Timeline List

  1. Royal Voluntary Service in 1930s

    The WVS began on 20 May 1938 and would, over the following months, outgrow its original purpose of Air Raid Precautions. At the outbreak of war there were over 300,000 members, soon rising to over one million. It was these women, armed with organisation and practicality, who enabled WVS to react quickly and effectively to provide help in almost every aspect of life in wartime Britain.

    1. May 1938

      Document

      Letter from the Home Secretary Sir Samuel Hoare to Lady Reading thumbnail image

      Letter from the Home Secretary Sir Samuel Hoare to Lady Reading

      With the stroke of his pen, Sir Samuel Hoare authorised Lady Reading to form what would become the largest voluntary organisation in British history.

      Astonishingly, just four weeks passed between initial discussions and the sending of this letter, forging the WVS' objectives. War was on the horizon and, in 'the best traditions of this country' wrote Hoare, preparations should be made to cope with the aftermath of possible air attacks through voluntary means. Furthermore, the letter pledged the WVS should enrol women for the Air Raid Precautions services (ARP); helping make known what every household might do to protect itself and help the community.

      View larger image
    2. September 1938

      Object

      'ARP Looks to You' poster thumbnail image

      'ARP Looks to You' poster

      Publicity was of vital importance for recruiting women into the WVS – and a public competition was held to find the defining image for this new service. It was 19-year-old James Davies of Dagenham, Essex, a former pupil of the Westminster School of Art, who emerged victorious with this striking design and claimed the £30 prize.

      The contest was judged by Lady Reading along with transport executive Frank Pick, known for transforming the London Underground identity through his eye-catching poster commissions. Some 50,000 copies of Davies' poster were printed. Only two are known to have survived. The story goes that they all had to be ripped down after it was discovered the model used in the poster was German!

      View larger image
    3. November 1938

      Object

      ARP Women's Voluntary Services badge thumbnail image

      ARP Women's Voluntary Services badge

      This is the first membership badge produced by the WVS. It was issued following the completion of basic training and cost each member 6d, but was used for less than three months. The original role of the WVS had been to recruit women into the ARP services - providing ambulance drivers, wardens and women to work in first aid and hospital supply depots. By December, over 30,000 women had joined and their duties had expanded to include just about anything.

      Almost as soon as this badge was issued the decision was made to change the name of the service to better reflect its growing role – and from February 1939 the WVS became the Women's Voluntary Services for Civil Defence.

      View larger image
    4. January 1939

      People

      Joan Griggs thumbnail image

      Joan Griggs

      Joan Griggs started volunteering with WVS at the outbreak of war in 1939, then aged just 16. She helped her mother to serve meals to people in Stevenage, Hertfordshire.

      View larger image
    5. August 1939

      Document

      Letter from George Chrystal to the Secretary of WVS thumbnail image

      Letter from George Chrystal to the Secretary of WVS

      This letter from George Chrystal, Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Health, to the WVS enacted the Government Evacuation Scheme - a response to the air attacks which were expected to come soon after the declaration of war.

      WVS had been working with the government on the practicalities of the evacuation since September 1938, and would ultimately play a vital role in the initial three-day evacuation, which moved 1.5 million people (mainly children, pregnant women and other vulnerable people) away from high risk areas.

      Between 1-3 September 1939, WVS members accompanied children on trains and arranged for accommodation on arrival. This procedure become a chief preoccupation of the WVS throughout the war, and one which they handled with practicality and care – from the challenges of bad-tempered mothers to the support of homesick children.

      View larger image
    6. November 1939

      Document

      The WVS Bulletin issue 1 thumbnail image

      The WVS Bulletin issue 1

      Communication within a large organisation like the WVS is critical to both efficiency and morale. This inaugural copy of the WVS Bulletin of November 1939 passed on information on a range of WVS activities carried out during the first months of the war effort: evacuation; ARP; hospital supplies; canteens as well as statistics on membership numbers. Later editions would include touches of domesticity: recipes, make-do and mend tips and personal stories from around the country.

      An annual subscription to the WVS Bulletin in 1940 cost 12d, rising to 50p by the 1970s. Following the war, pictures were introduced. By the 1950s, adverts had begun to creep in. The WVS Bulletin would run in print each month until 1974 when spiralling costs eventually stopped production.

      Download document
  2. Royal Voluntary Service in 1940s

    The greatest strength of WVS during wartime was getting women to contribute their skills to the war effort. The provision of food and drink, and especially tea, became the WVS’ signature, providing comfort to those who needed it. Using the skills it forged during the war, WVS began to roll out social welfare projects including our most famous invention – Meals on Wheels.

    1. January 1940

      Object

      WVS tea cup and saucer thumbnail image

      WVS tea cup and saucer

      One of the things for which the WVS is most remembered is serving tea. Throughout the second world war it offered tea and food in 930 static canteens, 120 mobile canteens and 25 railway station canteens.

      The provision of refreshments on the Home Front was an area in which the WVS excelled: by March 1943, their canteens were staffed by more than 18,000 WVS members, sometimes for 24 hours a day. Huge numbers were often catered for, such as at York Station where they served an extraordinary 16,000 refreshments to passing troops over the course of one day in June 1940.

      WVS founder Lady Reading is known to have said: "If Hitler had stopped tea coming into this country, things might have been very different."

      View larger image
    2. January 1940

      Object

      WVS uniform dress thumbnail image

      WVS uniform dress

      This WVS dress belonged to Beatrice Ricketts, deputy centre organiser for Gravesend in Kent. It was the most popular and affordable style of uniform among those who were required to wear it.

      Despite the Home Office's concession in 1939 that the WVS would indeed need uniforms, they refused to fund them so Lady Reading turned elsewhere, commissioning a design from the famous London couturier Digby Morton. She further convinced the owner of Harrods to produce the first range of special green and grey Harris Tweed suits, using these words: "I will tell my ladies that they have to buy them."

      The original full suit uniform, which was unveiled in July 1940, cost a pricey £9 4s 7d, which would have been well out of the reach of most households. The dress, however, was a more affordable 47s 6d.

      View larger image
    3. January 1941

      Document

      Bristol Narrative Report thumbnail image

      Bristol Narrative Report

      The WVS and WRVS Narrative Reports form a colossal diary of the everyday work of women in each major town and city in Britain from 1938 until 1992. They offer a unique record and social history, and were awarded UNESCO UK Memory of the World status in 2010 for their significance as archival documents.

      This Bristol Narrative Report covers a period of heavy bombing in the city between December 1940 and January 1941. It is the only known report to have an 'official' and 'unofficial' version, the latter of which begins: 'December was our busiest month to date and a real testing time for WVS in Bristol... There have been many cases of great personal courage and usefulness...'

