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Today we all know the importance of keeping fit and moving
around at any age. As usually Royal Voluntary Service have a history of
pioneering activities for older people before they become popular. In the 1970s
WRVS was pioneering Music and Movement classes in local communities One WRVS
volunteer who helped with this was Elizabeth Kay. In 2014 I interviewed her for
the oral history project Voices of Volunteering
. Elizabeth had first joined
WVS in the late 1960s to be a speaker giving talks about Drugs, volunteering
helped her develop this skill and she gave talks on many other topics which
also led to training as a keep fit
instructor skills she used to help WRVS set up local Music and Movement classes
in Hounslow. This is Elizabeth’s story in her own words:
“I gave a talk on history of nursery rhymes, and most people didn’t know
how nursery rhymes started and why. Oh, and I’d talk about tortoises because my
son had a tortoise which I was looking after, again people didn’t know about
tortoises and how they were creatures of veneration. When I was in China I went
to see this enormous marble tortoise which was a symbol of longevity. So yes
as, I did find giving those talks were very interesting and because my husband
had died I had to make an income from somewhere and so that’s what I did.
It [WRVS] gave me more that, it gave me more than just, mm, learning to
do the drug talks, it gave me a feeling that people liked to listen. … While I
was in the WRVS I decided because I was a keep fit teacher, I thought these old
people sitting all day in chairs not talking to anybody, long before local
authority had started, which they do now, and movement classes.
I went to our local care home and asked the matron there if she’d like me
to go in and, and do some musical movement. And so, and I used all the old
songs that they knew. Some of them I had to learn, I didn’t know there was a
song called He Played His Ukulele As The
Ship Went Down, and I got the songs from these old, I say ‘old
people’, I mean heavens some of them are younger than I am now. But, but they
were and they sat all day and they did nothing, and so I felt that this was a
really good idea. And so I, I went and we used these songs that they knew and
we did actions to the songs. Now it’s done, local authorities are doing this
all over, but at that time it was quite revolutionary and nobody had done that.
I always wore my uniform and as you can see one or two of them are
actually lifting their arms but they used to like singing the songs as well.
That was actually breaking new ground because it hadn’t been done until
then. I had a woman who played the piano for me and I went to all kinds of old
people’s clubs and she played the piano and I did the movements, mm, and it
was, that was then sponsored by the local authority.
One of them [the Matrons in one of the homes] apologised to me because I
used to go in to this particularly [home], if they sit in their living room,
the social room, in chairs all around because I used to say ‘Don’t put them in
rows, I like them all round me’ because I work to every single one, which I do.
And every week when I used to go in one woman used to get up from her chair,
look at me and say ‘Stupid cow’ and walk out. And matron said ‘I’m so sorry’. I
said ‘Look, if that’s the only exercise she gets all week it’s exercise, don’t
worry, she’s moved’.
It was, it was so satisfying because I felt that the, they just loved
having somebody to be with them and do these and think about how it used to be
when they were young, the songs that they could sing. And we used some wartime
songs as well. And before, as I say, I never knew there was a song entitled Three Pots a Shilling which is about a
gypsy selling honey from door to door. And I learnt these, I actually looked
them up. I went to Charing Cross Road to
the, the archive shop there and looked up all these songs and bought the music
so that my pianist could play them for me. And it was great. And then sadly
Greta, who was much older, was not able to do the playing anymore and so
another, another lady took over and she didn’t need music at all, and it was
lovely because she used to play for my keep fit classes.”
Elizabeth Kay WVS/WRVS Volunteer July 2016
Stories from volunteers really helps to tell the story of Royal Voluntary
Service and how volunteering has benefited society in many ways. If you would
like to hear Elizabeth’s story or those of many other volunteers in full you
can visit Archive Online
and search our Voices of Volunteering
You can also listen to the story above on SoundCloud
The second image in this week's blog is taken from WRVS Magazine No.371 December 1970
After its creation in 1938, the Women’s Voluntary Service’s main focus was the war effort, recruiting women to assist civilians during and after air raids. After the war, however, the aim of the organisation shifted, and more attention was focussed on the older generation. Since then, the Royal Voluntary Service (RVS) has worked closely with older people, hoping to improve their lives in every way possible. Today we will look at the achievements of the Royal Voluntary Service and how its efforts have changed over time.
After realising the ever increasing population in the older generation, the WVS set out to assist them in a number of ways, many of which are exist in some form today. These included Darby and Joan clubs
, residential clubs and the Meals on Wheels
. Special clubs were set up for old people in a few places during the war, but after seeing its success, the number increased rapidly after 1945. By 1962, there were over 2,000 Darby and Joan clubs, with membership exceeding 150,000. In this friendly atmosphere, the old people enjoyed spending time with each other, dancing and going on regular holidays throughout the year. Mary Curtis, a former club leader who spent 45 years with the WVS, talked about her time spent on holidays with members in 2015 in an interview with Jennifer Hunt. She said that she went in a variety of places across the UK, starting from 1970 – with the last holiday taking place in 2008. These included Morecambe, Llandudno, Newquay, Ayr and Bournemouth. But these places did not come without excitement. “On one occasion our coach skidded off the road and went into a ditch” she quotes, when speaking of a foggy morning in the Isle of Wight. “Nobody panicked” she says and “it was a lovely holiday”.
Residential Clubs were also established, where members would assist permanent staff in homes for the pensioners. By 1963, 23 homes were established by the WVS. As purpose-built flats and bungalows were being provided by the government, the WVS also helped with re-housing the retirees. Some would lay carpets, whilst others would hang curtains, making life easier for people who were moving house.
The changing role of RVS
In 1960, it was estimated that around 12.5% of the country’s population was of a pensionable age. This has since increased to 18%, an increase of over 5 million people. As a result, through the 1970s WRVS established many other services; transport schemes
(Country Cars 1974/1975) have also been put in place whereby volunteers undertook thousands of journeys each year and still do, taking people to and from hospital, trips into town or shopping trips, adding to the pleasure of day to day lives and allowing people to be closer to their local community. Other opportunities include the Good Neighbours Scheme
(1974), which started as a visiting scheme but has now developed to offer help, whether it’s walking the dog, changing a lightbulb or collecting a pension. Helping an older person in small ways can make life much easier for them. Home library services started in the 1960s but took off in the 1970s. Today, volunteers still bring a range of books
, as well as DVDs and CDs to older people who wouldn’t normally be able to get out of the house. In 1992 WRVS became a charity and as a result became more focused on the welfare of older people. The Charity works today to meet the very different needs of older people, including more community focused schemes such as Cafes, Lunch clubs
and social events, encouraging people to get out and about and meet new people. In every way we are working to support changing lifestyles and tackle loneliness later in life.
Over the years WVS and WRVS has worked to improve the lives of older people with a range of services including the home library service and befriending. The RVS has adapted to provide for the ever increasing population in the older generation. By introducing and continuing schemes such as the Good Neighbour scheme and Lunch Clubs, the RVS has encouraged people to socialise with one and other, an essential part in anyone’s life that boosts morale and mental wellbeing. The RVS has continued to support the elderly and the Archive holds lots of records about the welfare of older people from 1938 to the present day. This demonstrates our success in providing needs for older people, from 80 years ago and for many more years in the future.
Credit First photograph, R44353/80 - "Old People Dancing" taken by CH Wood, published by the kind permission of Museums and Galleries, Bradford MDC