
in archives. Since 2010 Royal Voluntary Service has been working to catalogue
its collection which as a result has led to some interesting digitisation
projects including photographs, Narrative Reports and publications. However
without the first stage of creating information about the these records this
work could not have been carried out.
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
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
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.