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Volunteers' Week takes place on 1st to 7th June and is dedicated to celebrating the fantastic contribution made by millions of volunteers across the country. In this week’s blog I thought we would celebrate the contribution made by millions of volunteers for nearly 80 years through WVS/WRVS/Royal Voluntary Service. Over the years these volunteers haven’t just made a contribution to the UK but have inspired volunteering across the globe; one example is the Home Help Service.
In 1944 the WVS Centre Organiser for the City of Oxford, Theresa MacDonald, asked the Local Authorities permission to pioneer a new scheme, Home Helps. Its purpose was to work alongside and form an attachment with the Local Health Services. At first it dealt with maternity as its top priority and then concerned itself with old people as well as chronic cases. Eventually the Helps took on any cases which were a health emergency.
As a public health service, Home Helps took on jobs such as washing, cooking and child care. They were employed by the Local Authority but administration was in the hands of a voluntary organiser. The WVS trained the Helps and promoted the scheme, at first very little formal training was given but later Helps could work towards the National Institute of Houseworkers’ Diploma.
In 1946 WVS opened a Home Helps Department at headquarters in London and used its network to publicise the scheme. The department also ran residential training for Home Help Organisers. Different local schemes added their own flare to training meetings including celebrations such as Christmas, birthday and anniversary parties. Buckinghamshire went further and held a county rally for its Home Helps. When the National Health Service Act (1948) came into force the Ministry of Health stated that Home Helps was vital to the new service. Many Health Services however wanted to take full control of the scheme. In some areas the WVS remained very involved with Home Helps, though over the years many handed over to Local Authorities and paid organisers.
It’s interesting what can motivate you to do research, recently I was reading a novel set in in Italy in 1945 so I wondered what connections WVS had with the country. Sure enough we had a file titled Italy in the Central Registry Series. In this file I came across a report titled Milan Italy which discusses the Associazione Amici Buona Causa, the literal translation Friends of a Good Cause, the Italian version of Home Helps.
Originally this service focused on urgent or needful cases such as maternity and sudden illness but had not really focused on older people who might need regular visits. It’s development pretty much mirrored the WVS Home Helps. In 1956 Donna Ina Gallaritti Scotti who worked with the Associazione Amici Buona Causa travelled to England to research how Home Helps assisted older people in their own homes and talk with WVS about their work. Her main objective was to attend the Home Helps Conference which was attended by WVS members representing their local authorities. It was also attended by the Public Assistance Minister from Rome which, she felt, would aid her cause back in Milan. During her visit to Britain she spoke with the Older People’s Welfare Department at Headquarters who provided information about the costs of their various services. She was very impressed and felt able to carry out this work when she returned to Italy.
WVS continued to run this service but by 1964 only a few WVS run schemes remained in counties such as Cornwall, Worcestershire and East and West Sussex. Home Helps was finally wrapped up in 1974 with the closure of the final scheme in East Sussex. However it inspired many other services which still continue such as Good Neighbours and befriending.
Thank you to all our past and present volunteers for being so inspiring not just on volunteers' week but in the past, present and future.