      In most reports disasters and tragedies are usually written about in a very matter of fact way or simply avoided entirely, making this particular report very unusual.

      View larger image
    4. June 1941

      Object

      Glasgow mobile canteen day book thumbnail image

      Glasgow mobile canteen day book

      This rare survival, a day book, records all of the daily telephone messages received by the Glasgow WVS office concerning their mobile canteens. It gives a fascinating insight into the day-to-day operations of the bustling city's fleet of vehicles, which regularly provided food and drink to dockers, schools, soldiers and ARP units, while also serving at rest centres during air raids and to firemen and rescue workers.

      Delightful details include lists reporting the repeated breakdowns suffered by the vans, last-minute calls to feed 100 dockers and even a request to dash over some tea to Queen Street Station as they had almost run out! Even the type and popularity of food is noted, along with complaints from the chefs when their dishes were returned.

      View larger image
    5. December 1944

      Document

      Thank you letter from the men of HMS Kurd to WVS members from South Somercotes, Lincolnshire thumbnail image

      Thank you letter from the men of HMS Kurd to WVS members from South Somercotes, Lincolnshire

      This surviving letter is just one of many thousands that must have been sent to WVS centres around the country by seamen of the Royal Navy and Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve.

      A significant role of the WVS was not only to help and support civilians, but also assist and provide comforts to Royal Naval and merchant seamen, especially those in the Atlantic and North Sea convoys. These comforts took many forms; from jars of jam, chocolate and cigarettes to gloves, balaclavas and boot socks to help keep out the cold. WVS volunteers sewed hundreds of thousands of uniform flashes, darned countless socks and famously collected 'vegetables for minesweepers'. These kindnesses were extended not just to our own troops but to our allies too - soldiers of the Russian Red Army marched in British socks!

      View larger image
    6. March 1945

      Document

      City of Oxford and WVS Home Help scheme (The Oxford Dossier) report thumbnail image

      City of Oxford and WVS Home Help scheme (The Oxford Dossier) report

      The 'Oxford Dossier', as it became popularly known, was a Government White Paper published on the WVS Home Help scheme set up in Oxford at the initiative of the city's centre organiser, Theresa Macdonald.

      The Home Help scheme was a pioneering service that set a blueprint standard for future schemes, including parts of the Welfare State. Home Helps provided household assistance to those in need – maternity cases, older people, or those suffering with chronic illness. Helpers took on such jobs as washing, cooking, and childcare. Over 200 similar projects were rolled out around the country, the last closing in 1974. The successful scheme was just one of many social welfare schemes pioneered by the WVS in the immediate post-war years.

      Download document
    7. January 1947

      Object

      WRVS Garden Gifts scheme poster thumbnail image

      WRVS Garden Gifts scheme poster

      The WVS Garden Gift scheme began in April 1946 to brighten and smarten up newly built, prefabricated housing - the landscapes of which were often little more than barren building sites. Through the scheme, WVS volunteers collected plants and flowers from donors and delivered them to new residents.

      This poster, one of very few surviving from the late 1940s, reflects the nature of the scheme. It presents a stylistic departure from the war years. Gone are the stark warnings and calls to arms; in their place stylised flowers and friendly writing.

      WVS ran a competition to publicise the scheme, offering a silver trophy presented by Queen Mary to the best prefab garden. By 1948, it was estimated that at least 15,000 homes had been helped in the London area alone, and the scheme had spread to 28 other towns and cities across the country.

      View larger image
    8. April 1946

      Object

      Architectural plans of the first WVS Residential Club, Ipswich, Suffolk thumbnail image

      Architectural plans of the first WVS Residential Club, Ipswich, Suffolk

      Thornbank was the first WVS Residential Club for older people, a large house in Ipswich converted to accommodate 16 people, each with their own room and care from paid staff. The WVS later opened many residential clubs; 16 were up and running in the first year alone.

      At the close of the war, it became clear the country faced a housing crisis for older people. The influential Nuffield Report, which formed the basis of the 1948 Assistance Act, was undoubtedly guided by the work the WVS did to establish a new standard of housing for Britain's older people. The report eventually recommended that older people should ideally be housed in small homes, just like Thornbank.

      View larger image
    9. January 1947

      Photograph

      Delivering Meals on Wheels in London photograph thumbnail image

      Delivering Meals on Wheels in London photograph

      This photograph depicts members of a London WVS centre loading pails containing individually portioned Meals on Wheels onto a delivery van.

      Meals on Wheels, now synonymous with Royal Voluntary Service, began in Welwyn Garden City, Hertfordshire in 1943, the name having been thought up by Lady Reading's driver over lunch one day. It was initially designed to help those housebound due to illness, specifically sufferers of the 1942-3 influenza outbreak.

      It was not until the end of the war that Meals on Wheels was rolled out to the rest of the country, where it saw immediate popularity. Within ten years WVS were delivering one million meals a year in 320 areas, a figure which had grown to 14 million by the 1980s. Today, we still deliver 5.9 million meals every year.

      View larger image
    10. June 1947

      Document

      Letter permitting the start of WVS Prison Welfare work thumbnail image

      Letter permitting the start of WVS Prison Welfare work

      This letter signified a new area of work for the WVS as part of its continuing development of social welfare projects throughout the late 1940s.

      Holloway Prison was the only women's prison in Britain, and initially WVS worked around the country assisting with the emergency needs of families in the first 24 hours or so after a prisoner's admission.

      WVS members were numerous and well trained to deal with emergency situations, making them ideally suited to this new line of work. Their services later expanded to other prisons and to working directly with prisoners themselves – operating cafés and contact centres, or providing a safe and welcoming environment for families torn apart by incarceration.

      View larger image
  3. Royal Voluntary Service in 1950s

    WVS formed the Welfare Section of the newly created Civil Defence Corps to provide food and comfort on a much grander scale than during the war. WVS members joined the Ministry of Food’s ‘Food Flying Squads’, forming convoys of vehicles which could feed five thousand people at a time. The One in Five scheme prepared women to cope and protect their families in the event of a nuclear strike.

    1. January 1950

      People

      Joan Griggs thumbnail image

      Joan Griggs

      Joan married in 1950 and moved to Borough Green in Kent. Once settled, she set up a Meals on Wheels service for people in her village, cooking the meals in her own home before delivering it personally to people’s homes.

      View larger image
    2. November 1951

      Object

      WVS Roll of Honour thumbnail image

      WVS Roll of Honour

      The WVS Roll of Honour lists the 235 WVS members killed by enemy action during the second world war. It was the sole work of WVS member Claire Evans, the deputy centre organiser for Camberwell in London. It took her five years to complete.

      The Roll notes each member's name, job, centre, date and manner of their death. Historians insisted that the citations should be full and accurate as a lasting tribute to their sacrifice, and to act as a measure against which future character could be judged.

