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Service Beyond Self

In this month’s Heritage Bulletin Blog we share with you a speech given to volunteers by our Keeper of Heritage Matthew McMurray in September.

Volunteer Event 19th September 2019 – Lancing

When I was asked to come and speak to you all today, I was told that I only had ten minutes! Anyone who knows me well will know that ten minutes for me is never enough especially when talking about the History of Royal Voluntary Service, It usually takes me 40 minutes just to get through a whistle-stop tour of the history of our service in just one hospital!

But then I thought again and realised that the achievements of the past is not what today is about.

Two weeks ago our Chief Executive Catherine Johnston asked me to find her a quote from our founder Lady Reading about ‘inspiring society to volunteer’. One of the greatest challenges we face in modern Britain is finding and encouraging those with time, talents and energy to give those things for free to help others. In an age where there are so many choices, where the pace of life seems impossible to keep up with and where there is divided opinion on our most pressing problems, what can those of us who want to make a difference do? How can we influence Society and the seemingly intractable tussle between self-interest and the common good?

However, I’ve watched with growing admiration the rise this year of movements which seemingly come from nowhere, with no formal leaders or structure, but with clear goals and a vision for the future. Ones where self-interest is sacrificed for the common good.

I’m of course principally talking about the climate change movement, which seems to have the power to galvanise people across the world whether they are eight or eighty. But the politics and subject of this are unimportant, what is important is the genius of how it was formed, has grown and begun to have an effect in achieving its aims and making Society listen.

That vitally important element is the power of individuals.

For Lady Reading the power of the individual was key to everything. It was from the actions of those individuals and the voluntary service they gave: added to that of hundreds or thousands or even millions of others which had the power to change societies, nations and ultimately the world.

She said

“The right pattern of life for the whole world will ultimately depend on individuals, not on Governments.
What must be aimed at is a pattern in which the standard of the individual is one in which character sets the sights, and not either the wish for possessions or the ambition for position.
It is not the spectacular person who is necessarily the best leader – but the one with a character in which application to the problem, devotion to duty, and integrity of service, are the dominating strengths”



In a moment we will be celebrating the contribution of twelve individuals who between them have given more than 100 years of service to this nation.

They have each made their own individual contribution to help others, what Lady Reading called “manifold smallnesses”.

Please do not misinterpret this; think of it in terms of a colony of honey bees (busy bees are part of her coat of arms). Each of the millions of bees has their part to play, each giving their all, each job added to the next and to the next and so on until each of those manifold smallnesses combine together to make a glorious whole.

But unlike those honey bees your efforts are not just added to the contributions of tens of thousands of other Royal Voluntary Service Volunteers today, they come on top of the efforts of the millions of Royal Voluntary Service volunteers who came before you, creating an inspiring legacy which has changed Society.


The culminations of these manifold smallness’s are recorded in our Heritage Collection which is one of the largest and richest records of voluntary service in the country.

Because of it I can tell you that in Brighton our work at the Royal County Hospital started in August 1960 when we opened our first canteen there, making those being recognised today from Royal County the latest in 60 years’ worth of dedicated continuous service to that hospital.

At Crawley Hospital we started serving teas to Out-patients in February 1961 and our help there has only expanded over the years, from flower arranging to trolley shops.

But our work is not just about hospitals, as an organisation we started and are still about providing help in our communities and helping people in their own homes. In Horsham by 1949 a Home Help service was up and running, the forerunner to our Good Neighbours service which still runs today, a regular, energetic and continuous connection to that community for over 70 years.

Lastly, but certainly not least, here in Lancing, Chesham House opened its doors in May 1955. Back then it was an innovative project creating something new, beyond a simple Darby & Joan Club, and today Annick and the volunteers there continue that innovative tradition which is now 64 years strong.

The services you provide today, are the stories and heritage of the future. The story of that continuity of “Service Beyond Self” is a powerful one and one which needs to be collected and told if we are to continue to inspire future generations to give those ‘manifold smallnesses’. That is the small part that the Heritage Collection has played for 60 years.

But I want to finish where I began, with the challenges we face in the world today; but now armed with the knowledge that every one of us has in our hands the power, as individuals, working together, to influence that intractable tussle and make Society hear.

Lady Reading as ever sums it up better than I ever could.

"This country believes in great intangible things, it holds its faith in that which is right, it admires that which is good, it loves that which is just. We are a proud nation. We ask for no man's pity but we want every man's respect. And so, to achieve life as it should be, we must go on building, maybe with worn-out tools, maybe with backs that ache, but always with eyes that have seen something of the sublime, and in the knowledge that we can undertake and shall achieve even the seemingly impossible."


Posted by Matthew McMurray, Keeper of Heritage at 09:00 Monday, 04 November 2019.

Labels: Volunteers, Society, Movement, Lancing, Sussex

Recently Received

Accessioning is the process where archivists record new additions to their collections. Over the last year we have been given over forty new additions ranging from objects, uniform, photographs, publications, documents and many others besides. I thought that I would share two recent examples with you this week.

WVS Canteen Worker Plaster Statuette

On our shelves waiting to be housed in a new acid free box surrounded by plastazote  is a 12 inch tall carved plaster statuette of a standing WVS Canteen worker in WVS uniform coat, hat, scarf and gloves.  It was sent into the Chesham House RVS Community centre in august this year after being brought by the owner in the 1980s from a shop called Bygones.

Pictured in this blog she is holding four cups with her fingers through the handles in her right hand and two with the fingers of her left.  She is also holding four milk bottles against her chest with her left arm.   There are two tea urns at her feet to the right and behind her.  On the front of the plinth is incised, 'W.V.S. CANTEEN WORKER’ in a serif script in capitals. 

The reverse of the plinth holds a very feint signature 'Margaret H G???????' and a date '1941.5'.  Unfortunately a portion of the hat brim over and behind the right eye has been broken off and is missing, and a crack around the whole of the neck indicates that the head has been broken off and replaced. Now it is part of our unique and very interesting collection it can be preserved and kept safe for posterity.

East Kilbride, Lanarkshire Local Office Collection

This was one of the larger accessions of the year and probably the last to arrive, we look forward to seeing what comes to the archive next year. The documents which arrived in a large cardboard box was made up of minutes, day books, Narrative Reports for Strathaven, Strathclyde and East Kilbride, Quarterly Reports, Scottish Annual Reports, financial records, emergency Services training programmes and publications. All these records tell the story of the Strathaven and Strathclyde offices in the Lanarkshire/East Kilbride districts between 1954 and 2003. One of my favourite items was "WOMEN'S ROYAL VOLUNTARY SERVICE NOTES FOR MEMBERS" which had a very interesting FAQ section including one which sounds more like a statement:

“Question: You are a class organisation, middle-class, choosey and establishment-minded"

"Answer: Come, come, most up-to-date community welfare is organised on the knowledge of demographic figures. WRVS membership is representative of the communities in which they live and serve. North Country folk serve North Country communities. Londoners serve London. In a new “young families” housing complex, young marrieds serve young family needs. In sheltered housing, elderly serve each other. I suppose you imagine AB’s serve DE’s. you ought to think again! (Note: Modern demographics have a way to classifying Very Rich as AB and Very Poor as DE and Middle and Professional classes as C1 and C2.)”

Posted by Jennifer Hunt, Deputy Archivist at 09:00 Monday, 12 December 2016.

Labels: Lancing, Sussex, Lanarkshire , Accessions, Scotland