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Updating the online catalogue

It’s been a while since we updated the online catalogue but never fear the archive team have been working hard to tackle the backlog and bring you more interesting and exciting records.

Central Registry

Cataloguing is one of my favourite activities as the Deputy Archivist I have been able to work on a few different projects over the past twelve months. The first was cataloguing the Central Registry files relating to the Good Neighbours scheme. The files contain information about how the scheme was set up in each region of WRVS in the 1970s and policy for the service. You can find them be searching Good Companions in the Keyword field (the schemes original name) and Central Registry in the category field of the advanced search.

Circular Notices

Another series which I catalogued in six weeks (one day per week) and thanks to funding from Leeds Beckett University was the Circular Notices. This is a series of letters/memorandum circulated to regional administrators, county and county borough offices and all members from 1938-1974. They cover a wide range of topics from the ARP Animals Committee, Assistance for evacuees & Homeless Persons, WRVS Information Desks-Wimbledon and the Books On Wheels Film. In fact most of the services you associate with WVS/WRVS plus a few more can be found in these files. Search Circular Notice in the category field of the advanced search.

Miscellaneous Memoranda

Our Archivist spends most of his time working hard to promote and develop the archive however during those rare quite periods he does get the opportunity to catalogue. This time he has chosen the ominous Miscellaneous Memoranda collection (yes I know a naughty word in archives). This series is made up of documents detailing wartime and post war work of WVS including the Personal Parcels Scheme, The Volunteer Car Pool and Rationing - Notes Compiled for Mrs Roosevelt. Search Miscellaneous Memoranda in the category field of the advanced search.


Narrative Reports

I can’t believe it’s been over 3 years since I was working on the project to catalogue all the reports written between 1938 and 1965. Now because of the wonderful support of 705 Kickstarter backers the reports written between 1938 and 1942 our Archives Assistant has now digitised and published the reports with their catalogue records. They can be downloaded by clicking on the red PDF icon where available. More Narrative Reports will be added to the catalogue by April 2018. You can access digital copies of the narrative Reports through our online catalogue searching your local area or county.

Publications

In March we brought you the blog What the does the Deputy Archivist get up to on Wednesdays? This discussed the work that went into cataloguing our large and varied collection of publications. Over the course of nearly 80 years Royal Voluntary Service has been producing publications to advertise their services and appeal for volunteers. The catalogue records for over 1000 leaflets, booklets, posters, cards, bookmarks and certificates are now available to search online. Using the advanced search look for services in the keywords field or the different types of publication in the category field.


The Archive team including our dedicated volunteers will continue to catalogue more material including photographs and local office material, so watch this space. If you have any quires about material in the collection please contact our enquiry service.

Posted by Jennifer Hunt, Deputy Archivist at 09:00 Monday, 10 July 2017.

Labels: WVS, WRVS, Archive , Catalogue, Record

Tothill Street our first Headquarters

WRVS had a number of headquarters over the years including Park lane, Brixton, Milton Hill, Cardiff and not forgetting Scottish HQ in Edinburgh. However WVS’s (1938-1966) Headquarters was 41 Tothill Street now the Conrad London St James. This was the office where the hard work really began when Lady Reading sat down in a tiny office in Tothill Street in Whitehall, London; crammed in with four other handpicked women she laid the foundations of what would quickly become the largest volunteering organisation in British history. I wonder if they ever thought this organisation would still be around today.


The Women’s Voluntary Services for Air Raid Precautions was founded and took up residence at 41 Tothill Street on 16th May 1938.  Originally this was a single room secured by Lady Reading’s Secretary and former Civil Servant in the Ministry of Labour Mary Smieton. The WVS Offices expanded quickly to occupy the whole 4th Floor. A reception was established on the ground floor and not long after a shop for the purchase of WVS uniform. Over the years the shop window was used for a number of displays including Make do and Mend in 1943 as seen in the image above.By the end of the War there were 176 members working at Headquarters.

Over the years many other WVS activities took place at Tothill Street including:

  • The labelling Princess Elizabeth gift food parcels distributed to the needy as a wedding present from the future Queen in 1948.
  • Collecting gifts including a Sheffield Plate Soup Tureen for Canadian Flood Relief in 1950

  • One in Five introductory talks in November 1958, the department was established by Lady Lucas Tooth at Headquarters in 1955.