      At the time of its making, the Roll was heralded as the most important illustrated manuscript produced in the 20th century. Evans inscribed it on vellum using ink sent specially from America, adding watercolours rescued from pre-war stocks, along with burnished and flat gilding. Finally, her work was bound in red cape levant by Roger Powell at the Camberwell College of Arts.

      View larger image
    3. February 1952

      Object

      Letter from Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother to Lady Reading thumbnail image

      Letter from Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother to Lady Reading

      This official announcement came shortly after Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother, sent a handwritten letter to Lady Reading thanking the members of the WVS for the flowers and messages of condolence sent following the death of the King. The Queen Mother had always been a keen supporter of the WVS’ work and had been a its President from September 1939.

      During the King's lying-in-state, huge crowds had braved the terrible winter weather to line the Embankment to pay their respects. It was reported that it was This official announcement came from Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, a keen supporter of the WVS' work and a Patron since September 1939. In her own hand, the Queen thanks Lady Reading for the flowers and messages of condolence sent by the WVS following the death of King George V1.

      Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, remained President of WRVS until her death in 2002. Her role was subsequently taken over by the Duchess of Cornwall in 2012.

      View larger image
    4. February 1953

      Photograph

      Loading clothing for flood victims in Mablethorpe, Lincolnshire, photograph thumbnail image

      Loading clothing for flood victims in Mablethorpe, Lincolnshire, photograph

      This photograph shows WVS members loading clothing for the aid of victims of the East Coast Floods in Mablethorpe, Lincolnshire.

      The East Coast Floods of 1953 were one of the worst natural disasters to hit Britain in the 20th century, afflicting almost the entire east coast and forcing thousands of people from their homes. The provision of warm clothing to those displaced by the floodwater was essential.

      WVS members set up and ran rest centres for the displaced and helped to feed the men who worked to rebuild shattered sea defences. The WVS further organised a national appeal for clothing donations. Response was enormous, with conservative estimates suggesting over 12 million items were donated, each one sorted and dispatched to flood victims by WVS volunteers.

      View larger image
    5. September 1953

      Object

      WVS Rhodesia badge thumbnail image

      WVS Rhodesia badge

      This badge would have been worn by members of the Women's Voluntary Services of Rhodesia, an unaffiliated organisation formed by Zoe Shearer, a long-time admirer of the work of Britain's WVS who requested permission to launch an organisation in Rhodesia of the same name.

      The WVS of Rhodesia provided similar services such as emergency feeding and Home Help, while also expanding its services to meet the specific requirements of the community. Focus was placed on occupying young people through theatre groups and supporting Rhodesian industry. Its charitable role, much like the one in Britain, accommodated both the young and old, all the while supporting those in need.

      View larger image
    6. January 1954

      Object

      It's the Job That Counts – The speeches of Lady Reading thumbnail image

      It's the Job That Counts – The speeches of Lady Reading

      Lady Stella Reading was the founder of the WVS and undeniably one of history's most impassioned and important women. Sadly her contributions to the field of social welfare and the advancement of women have largely been forgotten.

      This is the first of two books which contain extracts from her speeches. It charts her journey from the origins of the WVS, to her groundbreaking elevation to the House of Lords (the first woman to be afforded a life peerage), and beyond.

      It was with some reluctance that Lady Reading allowed her lifelong friend Pauline Fenno to publish this book. Lady Reading always believed that she had very little to do with the success of the WVS, and that it was the millions of members who deserved the credit. One particular extract captures her humility: "It is not by the genius of one, but by the faithfulness of the many that our work can be accomplished."

      View larger image
    7. January 1955

      Object

      Ammunition box rest centre model thumbnail image

      Ammunition box rest centre model

      The setting up and running of rest centres was one of the WVS' most important roles both during and after the war. They provided shelter to those who had been bombed out and needed immediate help. WVS members staffed rest centres during the East Coast Floods, the Lewisham rail crash and the Aberfan disaster - to name just a few – offering comfort, support and hot food and drink to those in need.

      Rest centres of this kind are still in use today.

      This model of a WVS rest centre was built inside an old ammunition box. Created by the Vicar of Haslemere in 1956, it was called 'Holdfast Hall' and comprises an astonishing 931 separate pieces.

      View larger image
    8. June 1955

      Document

      Holidays for tired mothers report thumbnail image

      Holidays for tired mothers report

      Overworked mothers must have been thrilled with the WVS' Tired Mothers Holiday scheme, which began in 1951 and offered women a fortnight's relief from their families. One of many schemes designed by the WVS to support women in the 1950s, the program brought fatigued mothers to Elmleigh, a WVS holiday house in Northampton; affording them a break from daily chores such as cooking or grocery shopping. Time could be taken to sit in the park, go to the cinema or buy presents for their children.

      View larger image
    9. June 1956

      Photograph

      Soyer boilers at an emergency feeding exercise in Surrey photograph thumbnail image

      Soyer boilers at an emergency feeding exercise in Surrey photograph

      In the peacetime that followed the second world war, the WVS relinquished its Civil Defence role and began focusing on social welfare.

      With the emergence of the cold war, however, the Civil Defence Corps were reformed in 1949 and the WVS was called on again to put their wartime skills to use. Forming the Welfare Section, their role was to provide food and comfort to the vast numbers of people who could be displaced by a nuclear strike.

      Exercises, such as the one depicted in this photograph, were regularly undertaken throughout the 1950s as Britain prepared for the worst, which thankfully never came. The Soyer boiler seen here – invented by celebrated Victorian chef Alexis Soyer - was a ubiquitous sight, produced in their thousands for the Civil Defence in the 1950s.

      View larger image
    10. July 1956

      Photograph

      WVS Services Welfare at RAF Bruggen, Germany, photograph thumbnail image

      WVS Services Welfare at RAF Bruggen, Germany, photograph

      Welfare for members of the services has always been a significant part of our work, and WVS clubs across the world played an important role in this. Canteens and clubs for soldiers in Britain were already a success during the war and, in October 1944, five WVS members boarded a boat to establish the first services club in liberated France.

      WVS clubs later spread all over the world, from the Royal Palace in Naples, Italy (by far the grandest) to the former Changi Prisoner of War camp in Singapore, and even the far flung Christmas Island in the Indian Ocean.

      Services Welfare members were specially recruited and trained before being sent on (usually) yearlong contracts to serve as a friendly female face to soldiers far from home; planning weekly events and often serving as someone to talk to. This photograph was taken at a WVS club in West Germany.

      View larger image
    11. September 1959

      Object

      One in Five poster thumbnail image

      One in Five poster

      This poster, one of a series produced by the cartoonist David Langdon for the WVS, was part of the ambitious One in Five scheme which began in 1955, which encouraged citizens to take responsibility for their own welfare at the height of the cold war.

