Keep up to date with the latest news and happenings at the Archive and Heritage Collection. Send us your email address to receive notifications of new posts to your inbox, or follow us on twitter.com/RVSarchives
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.
Between 2014 and 2016 Royal Voluntary Service worked on its
Voices of Volunteering project. Its aim was to collect up to 80 oral histories, which capture the memories and
recollections of people who have volunteered and worked for the Royal
Voluntary Service and make them accessible in a number of ways and introduce
new volunteers known as heritage champions to Royal Voluntary Service and oral
history. Throughout the project I don’t think we ever explained on the Heritage
Bulletin Blog what oral history was and how it shapes archives and archivists.
What is Oral history?
The basic definition of oral history is that it is the collection
of memories and personal commentaries of historical significance through
recorded interviews. However this includes many elements including preparation
of interview questions, building an interviewer and interviewee relationship,
recording the interview, archiving it, cataloguing, writing transcriptions,
making it accessible and interpreting the information for other to use. In
essence there is a whole project behind the words oral history.
How is an archive based
oral history project run?
Talking from experience oral history projects based in
archives is not just the collection and archiving of the interviews it is much
more than that. Voices of Volunteering: 75 years of citizenship and service was
a pioneering oral history project bringing the voices of WVS, WRVS and Royal
Voluntary Service volunteers to life. Generously funded by the Heritage Lottery
Fund, over two years Royal Voluntary Service professionally gathered 80 oral
histories from past and present volunteers from every part of Great Britain;
stories told in their own voices and own words, of their contribution to the
largest voluntary organisation in British history. Run by the Project Archivist
this also involved training and collection of oral histories by volunteers
called heritage champions, cataloguing and preserving oral histories, creating
school resources and holding an end of project event in Devizes. You can find
out more about the project here.
Archivists and oral
In the past oral history would have been the preserve of the
historian choosing who to interview for a specific research project and later
depositing those interviews in an archive somewhere where they might be
catalogued in the future. Today with the growing trend of archivists expanding
their role in the heritage and information world many archives are taking on
their own projects. Many of these archives seem to represent those whose
histories are usually hidden or underrepresented in the public domain or to
fill in gaps in the history of an organisation or to save current knowledge before
it disappears forever.
While Jenkinson said that archives were not “collected” but “came together and reached their final arrangement by a natural process”. Schellenberg argued that the modern archivist “had a definite need to redefine archives in a manner more suited to his own requirements”. Schellenburg emphasised the historical relevance of keeping records, perhaps after the time of these two pioneers archivists have moved on to develop this aspect. It wouldn’t be unreasonable for archives in increasing access to archives and providing innovative outreach projects to take on the role of a historian or work on a project with one to create archives for their repository. It’s all part of the merge of the many roles in the heritage and history industry.
Oral history is just one of the many projects where archivists roles are expanded and their skill sets changed. This isn’t just in the collection of oral history and learning interview skills but also back in the more traditional role as preserver. Over the years sound has been recorded in many formats; archivists used to focus on preserving a physical format such as vinyl or cassette tape but now along with more “traditional” born digital archives oral history has moved on to the digital plying field and archivists must learn to preserve, migrate and make accessible these formats such as WAV and MP3. It’s an ever changing world which archivists must stay ahead of and oral history has had an effect on.
Oral history is not just a recorded interview it is a recorded interview with an entire project behind it archiving, making accessible and interpreting that recording. The project is run with many elements including heritage, community, education and preservation. They are planned out and celebrated as well as being funded either internally or externally. No longer just the preserve of historians they have developed into a trustworthy and reliable source of expanding our knowledge of historical events. Oral history is never simple it’s a complex and has many layers to it which is helping to develop the role of an archivist in the modern world.