  • The sorting of magazines for Services Welfare, as part of the books and magazines adoption scheme in 1962.

WVS Headquarters moved from Tothill Street to Park Lane in May 1966 the year they were renamed Women’s Royal Voluntary Service (WRVS). At the time there were 361 members of staff working at Headquarters more than double the numbers in 1945.

Today we are delighted to honour our founder, Lady Reading, with an English Heritage blue plaque in London at The Conrad London St James (formally the WVS Headquarters 41 Tothill Street). Today is also the digital launch of all those fascinating hidden histories of one million wartime women which we have been digitising since September. Follow us on Twitter to find out whats happening at todays launch event.

Posted by Jennifer Hunt, Deputy Archivist at 10:00 Tuesday, 04 July 2017.

Labels: Million Women, Lady Reading, WVS, Tothill Street, Headquarters, WRVS

Access to Archives: Finding aids

As the Deputy Archivist I am constantly looking at ways to make our collections more accessible. At Royal Voluntary Service we have run a small number of digitisation projects and opened an enquiry Service (running since 2013) but there are large parts of our collection which remain uncatalogued and only accessible to the Archives team. One way of tackling this is to create finding aids; they are defined as a document containing detailed information about a specific collection of papers or records within an archive. Finding aids are used by researchers to determine whether information within a collection is relevant to their research. Thus over the years we have used collections to create a number of fact sheets to help researchers gain an understanding of different services we have provided since 1938.

The fact sheets on our main site cover a number of topics including:

Health and Hospital Work 1938-2013 – this is a comprehensive look at the work of WVS and WRVS in hospitals since it was founded. Research to compile this document included Central Registry files, publications local office collection accessions and Narrative Reports.

Roll of Honour and History of the Roll of Honour – the former document is a colour copy of the beautifully illustrated book which contains the names of 245 WVS members who were killed during the Second World War. The latter explains its history and compilation, providing you with access to the history of this very important Roll of Honour.

WVS Uniform – on our website you can choose two ways to learn about the history of our uniform and how Royal Voluntary Service has chosen to represent itself. There is the more traditional factsheet containing a number of pictures of wartime uniform with descriptions and it uses publications to provide details on the costs. There is also a video which explores all uniforms from WVS for ARP to Royal Voluntary Service a quick guide with images, publications and uniforms all with video commentary to help you move from Green and red to orange and purple and then back to green and red.

There are also fact sheets on:

• The origins of Meals on Wheels

• Darby and Joan Clubs

• One in Five

• Salvage on the Home Front

• Story of WVS Bristol

• Origins of WVS

• Narrative Reports

• Books on WVS and WRVS

And copies of documents

• Ten Years Work (1938-48)

• WVS Housewives Service

There are also some shorter one page factsheets on our Voices of Volunteering schools resources pages which can help researchers to understand a topic before going to look at the online catalogue for more information about their chosen subject. These factsheets include:

• Books on Wheels

• Clothing Depots

• Darby & Joan Clubs

• Good neighbours

• Hospital canteens

• Lunch Clubs

• Meals on Wheels

• Psychiatric Hospitals

• Services Welfare

• Transport

All our factsheets aim to provide you with source material which isn’t available or easily accessible in other forms. We hope you will take a look, absorb the information and perhaps start some research of your own into our history. If you have any specific questions get in touch with our remote enquiry service.

Posted by Jennifer Hunt, Deputy Archivist at 09:00 Monday, 26 June 2017.

Labels: Archives, Fact Sheets, WVS, WRVS, Royal Voluntary Service

Position of WVS members to Political Work

Recently I have been cataloguing the Circular Notices which were produced by WVS and WRVS between 1938 and 1974. It is interesting what is contained within these files and what they tell us about the inner workings of WVS and WRVS. One such notice I came across was related to the General Election in 1945. Royal Voluntary Service, even when it was a Crown Service, has never been a political organisation and in this week’s blog we will discuss that neutral status as well as the circular notice I discovered.

The origins of the WVS are slightly complicated and it is unclear whose idea it was to start an organisation to recruit and train women in ARP roles in 1938. What we do know is that it was Lady Reading founded an organisation which would continue to grow through the Second World War in number and scope. In the beginning it was suggested that work with the Home Office; it originally operated as a Crown Service with a grant of around £15,000 a year from Government. However WVS was not a political organisation and Lady Reading aimed to keep it as independent as possible from Government.