      The aim was to inform one fifth of the female adult population (three million women) what they could do to protect and care for their families in the event of a nuclear strike. Talks were given to large groups in factories, clubs and societies, and to small groups of women in their own homes. It was hoped that each woman who attended would tell four of her friends, thus spreading public awareness through word of mouth.

      The poster's somewhat controversial central message was eventually replaced by stickers which read 'Please come in, the WVS needs your help'.

      View larger image
  4. Royal Voluntary Service in 1960s

    In 1966, the Queen honoured the WVS by adding ‘Royal’ to its title. The Women’s Royal Voluntary Service was born and a new chapter of the organisation began.

    1. January 1961

      Object

      Children's holiday poster thumbnail image

      Children's holiday poster

      The Children's Holiday scheme began in 1951 to offer children from difficult homes, usually in inner cities, a chance to enjoy a holiday by the sea or in the countryside. Eligible children between the ages of five and 15 were put up by hostesses, who volunteered their time and their homes to ensure each child had the best experience possible.

      The scheme was well received. For many children, it was their first experience of leisure and travel, with many enjoying their first encounters with farm animals, beaches and nature. Children and host families often got on so well that the holidays became regular occurrences, with the children returning each year to visit.

      The scheme extended to some older boys and girls too, who were able to attend holiday camps equipped with games and activities, giving them the chance to play and enjoy time away from home.

      View larger image
    2. January 1961

      Object

      Balham Handicraft Cup thumbnail image

      Balham Handicraft Cup

      Handicraft lessons were a popular pastime at clubs for older people, where hours were spent knitting, sewing, crocheting and toy making. The projects gave attendees enjoyment and something to be proud of. Eventually, handicraft competitions emerged as a way for members to show their talents and earn rewards for their work.

      This trophy is an example of such a prize. It was given to WVS Balham Old Folks Club by the relatives of Ada Angier, to commemorate her life and fondness for the club. It was presented twice yearly for the best exhibited crafts, from 1961 to 1979.

      View larger image
    3. May 1961

      Object

      WVS Long Service Medal thumbnail image

      WVS Long Service Medal

      The WVS Long Service Medal was approved by Her Majesty the Queen on 23 March 1961, and gave recognition to a volunteer after 15 years of service.

      The medal's design was created by noted coin designer Norman Sillman, and included the letters WVS encircled by ivy and rosebuds, with a reverse inscription of 'Service Beyond Self'. By the spring of 1990, 32,371 Long Service Medals had been awarded, representing a total of 19.4 million individual duties carried out by these very dedicated volunteers.

      An example of one such volunteer is Joyce Fish, who joined in 1959 after answering an advertisement for Meals on Wheels volunteers. Mrs Fish helped establish a Mother and Baby Club, started a canteen in Amy Evans Hospital in South Wales and assisted with the aftermath of the 1966 Aberfan disaster.

      View larger image
    4. January 1962

      Object

      Tristan da Cunah long boat thumbnail image

      Tristan da Cunah long boat

      This model boat was given by the people of Tristan da Cunha, a remote overseas territory in the south Atlantic, as a way of thanking Caterham and Godstone WVS in Surrey for their help during the island's evacuation in 1961.

      The geography of this small island is dominated by an active volcano known as Queen Mary's Peak. On 3 November 1961 the peak erupted, forcing the full population of 262 to seek refuge in England.

      The WVS transformed an old army base at Pendell Camp into a suitable accommodation to house the refugees. They opened and maintained a shop, which provided a welcome place to gather and pass the time. The WVS cared for the islanders, providing comforts, entertainment and even toys for the children, until their return home in 1963

      View larger image
    5. January 1962

      Object

      Houses wanted leaflet thumbnail image

      Houses wanted leaflet

      Care for the welfare of older people has always been at the heart of the organisation. This leaflet was an advertisement by the WVS Housing Association and WVS Trustees Limited, encouraging the donation of properties to create flats and residential clubs for older people.

      Such accommodations allowed older people to live independently but with the security of suitable, affordable shelter. The Ministry of Housing recognised the scheme as an important contribution to housing in this country.

      The WVS also created flat-lets for young professional women of limited means, as well as short rest havens for tired mothers needing time away from the stresses of family and home life.

      View larger image
    6. January 1963

      Object

      Lady Reading's tapestry thumbnail image

      Lady Reading's tapestry

      This tapestry carpet was made by founder Lady Reading, who worked for over two and a half years between her duties as WVS chairman to complete it.

      Measuring six and a half by eight feet the carpet's layout was created for Lady Reading by Roxanne Scott, a designer at the Women's Home Industries. It contains twenty panels, each depicting different aspects of the work done by the Women's Voluntary Services such as clothing, evacuation, emergency feeding, and the rural pie scheme.

      Once finished, the carpet hung in the reception area of the headquarters. It now resides in the Royal Voluntary Service Archive & Heritage Collection; a lasting testament to Lady Reading and the WVS' service to the community.

      View larger image
    7. November 1965

      Document

      Letters from the Lis family thumbnail image

      Letters from the Lis family

      This collection of letters is a series of exchanges between the Lis family in Rosenheim, Germany and the WVS in Dundee, during their participation in the Refugee Adoption scheme. Launched by the WVS in 1959, the service supported displaced people left in Germany at the end of the war through parcel donations distributed by representatives in Munich and Frankfurt.

      Those involved in the scheme could correspond with one another through the help of translators, exchanging stories of their daily lives. The letters and photographs sent by the Lis family illuminate how their lives were eased by donations of money, affording them the chance to buy winter shoes for their children. The service ran for over 20 years, supporting up to 1,000 'adoptions' at its peak in 1964.

      View larger image
    8. January 1966

      Object

      WRVS badge thumbnail image

      WRVS badge

      1966 was a momentous year for the organisation, as Her Majesty the Queen granted WVS the honour of adding 'Royal' to its title. This was a defining acknowledgement; rewarding the hard work and accomplishments of the WVS in communities across the nation. Lady Reading described the distinction as 'recognition of us as a service, one at the call of both local community and central need - recognised by those in authority and trusted by those it serves, a trust which has been earned, not demanded or imposed.'

      The WVS became known as Women's Royal Voluntary Service (WRVS). A new WRVS badge was commissioned, designed by Cartier, London, and worn for the first time by the 2,324 members who attended the service of re-dedication at Westminster Abbey on 21 November 1966.

      View larger image
    9. January 1967

      Photograph

      Winged Fellowship holiday scheme, photograph thumbnail image

      Winged Fellowship holiday scheme, photograph

      The Winged Fellowship holiday scheme was a service providing holidays for the disabled, which began in 1958 at the Grange Farm Centre in Essex. Demand was so popular that a private trust was formed to raise funds for a new centre – Crabhill House – which opened in July 1966.

