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The simplest ways to make the best of Royal Voluntary Service’s Heritage Collection

Welcome to this month’s heritage bulletin blog, it’s a little bit later than usual but it is holiday season and we have been working on some exciting projects; more on that in future blogs. This month we thought we would discuss the best ways that you our readers can use the Heritage Collection. We will explore what resources we have, what help we can offer and give examples of how our heritage has been used in the past.


ArchiveOnline is a fully searchable catalogue contains listings, many with preview images of a selection of historical material housed in our Archive & Heritage Collection. It is also the gateway to our digital, downloadable version of all 419 issues of the WVS/WRVS Bulletin from 1939-1974, over 60 Oral Histories and the 84,000 pages of the WVS Narrative Reports 1938-1945.
There is also a guide available to help you use our extensive catalogue; Guide to searching the Archive Online.
Why not have a go at running a search and see what you can find!

Read our fact sheets and tell us if you think there is topics we should include

From an in-depth analysis to a short overview of the history and origins of some of the charities most enquired about services.
More detailed fact sheets can be found on the Royal Voluntary Service website and include among others:
• Hidden Histories of a Million Wartime Women - kickstarter updates
• Welfare work in hospitals 1938 - 2013
• Origins of WVS
• WVS Housewives' Service
• One in Five

On our school resources pages Voices of Volunteering you’ll also find brief overviews of many services including among others: ·
• Books on Wheels
• Clothing Depots
• Good Neighbours
• Lunch Clubs
• Services Welfare

While we have an extensive rage of factsheets if you’re looking for information on a particular topic please let us know.

Read past blogs and follow us on social media

As you are already doing you can keep up to date with the Archive and find out about the history of the Charity in this blog. An archive of these blogs is also available on the right of the page.

Also we are very active each week on Twitter and Facebook, why not follow us to keep up to date.

Ask us a question

We are here to help and answer all your questions about our history and our Heritage Collection. If you have a burning question for us then get in touch and email us archive@royalvoluntaryservice.org.uk.

Visit us

If you have many many questions needing an answer or researching a particular topic in depth then why not come and visit us, the collection is open by appointment only the first Tuesday and Wednesday of each month, 10:00-16:00 (closed for lunch between 13:00-14:00). To ensure we can provide a high standard of service, access is by appointment only and we ask that these are made at least a month in advance. You can find more information here about this service.


Of course we all assume the traditional archive audience is academics, historians (of different disciplines depending on your archive) and genealogists. Archival audiences are also those who have traditionally been represented by them. I could in site the usual pale, male and stale but I know from personal experience this simply isn’t true. In 2015/16 we used our oral histories, publications, photographs and documents to create the Voices of Volunteering School Resources. These resources are for teachers to use with students age 14+ studying Citizenship, PHSE, English language and History or who are involved in extracurricular activities such as the Duke of Edinburgh Award. Titled Citizenship and Service, the activities and oral histories illustrate to students the significance of volunteering through the volunteers’ own eyes and how volunteering has adapted to the changing needs in society. The resources are available free for all. Visit Voices of Volunteering: 75 Years of Citizenship and Service.

There you have it six of the simplest ways to make the best of Royal Voluntary Service’s Heritage Collection. Hopefully you’ll try some of them if not all of them out in the near future. Of course there are other ways you can use the Heritage collection and perhaps you will let us know how you have been using it.

Posted by Jennifer HUnt, Archivist at 09:00 Monday, 08 July 2019.

Labels: Archive Online, School Resources, Social Media, Visit, Enquiry, Blog

Clothing Stores

The WVS Clothing Department was established in 1939 to run Regional Clothing Depots which provided garments, shoes and boots for children. Clothing was donated, sent from overseas by the Canadian and American Red Cross, and handmade in working parties. Volunteers would run regional and sub-depots; sorting, and distributing clothing as part of WVS’s Civil Defence role.

Clothing was also supplied to adult evacuees and the homeless from 1941 resulting in six and a half million garments being distributed between 1940 and 1943. The WVS also opened Clothing Exchanges from 1943 allowed parents to swap clothes for their growing children without using valuable coupons. As a result millions more garments were given out during 1944, 1945.

Although Depots began to close in 1946 many people still needed assistance and WVS carried on its vital role in clothing setting up County, Centre and County Borough Clothing Depots. It was also a huge part of WVS Civil Defence work providing clothing to flood victims in 1947 and 1953.

Clothing Depots were for people who had no other way of clothing themselves and they had to be recommended by certain bodies or organisations. This included the NSPCC, Ministry of Pensions, Hospital Almoners and Prohibition Officers, Doctors and Social Services.

Over the years clothing was also distributed to refugees from Hungary in 1956 and then Ugandan Asians in 1972. The demand for clothing continued to be high and by 1976 1.5 million garments were given out each year. In the late 1980s they were renamed Clothing Stores and distributed around 2 million garments a year. At that time stores could be found in Area, County, Scottish Regional, Metropolitan, District, Local and London Borough Offices.

As part of the Voices of Volunteering project 2014-2016 over 80 volunteers shared their experiences including for some clothing stores. Barbara Sparks a volunteer in Somerset was one of those volunteers.


"Then I started to work in the clothing store and thoroughly enjoyed it, absolutely
thoroughly enjoyed.
[Interviewer] Who would come into the clothing store?
[BS]: It, they were sent by Social Services, they had to have a need. And they
would be supplied with up to three changes of clothing twice a year so they
could come in the summer for summer clothes and then in the winter for their
winter stuff. And everything was logged down in a book and, if they came back
in between time and tried to swing the lead that they needed more because
they hadn't got any, the ladies would go and produce the book and say ‘Look, is
that your signature? Because on the such and such a date you were given this,
this, this, this, this and this, what have you done with it’? ‘Ah, I, well it wore out’
or well, and that was fair enough, that was fair comment. But if it was just that
they'd sold it because they thought they'd get a couple
of pennies for it, well no, they didn't get anything else. The ladies were quite strict like that, but you
needed to be. And it was quite, quite sad to see some of the people that came
in some days because one lady came in, no names obviously, but she’d, she’d
been pregnant and she's got a maternity grant and she’d blown the lot on a pink
baby dress because it was something she’d never had when she was a child,
and she just loved this dress, and she blew the entire maternity grant and then
she had a red headed boy. And poor lady, she came in and she said ‘What am I
going to do’? And they said ‘Don't worry, don't worry, we’ll sort you out’. And
they gave a complete layette, so she had everything from nappies right the way
through to vests and booties and, and, and little rompers, everything that the
baby needed for a little boy. And it was so tragic to think that she’d, she’d been
so much in need when she was a child that all she wanted was this dress for
her child. Really, really sad. And yes, I used to go in
there on a regular basis, well three times a week.
Some people you, you thought ‘Well, why did you do it’? One of my relatives
was quite high up in Social Services elsewhere and he said he loved WRVS,
absolutely loved WRVS clothing stores because their s
taff were being asked for
money and they knew it wasn't being spent on what it was being asked for
whereas they could give them a letter for our clothing store and we would make
sure that they actually got what they are supposed to need. And that they could
use it that way. He, he couldn't sing their praises high enough. So it was a much
needed facility at the time."

  You can find more oral histories and information about clothing stores by serching Archive Online.

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

Labels: Clothing, Volunteering , WVS, WRVS, School Resources, Social Services