In its first seven years WVS worked under a coalition Government, the General Election which was due in 1940 was not held because of the Second World War. However in 1945 Churchill called a General Election which he and the Conservatives lost to Clement Atlee and the Labour Party. As mentioned above WVS was not a political organisation and in Circular Notice CN.A.9/45 Position of WVS members to Political Work 14.5.45 Headquarters sent out the following information to members.

The position of WVS members in regard to undertaking work for the political parties was recently considered at a conference at Headquarters at which representatives from all the regions were present. It was the opinion of the conference that members of the WVS playing any part in Party Politics and Local Government Elections must do so in a private capacity and not in uniform and this is the general ruling which has been adopted.

It is, of course, of first importance that the Non-Party character of WVS should be maintained, and the following questions and answers have been framed to give guidance on political points which may arise. Each member is asked to observe the regulations laid down, but, more than that, it will depend on the good judgement and taste, and personal integrity of every member whether Non-party character of the WVS can be preserved in the spirit as well as in the letter, when elections take place in this country.

CN.A.9/45 Position of WVS members to Political Work 14.5.45

The Questions and answers included the following:

Parliamentary Elections

Q.3. Can a Candidate who is elected resume her WVS work?

A. No. It is in the in the interests of the nation that she devotes herself to her Parliamentary duties.

Q.8. Can WVS members who are doing political work during an election wear their uniform or badge?

A. During an election period WVS members may wear their uniform and/or badge when they are doing their WVS work, but neither uniform nor badge must be worn while doing political work or attending meetings.

Other Points

Q.2. What is the position regarding WVS offices etc., in premises belonging to political parties?

A. These offices should be vacated and others found to replace them as soon as possible.

CN.A.9/45 Position of WVS members to Political Work 14.5.45

If you would like to know which other questions were included please contact our enquiry service.

The similar information was produced in the Bulletin in October 1951 another election year.

Over the years WVS and WRVS continued to promote it's non-party status to members. In 1992 WRVS became a Charity it was no longer a Crown Service and began to find ways to fundraise for itself, it also remained politically neutral. Today Royal Voluntary Service as well as providing services for older people also works on a national level to raise awareness of the issues older people face. We do this through our media campaigns and research.

Posted by Jennifer Hunt, Deputy Archivist at 09:00 Monday, 05 June 2017.

Labels: General Election, Politics, WVS, WRVS, Royal Voluntary Service

Inspiring Volunteers

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.

Posted by Jennifer Hunt, Deputy Archivist at 09:00 Monday, 29 May 2017.

Labels: Home Helps, WVS, WRVS, Good Neighbours, Older People's Welfare, Italy

Archives and education – it doesn’t just have to be about history

Part of an archivist role is to allow access to the archives they care for, one way of doing this is through outreach work. As many of you will know here we run a remote enquiry service and cannot allow the public physical access to our records however we still manage to provide outreach through online educational resources. Over the years I have found that a lot of archive outreach programmes focus on history but if in theory we don’t keep archives for historical purposes why should we only promote them in teaching that subject? Last year we launched the Voices of Volunteering School Resources; they aim to provide learning materials for educators teaching a variety of subjects and skills.

Using our resources can actively help pupils to take part in volunteering and learn how to be good citizens and improve society. Firstly pupils learn about the role of Royal Voluntary Service today caring for older people through the memories of volunteers recorded in oral histories. The other resource discusses how in the 1990s WRVS moved from a Crown Service to a Charity and how volunteers started to fundraise in their local areas. They aim to encourage pupils to raise money for the charity in schools. It also uses some recipes from the Bulletin, volunteers and Civil Defence Cards to inspire ideas. Both resources focus on Citizenship, English and volunteering using archives and teaches skills such as planning, collaboration, problem solving, advocacy, campaigning and evaluation.  

The second set of lesson plans encourages students to get involved in debates surrounding volunteering and citizenship by using oral histories to highlight volunteers opinions and experiences. The debates include:    

  • Why do people volunteer?   
  • What are the benefits of volunteering?      
  • How has it evolved in over 75 years?

You might be thinking these resources just give students basic comprehension skills listen to a few short clips and then answer some questions. However they are more exciting than that; they allow pupils to interpret, discuss and debate helping them to form their own opinions on how we can improve society.