      This photograph was taken outside Crabhill House, a small estate situated in beautiful countryside not far from the sea. It provided a two week holiday for 32 disabled people for 11 months of the year, and space for those without company at Christmas to return for a week's stay. The scheme bore a motto of compassion: 'Duty will often carry a problem along on wheels, but only love will carry it on wings, and only on wings can it be carried successfully.'

      View larger image
    10. January 1969

      Object

      Darby and Joan Club tablecloth thumbnail image

      Darby and Joan Club tablecloth

      During the second world war, the WVS realised that older people, with their neighbours and families scattered, were alone and without support, so introduced social clubs, the first of which - the Evergreen Club – opened in Camberwell, 1943.

      Following the war, as the focus of the WVS moved away from Civil Defence and towards social care, this network of clubs which provided space for older people to mingle, chat and seek company was greatly expanded. They were named Darby and Joan Clubs, after a Henry Woodfall poem about the lives of a happily married couple.

      This white damask tablecloth was embroidered by the members of No1 WVS Darby and Joan Club in Harrow. It contains the signatures and names of members, helpers and visitors.

      Many clubs still exist today, continuing to provide valuable support.

      View larger image
    11. January 1969

      Object

      Mary Dendy Hospital Shop album thumbnail image

      Mary Dendy Hospital Shop album

      In 1965, Wilmslow WVS started a trolley shop at Mary Dendy Hospital, a Cheshire hospital for people with learning difficulties. The shop began life as a Dormobile with large flat bread trays balanced on top, which soon became such a much loved service by staff and patients that a permanent, purpose built shop was opened in April 1972.

      The shop became known as 'the flagship of the North West'; a popular meeting place for patients who could browse and buy gifts. Olive Mason, WRVS volunteer and organiser of the shop, said: "To the patients we were friends, and that was our greatest reward."

      Like all other hospital shops run by WRVS, profits were reinvested in the hospital.

      View larger image
  5. Royal Voluntary Service in 1970s

    Lady Reading, WRVS's inspirational founder, sadly passed away in May 1971 after leading the organsation for almost 33 years. The landscape of British society had changed and without Lady Reading WRVS was not always willing to change. The organisation continued doing what it had always done, serving the community with great care and concern.

    1. May 1970

      Document

      Homes for borstal boys report thumbnail image

      Homes for borstal boys report

      In 1962, Lady Reading had received an anonymous donation to finance a social project of her choice. She decided to invest in setting up small homes for homeless boys on license from borstals or youth detention centres, providing them with somewhere to go once they were released.

      This report is about the experience of WRVS volunteers running these homes. Four halfway houses were established, three in England and one in Scotland. The volunteers’ tasks could be taxing - often they took on the multiple roles of doctor, adviser, father, confessor, watchdog and an authority for the young men. They aimed to provide a homely environment, offering hope and a place to feel safe and start afresh.

      View larger image
    2. January 1970

      Document

      Meeting of the Drugs Committee report  thumbnail image

      Meeting of the Drugs Committee report

      As drug abuse and its associated consequences became more widespread in the 1970s, WRVS conspired to do something positive. The idea was to devise a short talk, which could be given by trained and selected volunteers who were eager to make people aware of the dangers of drug abuse. Approximately ten speakers in each region would present these talks to parent and teacher associations, young wives clubs, Women's Institutes and army and Royal Air Force wives.

      By 1974, 135 speakers were authorised to give the talks, which covered topics including the causes and symptoms of drug abuse, the sources of supply and advice on minimising risk. It was hoped that spreading awareness and understanding to parents would reduce the risk of their children developing a problem.

      View larger image
    3. January 1970

      Object

      Ode to Clothing poem thumbnail image

      Ode to Clothing poem

      Volunteer-staffed clothing stores were a crucial WRVS service, providing necessary clothing to those in great need. The first stores opened in September 1939 to help clothe those evacuated or affected by air raids and continued after the war, with many tons of clothing being sent overseas to help refugees. It could be challenging work, however, as volunteers could have to deal regularly with tricky customers.

      This Ode to Clothing poem describes a WRVS member talking with St Peter at the Pearly Gates, who asks: 'What have you done to seek admission here?' She replies that the years spent distributing clothes must surely guarantee her a place in heaven, as 'she has had her share of hell.'!

      The clothing stores finally closed in the 1990s as demand fell, particularly due to the rise of the charity shop.

      View larger image
    4. January 1971

      People

      Joan Griggs thumbnail image

      Joan Griggs

      Joan moved again in 1971, this time to Jersey, where she continued to volunteer with WVS. Volunteers were often called to Jersey Airport or to the harbour in St Helier to help visitors who were stranded due to bad weather, and Joan was always amongst the first to respond. She was also the WVS representative on the committee of the Standing Conference of Women’s Organisations in Jersey, later becoming the chairwoman.

      View larger image
    5. May 1971

      Object

      Lady Reading's memorial service booklet thumbnail image

      Lady Reading's memorial service booklet

      On 22 May 1971, Lady Reading died in her London home. Having led the organisation for almost 33 years, her death left the organisation bereft at the loss of their visionary leader. A memorial service was held in Westminster Abbey to give thanks for all she had achieved. During the service she was described as a lady with a unique blend of charm and determination, who elevated voluntary service to the height of caring and efficiency while establishing her work on a national scale.

      The greatest tribute to her legacy was the collective determination of WRVS to work together, with added purpose, to ensure the growth of Lady Reading's vision. They have strived to do so ever since.

      View larger image
    6. January 1972

      Object

      It's the Job that Counts, Volume II - The speeches of Lady Reading thumbnail image

      It's the Job that Counts, Volume II - The speeches of Lady Reading

      It's the Job That Counts Volume II is a book of extracts from Lady Reading's speeches and writings - a small tribute to a very great woman, compiled by her collaborators and admirers. Published by Pauline Fenno in 1972, it covers the years 1954 up to her death in 1971.

      This volume gives Lady Reading a lasting voice, bringing the inspirational power of her words to those not fortunate enough to hear her speak during her lifetime. It came out a year after her death and stands today as a poignant reminder to volunteers of their visionary leader's hope for the organisation's future, alongside her belief in the dedication and hard work of its volunteers. As Lady Reading put it: 'The ultimate strength of a nation lies in the character of its people.'

      View larger image
    7. January 1972

      Object

      Emergency Services car roof light thumbnail image

      Emergency Services car roof light

      Since the very beginning, Royal Voluntary Service has provided comfort to those caught up in disasters or emergencies. After the war, the WVS had formed the Welfare Section of the Civil Defence Corps that helped to deal with emergencies. Whatever needed doing was done, from setting up rest centres to feeding hungry victims or emergency workers, or gathering, collating and relaying information.

