Heritage Bulletin blog

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The history of WRVS/Royal Voluntary Service in Post-modern Britain

In the study of historical periods historians don’t just look at a time period of 100 years when looking at centuries in the modern era. There are some historians who define eras with the end of regimes or with dramatic events which change the course of history. In some cases the 20th century is defined as the short twentieth century as 1914 to 1989 an era of extremist regimes and conflict. With the end of the cold war as discussed in last week’s blog historians have defined the period after this as the postmodern era. In the 1990s WRVS was still active but going through many changes to become the charity it is today. In this week’s blog I thought I’d tell this story through some objects and uniform held in the archive collection.

WRVS officially become a charity in 1992 and appointed its first Chief executive. It was starting its journey to become Royal Voluntary Service.  In 1997 it was decided that over a ten year period the Government would decrease and finally stop a grant given to WRVS to carry out its services. In 1997 the charity began fundraising having never done so before for itself.

WRVS Collecting pot with cords. Green plastic collecting tin, white sticker WRVS 1994-2004 logo green text "WOMEN'S ROYAL VOLUNTARY SERVICE", "Help Make Someone's Day", "WRVS Head Office: Milton Hill Training Centre, Milton Hill, Abingdon, Oxfordshire, OX13 6AF", "Women's Royal Voluntary Service is a Registered Charity". Three orange plastic collecting tins with chain Stickers: one WRVS 2004-2013 logo with Strapline 'make it count' [2004-2008] and Head Office contact details, registered charity number. One WRVS 2004-2013 logo with strapline "it's your money make it count" purple banner white text "one million older people feel trapped in their homes" purple text "WRVS home visit volunteers provide a lifeline" orange text "www.wrvs.org.uk" Head Office details and registered charity number on the side. One WRVS 2004-2013 logo with strapline "it's your money make it count" purple banner white text "Emergencies devastate thousands of lives each year" purple text "help equip us to respond to disasters 24 hours a day, every day of the year" orange text "www.wrvs.org.uk" Head Office details and registered charity number on the side.


Like many organisations/charities in the 1990s, in 1998, the uniform was relinquished altogether in favour of casual work wear on the basis that 'smart but casual clothing was more appropriate for a dynamic and modern volunteering organisation – appealing to a new generation of members and increasing number of male volunteers – both needed to keep WRVS vibrant and right up to date. WRVS commissioned well-known Scottish designer Betty Davis to develop a new collection of branded clothing, which launched in the Winter 2000 edition of Action Magazine.

Gilet, Khaki, polyester, WRVS, Label Betty Davies Edinburgh sewn and Betty Davies white polo shirt, 1994-2004 embroidered logo on left breast, signature label.

In 2004, WRVS finalised its transformation from an organisation which did just about anything to one whose primary purpose was the care of older people. To coincide with this, WRVS changed its name and image, with the aim to modernise and re-invigorate.

WRVS Make it count flag standard, White synthetic fabric flag standard, oblong, with orange fringing around three sides, WRVS 2004-2013 logo with 'Make it count TM' strap line in purple. Brown wood pole with brass fittings, orange rope with tassels.

WRVS changed its name to Royal Voluntary Service during its 75th anniversary year, 2013. This was to help encourage more men to join the organisation. While it kept the casual look instead of returning to uniform it did return to its roots of red and green in its logo.


Tee Shirt, White, Screen Printed, Royal Voluntary Service, White Tee shirt, Screen printed to front with "Sing your Heart out for vulnerable older people" with "Royal Voluntary Service together for older people" logo below.

In 2018 Royal Voluntary Service is celebrating 80 years of volunteering. Compassion in Crisis looks at how the roles of volunteers in times of crisis have changed over those 80 years. This exhibition is full of objects, uniform and information about the charity's history.

These items from the collection may represent more aesthetic changes to the organisation rather than the changes to its role in society. It transformed from a charity which did everything and anything to one which adapted to find the places where it was needed in postmodern society including older people’s welfare, health and hospitals and Services Welfare they are still important in showing modern day changes. Altering its Identity in certain years can represent when these changes took place.

Remember you still have a week to see the Compassion in Crisis Exhibition at Wiltshire Museum (closes on 24th June).


Posted by Jennifer Hunt, Deputy Archivist at 09:00 Monday, 18 June 2018.

Labels: Object, Uniform, Archives, Twentith Century, Twenty First Century, Post modern

The State of the Union

This is the kind of story that I don’t write that often. I am not sure why, and perhaps I should write more updates. It is, I suppose a bit like an American President’s State of the Union address, and perhaps it should only come round once a year. We will see.

With an archive as large as ours, the pace of change is necessarily slow, that is especially in relation to projects and tasks most of which are carried out by our fantastic volunteer team. Running the collection day to day is a full time job and can be quite frantic and fraught; answering enquiries from inside the organisation and from the public, monitoring and adjusting the environment in the stores (with electric heaters, hand filled portable humidifiers and dehumidifiers), changing a leaky tap washer (as I did last week), photographing objects, managing computer servers and of course writing this blog. As a lone archivist you have to be a jack of all trades and also a master of quite a few of them too.

Our stalwart volunteer team plough on with their projects, most have been working on these for years. Pete has been working on his photograph cataloguing project for almost three years now and comes in every Monday for five hours. After sorting and appraising a collection of over 5,000 images from about 1997-2008 he is now cataloguing the 717 that we have selected for permanent preservation. He manages to catalogue about ten images per day and we are both optimistic that he might be finished by the end of the year. Other volunteers are still working on our Narrative Report collection, and are approaching after two years finishing sorting and repackaging those reports from 1965-1980, some have been working on this since 2010. Nora has recently finished sewing identification labels into over 500 unique items of uniform in the collection, a task which took her a year and our newest recruit Sheridan is fast approaching completion of her cataloguing of a collection of five large boxes of material from the NE of England, a task which has taken her just over eight months so far.

The biggest piece of work we are currently just beginning though is our Archive development project, which received support from our trustees in November. This project, which will run for 18 months, will allow us to put together a plan for the future of the archive and discover how we can integrate the archive and our history more into the everyday running of the charity, how we can provide better access for all to use the collections in the future and importantly how we can affordably house our nationally important collection to make sure that it is preserved for future generations. This project properly kicks off in April, but it has, as you can imagine, involved a lot of meetings, engaging people inside and outside the organisation, and writing of plans, which have kept me very busy. To paraphrase the nuns in the Sound of Music “how do you solve a problem like an Archive?” Watch this space …

Posted by Matthew McMurray, Royal Voluntary Service Archivist at 00:00 Monday, 15 February 2016.

Labels: State of the Union , Volunteers, Projects, Archive, Development, nuns, Sound of Music, images, enquiries, uniform