For example we have one resource titled “How does volunteering enhance your life as a volunteer?” This  uses  volunteers'experiences of working in different  WRVS services including Meals on Wheels and Hospital Canteens. Using these archives pupils on the roles of different types of active or potential volunteers:

They then debate the following topic:

Afterwards pupils reflect on the different interpretations of the situation and come to a conclusion about how volunteering can enhance people's lives. Using oral histories in this way teaches:

Citizenship
KS3:To describe the roles played by voluntary groups in society, and the ways in which citizens work together to improve their communities

KS4: To describe the different ways in which a citizen can contribute to the improvement of his or her community

GCSE AQA English

To respond to the questions and views of others, adapting talk appropriately to context and audience.  

As you can see Archives can be used in different ways in outreach programmes in a verity of subjects and not just to answer set questions.  

You can see how we’ve used archives to teach secondary school and further education students about a other topics including: PHSE, drama, volunteering and history on our Voices of Volunteering resource site.

Posted by Jennifer Hunt, Deputy Archivist at 09:00 Monday, 15 May 2017.

Labels: Archives, Education, Oral history, WRVS, Royal Voluntary Service, Voices of Volunteering

Equality for all through actions

It’s interesting what you find when researching for an enquiry even if Lincolnshire and the Women’s Liberation movement are two different things. Finding the Bulletin article below got me thinking about Feminism and WVS/WRVS.

Feminism first appeared in the mid nineteenth century focusing on the promotion of equal contract, marriage, parenting, and property rights for women. It moved on to focus on women’s suffrage and rights which continued into the Twentieth Century. However by the time WVS was founded in 1938 the first wave of feminism had died down; possibly calmed by the role many women played in factories and other traditional men’s roles in World War I and some women obtaining the right to vote in 1918. In my mind WVS/WRVS was never a feminist organisation but a women’s organisation. It never really suited the definition of the ideological and political movement but it was one which used women’s skills to improve the lives of everyone in Britain. During the War WVS took roles in Evacuation, Hospital Supplies, Make do and mend, knitting and many others which used skills traditionally taken on by women in their homes. However some roles such as fire watching had been assigned to the ARP whose reluctance to include women in a way led to the establishment of WVS.

These less traditional roles appeared only to last as long as the War; the re-emergence of Civil Defence in the late 1940s early 1950s didn’t lead to a revival for WVS who took on the Welfare section. Some services they provided were different such as training in what to do if there was a nuclear attack or driving in the Food Flying Squad but they weren’t promoting a political ideology or actively campaigning for women’s rights. In a way WVS did more without having a political cause because they actively changed people’s lives through their actions and gave women a voice through volunteering.

The second wave of feminism came along in the 1970s along with the Women’s Liberation movement campaigning to make women equal to men and give them more control over their lives. WRVS at this time was still striving to make British society a better place for all. The Organisation focused on offering care to those who needed it either on a regular basis or during an emergency. They were also providing children with the opportunity to go on holiday when they might never have got the chance; patients in psychiatric hospitals were also benefiting specially designed canteens/shops to help rehabilitate them in the outside world and those with disabilities were given the chance to progress in the world of work with occupational therapy. However one member must have felt inspired by this new wave as she wrote an article in the WRVS Magazine; though as she says it was an unorthodox contribution.

WRVS Magazine No.377 June 1971

In short although WVS/WRVS wasn’t known for being a feminist or political organisation in its own special and of course unique way it strived to make everyone equal. Today Royal Voluntary Service continues working to help create a society where everyone feels valued and involved whatever their age.

Posted by Jennifer Hunt, Deputy Archivist at 09:00 Monday, 01 May 2017.

Labels: WVS, WRVS, Feminism, Women's Liberation, Royal Voluntary Service, Bulletin

Eggs, hot cross buns, daffodils and the WVS/WRVS

We hope you enjoy these extracts from the WVS Bulletin and WRVS Magazine which include WVS activities, easter traditions and recipes.

Firstly I would like to make a bid for the earliest mention of Christmas in 2017 with this Bulletin from January 1946.

                                              

The WVS worked closely with refugees from Holland during the war and established a sister organisation the Dutch UVV and  worked with them in April 1948.