      Even when the Civil Defence Corps was stood down in 1968, the need for emergency volunteers still remained. WRVS was asked to continue its role and to help local authorities to discharge their welfare functions during a crisis.

      WRVS Emergency Services was born: WRVS cars and volunteers wearing orange WRVS tabards became a common sight during emergency relief, often among the first services to arrive on scene. Highly respected by all, Royal Voluntary Service volunteers continue to be on call 24 hours a day.

      View larger image
    8. January 1974

      Object

      First trouser suit thumbnail image

      First trouser suit

      After the death of Lady Reading in 1971, the organisation saw many changes. One was the updating of the uniform which, but for a small tweak in keeping with 1960s fashion, had not been altered since 1939!

      All that changed in 1974 with the introduction of new materials and trousers (in the classic green, of course). Many, however, continued to wear the older uniform into the 1980s. It seems the stretch jersey trouser suit, perhaps ill-suited to typical WRVS work, was not in fact very popular – apart from publicity shots taken for the launch, it rarely appears in contemporary photographs.

      View larger image
    9. November 1976

      Object

      Good Companions poster thumbnail image

      Good Companions poster

      This poster for the Good Companions scheme, was part of a campaign launched by the Secretary of State for Social Services with WRVS that aimed to increase public awareness of their responsibility to older people. Originally begun in late 1970, Good Companions was the successor of the Home Help scheme. During the campaign WRVS acted as planning and publicity consultants, promoting the campaign's message through posters like these, while also acting as a local reference point for those who wanted to help.

      Volunteers would be put in contact with those who needed visiting or help with household chores, such as shopping. Good Companions also provided much needed company, helping to reduce a sense of loneliness or vulnerability within their local community.

      View larger image
    10. June 1979

      Document

      Hartlepool Narrative Report thumbnail image

      Hartlepool Narrative Report

      This Narrative Report details the activities and services provided by WRVS in Hartlepool for the quarter ending 30 June 1979. Beginning in 1938, each centre was required to write monthly Narrative Reports, which then became quarterly, then bi-annual, and ceased in 1992.

      The reports offer great insights into the happenings of every centre and many contain amusing tales of day-to-day life. This Hartlepool report is a fine example: we find descriptions of volunteers in services such as children's holidays, luncheon clubs and Meals on Wheels alongside writings on a re-occurring mice infestation, which left volunteers resorting to traps, cheese and poison to eradicate them!

      View larger image
  6. Royal Voluntary Service in 1980s

    The 1980s was a decade of continued support and development. WRVS volunteers could always be relied upon; no matter what the task, however varied and impromptu, to take up the challenge.

    1. January 1980

      Object

      Hotlock thumbnail image

      Hotlock

      Meals on Wheels, begun in 1943 to provide hot food for ill or older people, had proved a highly successfully service but suffered from technical difficulties. How were volunteers to keep a meal warm on its journey from kitchen to home? Early experiments toyed with hay boxes and blankets but, in 1954, a solution was found when Lady Hillingdon saw Hotlocks being used by the Red Cross in Westminster.

      Lady Reading gave a Hotlock to Meals on Wheels in Cambridge and Tonbridge in Kent, which proved to be too heavy. Luckily, the manufacturers - Food Conveyors Ltd - eventually made smaller Hotlocks for car transport. Heated by charcoal, the Hotlock became a regular fixture and finally made it possible to deliver a piping hot meal to each recipient.

      View larger image
    2. January 1983

      Object

      'Who gives help to families of offenders?' poster thumbnail image

      'Who gives help to families of offenders?' poster

      WVS began its prison welfare work in 1947, and in the following decades this work grew from its origins helping the families of women convicted and sent to Holloway Prison. WRVS drew on their skills and experience to offer wider support, both to offenders themselves and to their families.

      One of their greatest contributions was setting up canteens and contact areas in prisons, courts and remand centres - friendly places where families torn apart by criminality could meet in less intimidating circumstances over a cup of tea. Prisoners' wives clubs and groups were established, as well as transport services for girls leaving the borstals or wives visiting their husbands. Volunteers helped store prisoner's luggage and provided fresh clothes for those who were leaving – embodying an ethos to help society's most alienated and forgotten.

      View larger image
    3. March 1983

      Document

      WRVS Magazine thumbnail image

      WRVS Magazine

      A new WRVS Magazine was launched in 1983. Three issues were published per year with an annual subscription cost of £1.95, although the first issue was distributed free to encourage people to subscribe.

      The first spring issue contained articles on fashion and disability, letters from servicemen in the Falkland Islands and adverts for the very latest in hospital trolley shops. Subsequent issues noted significant milestones, such as the introduction of the first computer at headquarters in 1983. All were illustrated with amusing cartoons by WRVS member Molly Blake.

      The new magazine lasted only seven issues, before financial problems once again shifted the format to a cheaper and shorter WRVS News. In 1994 the title was changed to WRVS Today.

      View larger image
    4. June 1985

      Object

      Holmfirth Toy Library, Honorary Life Membership  thumbnail image

      Holmfirth Toy Library, Honorary Life Membership

      Holmfirth WRVS Toy Library in West Yorkshire was one of several libraries where children could come play with and borrow toys, often too expensive for their parents to afford. It was also a meeting point where mums could chat, make friends and learn about other local groups and activities while their children played.

      The toy library opened on 26 November 1981 and was the first in the north of England.

      This is a copy of the certificate given to Bill Owen (who played 'Compo', a character in the television programme Last of the Summer Wine) when he visited Holmfirth. This certificate granted Bill honorary lifetime membership, which afforded him such privileges as use of the play dust and the slide.

      View larger image
    5. December 1985

      Photograph

      To Helen with love pantomime thumbnail image

      To Helen with love pantomime

      Volunteering for WRVS has always offered the opportunity to form bonds of friendship that last a lifetime. These friendships manifest themselves in all sorts of ways, but the Surrey County Office found a novel means of saying goodbye to their district organiser who was moving on to a position at Headquarters.

      They staged a pantomime in their tiny office entitled To Helen with love – A tribute to her elevation to higher places. The cast of characters includes a desolate District Organiser in love, an archetypal 'Mayal-Member' (read male), the 'Dixie Pixie' and the 'voice of the chairman'.

      View larger image
    6. January 1986

      Object

      Llandough Hospital gifting book thumbnail image

      Llandough Hospital gifting book

      This is one of many gifting books that have survived from hospitals around the country. It is filled with pictures of medical equipment (each labelled with costs) and smiling WRVS volunteers gifting large cheques to hospital staff – giftings raised through their shops, canteens and trolleys.

