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In 1939 WVS first began to recruit volunteers to work in mobile canteens which were largely used to feed Civil Defence workers and civilians in need. WVS volunteers also gave their support within hospitals during the war, working in hospital canteens, answering telephones, doing domestic jobs and completing other duties of every kind to help assist with staff shortages. When the NHS was established in 1948 Lady Reading and the Minister for Health, Aneurin Bevan, agreed that WVS would expand into running out-patient canteens.
Towards the end of the 1960s there were three types of hospital canteens: two of these were static, the first situated within the hospital building and the second in separate buildings in the grounds. Finally, trolley services were provided which toured wards selling goods and refreshments to bedridden patients.
The canteens provided an area within hospitals that allowed patients and visitors to escape from the wards. A 1969 Health and Hospitals News Sheet stated that WRVS offered the opportunity to experience a place run by ‘“normal” people, i.e. non-professionals’. It allowed long term patients to feel independent and to have real connections with the outside world.
Over time the food served at the hospital canteens changed from simple snack foods to hot meals. In the early years the canteens’ leading provisions were sandwiches with lentil, pea or bean spread and cream cheese fillings. However, by the 1970s the food provided had changed to include meat pies and sausage rolls, available due to the introduction of hot counters and freezers.
Any profits made were gifted back to the hospital to enable them to purchase new equipment needed to help the patients. One example of this was the WRVS shop and canteen service in Bedford’s South Wing Hospital. They were able to raise £148,522 in the 12 years before it was refurbished and expanded in 1994. These profits allowed the WRVS to gift the following equipment to Bedford’s South Wing Hospital:
• Aesculap drill - £4014
• Surgical telescopes - £720
• Two heart monitors - £6000
• Many smaller items such as furniture, patient trolleys and medical utensils
Today there are approximately 900 hospitals in which the RVS provides its services ranging from shops to canteens and trolley services. The proceeds from these are still gifted back to the hospital in order to provide better care for patients as well as better standards for staff and visitors.
A lot has happened since I last wrote something for the Heritage Bulletin back in July 2012. It is hard to believe that over two years have gone by.
Back then I was helping in the massive effort to repackage all of our Narrative Reports, a small contribution to the 120,000 that between us we managed to do.
Since then I catalogued all of the posters we have in the collection here in Devizes which you can now see on the online catalogue.
For the last year though I have been immersed in the world of marketing photographs from the 1990s and early 2000s. When I started I was presented with eight boxes of photographic prints, negatives and CD-roms, all of which had very little discernible order! My job for the last 12 months has been to try and put these back in their original order or where this is impossible to impose something logical.
As I leaf through the thousands of pictures there is the joy of disposing of the utterly irrelevant, such as pictures of dogs, hands and plates of food; pictures with little or no long term historical value. Also the elation of finding one of the pictures amongst the thousands in a publication and being able to reunite it with its context; a eureka moment (especially when I have remembered the picture from several months before).
I had a short break (escape) to take photographs of our collection of enamel badges (I’m a bit of an amateur photographer), before diving back in. Currently I am laboriously writing reference numbers on the back of each image, a task which is almost at its end (I hope to finish in October, Phew!)
I guess when that is done, I’ll have to scan then in and then catalogue them. Might be let off in 2018! In time for the 80th Anniversary!
When I requested this job all that time back, I fondly remember our Archivist, Matthew saying “be careful what you wish for, you may get it” I certainly have!