IT IS ABOUT two years since the arrival of the first of the long line of Mobile Canteens which W.V.S. so generously gave to its sister organisation, the Dutch U.V.V., after the liberation of Holland. We here in Arnhem were so fortunate as to get the first two. The first arrived a few days before Christmas from Newcastle-on-Tyne, and was immediately put to work on distribution to the aged poor of loaves of sultana bread, a Yuletide speciality in Holland. …

During the bulb season the mobile canteens were used to distribute Easter eggs and daffodils to the aged, and as the bulb growers in the West had given us such tremendous quantities of flowers, we saved a canteen load of them for the Airborne Cemetery.

Over ten years later in April 1959 WVS volunteers were still hard at work.

NORWICH. This Easter we had a pleasant surprise. The staff in our building collected fresh eggs to be distributed to all the old people on the Meals-on-Wheels round.

Also published were a series of Easter Traditions in an article entitled The Egg The Hare and The Hot Cross Bun. You can read the article in full in the Bulletin from April 1963 but here is a short extract.

[T]he hot cross bun. I always assumed that the cross on the bun was a purely Christian symbol, but now I learn that it probably dates back long before that. Little crosses used to be put on cakes made for the worship of the goddess Diana, and it seems possible that the wheaten cakes known to have been eaten at pagan Spring festivals bore the same mark. Our hot cross buns have probably got a much longer history than we imagine.

Incidentally, there is one delightful individual custom associated with hot cross buns which takes place in an inn in London. In the early nineteenth century the licensee put aside one hot cross bun every Good Friday for her son who was away at sea. But one year he did not return. His mother didn't give up hope, but continued each year to replace the old bun with a new one, keeping the old ones in a basket. When new tenants took over the inn they continued to do this, and now there is a clause in the lease of the inn to enforce it.

Finally as we haven't posted any for a while a recipe for Easter Biscuits from April 1972:

12 oz. Plain flour
pinch of salt
6 oz. Butter or margarine
4 oz. Caster sugar
1 Egg
3 oz. Currants
Pinch of saffron, steeped for a few hours in 1 tablespoon milk,
Egg white and caster sugar for finish.

MethodCream the fat and sugar Beat in the eggAdd the currants and saffron mixtureFold in the flour, sifted with the salt, using a metal spoon The dough should be softer than for pastry, but firm enough to roll Kneed lightly and roll out on a floured board to 1/8 inch in thickness Cut in rounds, using a fluted cutterPut on a baking sheet and bake for approx. 20 minutes at 400°f-Mark 6 After 10 minutes in the oven, remove the biscuits, brush with egg white and dredge with caster sugarReturn to the oven for remainder of baking time Cool on a cooling tray Store in an airtight tin.

All our Bulletins and Magazines written between 1939 and 1974 (over 419 Issues) are available to download on our online catalogue. Why not search Easter in the Bulletin Text field for more extracts like these.

Posted by Jennifer Hunt, Deputy Archivist at 09:00 Monday, 17 April 2017.

Labels: Easter, WRVS, eggs, daffodils, Dutch, WVS

The Women of Wedmore

“What is this I hear about Sir Samual Hoare wanting us women to help the menfolk at their ARP?”

“Funny” said the friend “I was thinking about the same thing. You know I think Sir Sam has got his head screwed on the right way. What sort of missus has he got? If this ARP business should become a serious affair, I guess we women folk will have to lend a hand if it’s ever going to be any sort of a success.”

two women from Wedmore 1938.

It’s funny that after working here for nearly five years I still discover new, interesting and exciting documents in the collection. The quote above comes from a booklet The Women of Wedmore; Wedmore is a village in Somerset but the booklet was in a file for Gloucestershire which is probably why I haven’t noticed it before and I was actually looking for information on Blood Donners. This village was part of Axbridge Rural District and the services provided by its Wedmore members included: canning jam, camouflage netting, clothing and the rural pie scheme. However the booklet describes the Housewives Service as their main focus.

The object of the Housewives Service was to equip housewives with the knowledge to deal with first aid in an emergency. In 1942 30 women joined the Housewives Service in Wedmore, many stayed the course and were presented with a blue window card; the head housewives received a red one. After their training the women of Wedmore did not just sit around waiting for an emergency they were extremely active. Activities included monthly meetings, full blown invasion exercises, lectures on Gas, high explosive bombs, fire-fighting etc, jumble sales for Wings Week, collecting books and magazines for convalescents and towards the end of the war preforming as the Housewives’ Players. Indeed the Head Housewife was so busy she had to upgrade from walking everywhere to a bicycle and then a “lordlylike progress into a bath-chair (broken leg); this progress was achieved at the cost of much muscular power on the part of many pushing people”.