      By the time this photo-book was put together, which documents the Llandough Hospital in the Vale of Glamorgan, WRVS had been making charitable giftings to hospitals for at least 40 years.

      These generosities not only bought equipment, but on occasion paid for whole new facilities. One significant example was the swimming pool at St Francis Hospital in Haywards Heath, Sussex, built in 1966.

      View larger image
    7. March 1987

      Object

      Gurkha Kukri thumbnail image

      Gurkha Kukri

      This Gurkha Kukri was presented to WRVS by the Gurkha Regiment in March 1987. The Kukri is the traditional weapon of all Gurkha regiments, and reputedly once unsheathed cannot be put back until it has drawn blood!

      Unlike other Services Welfare members, those assigned to Gurkha regiments were not there to care for soldiers, but for their families. These members looked after Gurkha families in Malaya from as early as 1954, as well as further afield in Hong Kong, Brunei and the Tidworth Barracks in Wiltshire.

      Although WRVS' formal association with the Gurkhas ended in the 1970s, the Gurhka consider WRVS social contributions an important part of their history.

      View larger image
    8. January 1988

      Audio

      Booth Hall Children's Hospital thumbnail image

      Booth Hall Children's Hospital

      On WRVS' 50th anniversary in 1988, a decision was made to put £80,000 – the profits of all WRVS hospital shops and trolleys in Manchester – towards building a centre at Booth Hall Children's Hospital to care for victims of child sexual abuse. WRVS chairman Barbara Shenfield gave special permission for the use of this substantial sum.

      In this interview with BBC Radio Manchester, WRVS metropolitan organiser Marguerite Braithwaite, talks about the project, the work of WRVS and her favourite cup of tea. The Booth Hall Jubilee Children's Centre was officially opened by the Princess Royal in July 1989; fittingly on the site of the old WRVS tea bar and shop.

      Credit: Recording used by kind permission of BBC Radio Manchester

      Listen to audio
    9. May 1988

      Object

      50th Anniversary commemorative plate thumbnail image

      50th Anniversary commemorative plate

      WRVS excelled at celebrating significant anniversaries, usually holding services in parish churches and cathedrals across the country. Special services were organised in Westminster Abbey and St Paul's Cathedral for the organisation's 21st, 40th and 50th anniversaries, attended by Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother.

      Popular commemorative souvenirs were produced for such occasions, which included plates, mugs, spoons and teapot stands. This gold leafed plate, which commemorates the Golden Anniversary, is a little grander than many of its predecessors. A limited edition of 50, of which this is number 38, was produced by Aynsley China, which made a nice set alongside matching gold plated teaspoons and decorative mugs.

      View larger image
    10. January 1989

      People

      Joan Griggs thumbnail image

      Joan Griggs

      When she moved again to Presteigne in Powys in 1989, Joan continued to organise Meals on Wheels rotas and to deliver meals to many local older people; it still gave her huge pleasure.

      View larger image
    11. January 1989

      Document

      Thank you letter from the Chairman of Pan Am thumbnail image

      Thank you letter from the Chairman of Pan Am

      No one will forget 21 December 1988, when a bomb on Pan Am Flight 103 detonated over the small Scottish town of Lockerbie. WRVS Emergency Services teams across Scotland and the north of England sprang into action. First on the scene was a team from Cumbria, who set about feeding rescuers and townspeople with whatever food they could lay their hands on.

      A canteen was opened in Lockerbie Academy and over 18 days served 51,000 meals. WRVS volunteers did even more than dish out food and drink; as one report put it: 'Twice, members had to sit down with rescuers who really needed to share the horror of what was in their minds, and I think it was very helpful to be an audience for each man at that moment.'

      View larger image
  7. Royal Voluntary Service in 1990s

    During the early 1990s the role of WRVS was questioned but disbanding the organisation would not be easy. The government decided Britain could not cope without WRVS, but change was inevitable as it became a registered charity. The following years would see WRVS face many difficult decisions and WRVS started to focus its mission on the care of older people.

    1. January 1991

      Document

      The Woodfield Report thumbnail image

      The Woodfield Report

      The Woodfield Report is a defining document in the history of WRVS. The Home Office commissioned Sir Philip Woodfield to 'review the role of WRVS in the light of its current objectives, methods and achievements, with particular reference to the changing social and economic role of women and services ability to continue to mobilise a large volunteer force..."

      While the report found faults with operations and management, it ultimately concluded that government support for WRVS was 'eminently worthwhile' and that, with a volunteer force in excess of 158,000, 'the cost of replacing WRVS [to even a minimal statutory level] would greatly exceed the total money received from public funds.'

      With the British Welfare State unable to cope without WRVS, it was decided that the organisation would remain but become an independent charity.

      Download document
    2. June 1992

      Object

      Time to Spare, Time to Care poster thumbnail image

      Time to Spare, Time to Care poster

      This poster marked a new look for the WRVS to coincide with the dramatic changes that the organisation was going through in the wake of the Woodfield Report. These changes included the appointment of its first chief executive, Gerry Burton, and its new registration as an independent charity, no longer under Home Office control.

      Gone are the artistic poster designs from the past - in its place are photographs and personalities. This one features Lynne Lee, who was metropolitan organiser for Solihull. She wears the old WRVS uniform which had, by that point, been superseded by a line that for the first time included a version for men.

      View larger image
    3. January 1994

      Object

      Collecting tin thumbnail image

      Collecting tin

      After 54 years as a Crown Service, WRVS became an independent charity on 31 December 1992. Although it still received a grant from the government of £5.6 million a year, WRVS was inevitably going to have to stand on its own two feet. The organisation had never needed to fundraise before - in fact, it had been strictly forbidden by Lady Reading and her successors.

      Efforts began with simple collecting tins like this one, but after 1997 - when the government informed WRVS it would no longer receive the grant - fundraising efforts were stepped up with the first national raffle, followed by a direct mail campaign in October 1999. The government grant finally stopped in 2008, and Royal Voluntary Service has been reliant on donations ever since.

      View larger image
    4. January 1994

      Audio

      WRVS on The Archers thumbnail image

      WRVS on The Archers

      As part of modernisation efforts, WRVS decided to commission a new logo in 1994. It was the first change made since 1966 when the service was honourably awarded the additional title of 'Royal'.

      The new logo played a part in a WRVS publicity drive that involved appearances on various radio and television shows, including the Radio 4 serial The Archers, which featured Jill and Phil Archer talking about the WRVS crèche at the Borsetshire County Show and the new logo. Jill Archer, who was WRVS centre organiser for Ambridge from the mid-1980s, also appeared in a WRVS uniform at a recording of the show in the Watermill Theatre in Newbury, 1985.

