With the launch of the Lets End Going Home Alone campaign today, l thought we would take a look at our role getting people home from hospital or just about anywhere.
Transport for those in need is one of the longest running services the Royal Voluntary Service still provides. Transport had been at the heart of WVS work from the very beginning, initially recruiting and training drivers for heavier vehicles such as ambulances. But when the basic petrol ration was withdrawn in the summer of 1942 the Volunteer Car Pool (VCP) was formed and administered by WVS to provide cars for emergency use and for the day to day running in connection with Civil Defence, evacuation and other essential work. By 1943 they were overseeing 570 VCP schemes across Britain. At the end of the War when the VCP was closed down in July 1945, it had clocked up over 60 million miles.
The disbandment and withdrawal of the VCP would have been keenly felt, especially by hospitals for which the largest amount of work had been done, 41.5% of the total. However, Lady Reading realising this need sat down with the heads of the British Red Cross (BRC) and the St. John Ambulance Brigade and organised a service for those sitting patients who could not afford an ambulance or hire car to hospital. This service was named, rather prosaically, the ‘Hospital Car Service’ and began with a pilot in Oxfordshire on 1 August 1945 before being rolled out across the country. In the first year of its operation its cars covered 409,987 miles. It was initially thought that the service would only run until the creation of the NHS in 1948, but under the 1946 NHS act Local authorities were obliged to provide transport to hospital for those who needed it and Volunteer drivers was the only affordable way of doing it. The Hospital Car Service managed by the WVS continued until the mid-1970s when it was taken over by the Hospital Authorities.
As a result of the hospital car schemes and the experience of the VCP during the war, WVS knew the value of social transport schemes and the difference that for example respite (even for just an afternoon) for tired mothers could make. Therefore in the 1960s the WVS started the Spare a Mile Scheme by which they encouraged volunteer drivers to give lifts to the disabled, elderly or handicapped. It was not until 1970, as the number of HCS schemes declined that WRVS developed a fully fledged community transport scheme for all. In Wales this was called ‘Country Cars’ and gave anyone who needed it a lift to clinics, surgeries, dentists and opticians. In Wales they once even gave a lift to a dog!