The women of Wedmore continued to deliver WVS services after the war. In January 1952 the Mercury and Somersetshire Herald reported that 100 Wedmore WVS members ran a rest centre exercise taking “evacuees” from a “bombed out Bristol”. It was still a very active area in the 1960s providing refreshments at a Darby and Joan Club rally for 500 club members from all over Somerset in 1963. In the 1970s due to changes in the WRVS’s administration the village of Wedmore was absorbed into the Mendip district office. However, the district as a whole continued their important work into the 1980s with services such as Books on Wheels, hospitals, Meals on Wheels, Lunch Clubs and Clubs for Older People to name a few. They even rehomed Budgies, the district Organiser remarked that “if it had been green … I’d have asked him to sign an enrolment card. There are often a few times when I would find a pair of wings useful”.

As you can see the story of the Women of Wedmore, Axbridge Rural in Somerset is a very interesting one which was focused on helping people in the community. Today the Royal Voluntary Service in Somerset assists older people in their community with older people's welfare and hospitals.

Posted by Jennifer Hunt, Deputy Archivist at 09:00 Monday, 13 March 2017.

Labels: women, Wedmore , Somerset , Axbridge , WVS , WRVS , Royal Voluntary Service

Being bold for change since 1938

Wednesday 8th March is International Women’s Day which celebrates the social, economic, cultural and political achievement of women across the world. Royal Voluntary Service was founded in 1938 by one of the twentieth century’s most influential but seldom celebrated women Lady Reading; a woman who inspired others to make changes to British Social welfare even after her death in 1971. There isn’t simply enough time in a weekly blog to mention the millions of women who have been bold and changed Britain, with hundred even thousands of activities, but what we will focus on is how they have improved the welfare of psychiatric patients over the years.

It all began in 1946 when members of WVS Headquarters in London made investigations into helping people with mental illnesses in psychiatric hospitals. Once again WVS was one step ahead of everyone else. In 1948 the organisation was officially asked by the Board of Control to assist in hospitals providing much needed services. It became the mission of volunteers to improve the lives of patients and provide them with a connection with the outside world. In 1959 the Mental Health Act was passed it abolished the distinction between psychiatric units and other hospitals while encouraging the development of community care. This allowed the WVS to establish more occupational centres, providing training especially to help patients find occupations after being discharged. Over the years WVS/WRVS ran a number of services in psychiatric wards which ran in general hospitals and other wards which you can find more details on in our Health and Hospitals Factsheet. However their main project was to build social centres for patients and visitors.

Thirty Social Centres were established in the 1960s including St Francis Hospital Hillingdon, Friern Barnet, St Luke’s Middlesbrough St John’s Bracebridge Heath. St Francis was the first to be opened in 1961 by Princess Maria of Kent. The site was purpose built with kitchen, shop, canteen, lounge and entertainment space. It added a new dimension to hospital life as patients could assist WVS with their work and spend money how they liked in the shop building confidence. This inspired the 30 other projects which were funded through loans and repaid with the profits from the canteens and shops, though St Francis was the most pioneering. A few years after it’s opening there was a parliamentary debate discussing the lack of volunteering opportunities for young people. Lady Reading, then a member of the House of Lords, proposed that St Francis needed a swimming pool to benefit patients and staff which led to an International Volunteer Camp in 1966. Hundreds of young volunteers from Mid-Sussex and Europe met to dig the swimming pool. Once again WVS/WRVS had been a force for change which continued into the 1980s.

Although these schemes were mainly setup in the 1960s, in 1989 there was a fire at Bromham Hospital in Bedfordshire, the WRVS shop and canteen was destroyed. However Barbara Statham Bedfordshire Hospital Organiser and her team rebuilt the shop despite some adversities, here is her story:

Today Royal Voluntary Service aims remain the same to stop isolation and loneliness; build up confidence, and educate the public. A big thank you to all our volunteers past and present who have been bold for change and improved the lives of everyone

Posted by Jennifer Hunt, Deputy Archivist at 09:00 Monday, 06 March 2017.

Labels: Bold for Change, International women's day, psychiatric, hospitals, WVS, WRVS