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The history of WRVS/Royal Voluntary Service in Post-modern Britain

In the study of historical periods historians don’t just look at a time period of 100 years when looking at centuries in the modern era. There are some historians who define eras with the end of regimes or with dramatic events which change the course of history. In some cases the 20th century is defined as the short twentieth century as 1914 to 1989 an era of extremist regimes and conflict. With the end of the cold war as discussed in last week’s blog historians have defined the period after this as the postmodern era. In the 1990s WRVS was still active but going through many changes to become the charity it is today. In this week’s blog I thought I’d tell this story through some objects and uniform held in the archive collection.

WRVS officially become a charity in 1992 and appointed its first Chief executive. It was starting its journey to become Royal Voluntary Service.  In 1997 it was decided that over a ten year period the Government would decrease and finally stop a grant given to WRVS to carry out its services. In 1997 the charity began fundraising having never done so before for itself.

WRVS Collecting pot with cords. Green plastic collecting tin, white sticker WRVS 1994-2004 logo green text "WOMEN'S ROYAL VOLUNTARY SERVICE", "Help Make Someone's Day", "WRVS Head Office: Milton Hill Training Centre, Milton Hill, Abingdon, Oxfordshire, OX13 6AF", "Women's Royal Voluntary Service is a Registered Charity". Three orange plastic collecting tins with chain Stickers: one WRVS 2004-2013 logo with Strapline 'make it count' [2004-2008] and Head Office contact details, registered charity number. One WRVS 2004-2013 logo with strapline "it's your money make it count" purple banner white text "one million older people feel trapped in their homes" purple text "WRVS home visit volunteers provide a lifeline" orange text "www.wrvs.org.uk" Head Office details and registered charity number on the side. One WRVS 2004-2013 logo with strapline "it's your money make it count" purple banner white text "Emergencies devastate thousands of lives each year" purple text "help equip us to respond to disasters 24 hours a day, every day of the year" orange text "www.wrvs.org.uk" Head Office details and registered charity number on the side.


Like many organisations/charities in the 1990s, in 1998, the uniform was relinquished altogether in favour of casual work wear on the basis that 'smart but casual clothing was more appropriate for a dynamic and modern volunteering organisation – appealing to a new generation of members and increasing number of male volunteers – both needed to keep WRVS vibrant and right up to date. WRVS commissioned well-known Scottish designer Betty Davis to develop a new collection of branded clothing, which launched in the Winter 2000 edition of Action Magazine.

Gilet, Khaki, polyester, WRVS, Label Betty Davies Edinburgh sewn and Betty Davies white polo shirt, 1994-2004 embroidered logo on left breast, signature label.

In 2004, WRVS finalised its transformation from an organisation which did just about anything to one whose primary purpose was the care of older people. To coincide with this, WRVS changed its name and image, with the aim to modernise and re-invigorate.

WRVS Make it count flag standard, White synthetic fabric flag standard, oblong, with orange fringing around three sides, WRVS 2004-2013 logo with 'Make it count TM' strap line in purple. Brown wood pole with brass fittings, orange rope with tassels.

WRVS changed its name to Royal Voluntary Service during its 75th anniversary year, 2013. This was to help encourage more men to join the organisation. While it kept the casual look instead of returning to uniform it did return to its roots of red and green in its logo.


Tee Shirt, White, Screen Printed, Royal Voluntary Service, White Tee shirt, Screen printed to front with "Sing your Heart out for vulnerable older people" with "Royal Voluntary Service together for older people" logo below.

In 2018 Royal Voluntary Service is celebrating 80 years of volunteering. Compassion in Crisis looks at how the roles of volunteers in times of crisis have changed over those 80 years. This exhibition is full of objects, uniform and information about the charity's history.

These items from the collection may represent more aesthetic changes to the organisation rather than the changes to its role in society. It transformed from a charity which did everything and anything to one which adapted to find the places where it was needed in postmodern society including older people’s welfare, health and hospitals and Services Welfare they are still important in showing modern day changes. Altering its Identity in certain years can represent when these changes took place.

Remember you still have a week to see the Compassion in Crisis Exhibition at Wiltshire Museum (closes on 24th June).


Posted by Jennifer Hunt, Deputy Archivist at 09:00 Monday, 18 June 2018.

Labels: Object, Uniform, Archives, Twentith Century, Twenty First Century, Post modern

The women in green, ready for any eventuality

The Second World War ended on 2 September 1945 following the defeat of Japan in August. It concluded in August when America dropped two nuclear weapons on Hiroshima and Nagasaki causing the Japanese to surrender. However with the end of one war came the threat of another completely different type of war and one which played out on several different battlefields but didn’t result as some feared in nuclear armageddon but the fall of a political ideology and superpower. This was the Cold War which spanned four decades from 1947-1991. Of course in the unfortunate event that nuclear war would play out between east and west there was a volunteer army at the ready and well prepared to assist civilians; obviously it was the WVS.

At the end of the Second World War it seemed that the post-war years would be a time of peace and in Britain the Civil Defence Services were disbanded. However by 1949 the government and the people had come to realise that with large world powers making nuclear weapons the Civil Defence Corps needed to be brought back into action. This took the form of a voluntary organisation which incorporated the WVS into a special welfare section. In 1951 Home Secretary David Maxwell Fyfe declared the function of WVS in Civil Defence would be to:

Roles included

• Training

• Running rest centres

• Helping in peacetime national disasters

• Providing meals for Firemen, police, members of the Civil Defence Corps and Cadet Camps

Emergency Feeding and feeding at large scale events as part of training (also part of the Food Flying Squads)

• Home Nursing

• First Aid

• Liaison with Civil Defence in other countries WVS members trained women from Holland, America, Lebanon and Luxemburg to name a few.

• One in Five talks which aimed to talk to 3 million women about the dangers of nuclear attack and basic survival.

In the mid to late 1960s the Cold War between Russia and Britain had started to thaw and it was thought there was no longer a need for the Civil Defence Corps. The corps were disbanded in 1968, however the ever practical Lady Reading and WRVS members (by then Royal had been added to the title) saw a need for the welfare services they had been providing since 1949 as part of Civil Defence. In the early 1970s they started the Emergency Services Department. This new department continued in the following roles:

• Running rest centres

• Helping in peacetime national disasters

• Providing meals for Firemen, police

• Emergency Feeding and feeding at large scale events

One in Five, although part of WRVS’s Civil Defence work, had been established as a separate department and so work continued to train one fifth of women about the dangers of nuclear attack and basic survival. This service continued into the 1980s and as hostilities relaxed and the Soviet Union collapsed (1989-1991) the department faded away.

Even though parts of WRVS’s role in preparing the nation for a large national crisis ended with the fall of the Berlin wall and collapse of the Soviet Union some vital services were still needed. Volunteers continued to assist in emergencies and reassuring the nation in times of need in our next blog we will look at how WRVS provided compassion in crisis in a new era were the ideals of society and community were changing drastically.

You can find out more about the role of WVS/WRVS during the Cold War on our factsheet page or if you are in or near to Devizes before 24th June you can visit the Compassion in Crisis Exhibition at Wiltshire Museum.

Posted by Jennifer Hunt, Deputy Archivist at 00:00 Monday, 04 June 2018.

Labels: WVS, WRVS, Cold War, Civil Defence, Emergency, Nuclear