      Audio clip courtesy of BBC.

      Listen to audio
    5. November 1996

      Object

      Action Magazine thumbnail image

      Action Magazine

      It's said that all things are cyclical, and WRVS' publishing ventures have been no exception to this rule. In 1996, with the help of newly fashionable focus groups, the short newsletter WRVS Today was replaced by Action Magazine, a fully-fledged, 20 page periodical very similar to the short-lived 1983 WRVS Magazine.

      The magazine was initially published with a colour cover and black and white pages, but after two years upgraded to full colour. It ran for 33 issues as a magazine before costs, once again, saw it revert back to the newsprint format it still is today.

      View larger image
    6. January 1997

      Video

      Make Someone's Day video thumbnail image

      Make Someone's Day video

      This video was produced in 1997 as part of the Make Someone's Day campaign to help promote WRVS. It covers almost every service WRVS was involved with at the time, which included hospital shops and trolley services, to emergency services, Meals on Wheels and child contact centres, among others. Members shared their experiences of volunteering, their roles and the benefits they personally got out of it.

      In the same year the video was released, the government announced it was to withdraw WRVS' annual grant. As a consequence, WRVS could no longer afford to offer such a diverse range of activities and so the decision was made to focus purely on the care of older people. The other services, as publicised in this video, were eventually phased out, a transition that was finally completed in 2004.

      Watch video
    7. January 1998

      Object

      Celebrity Hands, Give us a Hand campaign thumbnail image

      Celebrity Hands, Give us a Hand campaign

      The 'Give us a Hand' campaign, launched at the Waldorf Hotel in London by singer and television presenter Cilla Black, was designed to encourage people to volunteer with WRVS. The campaign embraced the power of celebrity, asking famous people to pledge their support by sending in an autographed outline of their hands. Over a hundred celebrities took part, including Imogen Stubbs, Stephen Fry, Sir Ian McKellen, Robbie Coltrane, Sean Bean and David Suchet. The campaign also saw ordinary people make colour paper cut-outs of their own hands at the WRVS stand at the Ideal Health Show, then hang them on a cardboard tree.

      View larger image
    8. January 1998

      Object

      Betty Davis casual work wear thumbnail image

      Betty Davis casual work wear

      WRVS had been a uniformed organisation since 1939, and it was requisite for members to purchase their own. By the 1990s however, they were being worn less and less, and their cost proved prohibitive for most. With the introduction of a new uniform in 1992, a hire system was put in place, with uniforms lent out to those who needed them on special occasions.

      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.

      View larger image
    9. April 1999

      Document

      Edinburgh / Forth Valley Narrative report  thumbnail image

      Edinburgh / Forth Valley Narrative report

      While almost all Narrative Reports had ceased by 1992, some places - particularly Scotland - continued to write them throughout the 1990s. This report from Edinburgh / Forth Valley, is the last known to be produced by WRVS.

      What fascinates most is how little has changed at the heart of these reports, despite the passing of 61 years between the first and the last. This one still records handicraft competitions, Meals on Wheels deliveries, and working with other local groups to bring about benefits for their communities and celebrate the role of volunteers.

      Download document
  8. Royal Voluntary Service in 2000s

    In 2004 the Women’s Royal Voluntary Service became just simply WRVS. The women in green turned into the new age of purple and orange, but the focus of the organisation was still to make Britain a great place to grow old through the warmth and kindness of our army of volunteers.

    1. January 2000

      Object

      Darlington Region Admin Centre door plaque thumbnail image

      Darlington Region Admin Centre door plaque

      The withdrawal of the government grant in 1997 lead to some very difficult decisions, including the review of the more than 2,000 WRVS premises around the country. In 1998, WRVS was allocating £2.8m of its remaining £4.75m grant on maintaining its premises and administration staff within those offices – changes had to be made.

      Following the completion of the review all but three offices were closed. The last local office was the Devizes Centre, which was used until 2004 by the then vice-chairman Alice Cleland. The Darlington Regional Admin Centre, from which this plaque comes, had the unenviable task of carrying out the closure of all the offices.

      View larger image
    2. March 2000

      Object

      Mad Hatter's Tea Party teapot thumbnail image

      Mad Hatter's Tea Party teapot

      This teapot, produced by James Sadler Potteries, was a promotional item to accompany the Mad Hatter's Tea Party fundraising events.

      When WRVS achieved independent charitable status, thereby losing its generous grant from the Home Office, fundraising efforts became a necessity (despite Lady Reading's historic wishes against it).

      With the changing times, WRVS sent out its first fundraising letters to 30,000 households in Wiltshire in 1999, following it up in March 2000 with the first Mad Hatter's Tea Parties. It was the first WRVS national grassroots fundraising campaign, with tea parties organised across the country around an Alice in Wonderland theme. The playful campaign raised just over £15,000.

      View larger image
    3. January 2004

      Object

      New WRVS badge thumbnail image

      New WRVS badge

      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.

      Debate had raged since the early 1990s as to whether the name 'Women's Royal Voluntary Service' put men off from joining. In 2004 the organisation was officially renamed as simply 'WRVS'. The green and burgundy uniform colours, which had remained unchanged since 1939, were swept away by vibrant purple and orange. The new colours were ushered in along with a new strapline: 'Make it count'.

      View larger image
    4. July 2005

      Document

      Emergency Services report  thumbnail image

      Emergency Services report

      It seems that at least once a decade, WRVS have been on hand to help in the aftermath of a national catastrophe: The 1953 floods, the Lewisham train crash, the Lockerbie disaster and most recently the bombings in London on 7 July 2005.

      During the first hours of 7 July, WRVS provided impromptu emergency rest centres at St Bart's Hospital tea bar and cared for foreign nationals, who had been evacuated from inside the cordon in Camden. This report recalls their main job, which began from 9 July, when WRVS helped run the Family Assistance Centre at the Queen Mother's Sports Centre in Vauxhall Bridge Road: 'a centre which the bereaved, families searching for the missing, and others affected, could come for help and advice.' Their role was stated as: 'provide refreshments for all - could be high numbers – for an indefinite period of time.'

      View larger image
    5. January 2008

      Object

      Sandwich packaging thumbnail image

      Sandwich packaging

      The sandwiches sold in WRVS shops and cafés today bear little resemblance to those served in the 1950s. A post-war recipe, when rationing was in full swing, suggests that hospital canteen sandwiches were made with margarine and bacon rinds!

      In 2008, the year of the 70th anniversary, a deal with sandwich provider Food Partners meant that WRVS could put its branding and messages on sandwich packaging for the first time. As a modern charity every opportunity should be taken to get its message across, even if it's on the side of a food packet. In 2012, WRVS sold 2,601,092 sandwiches.

      View larger image
    6. January 2008

      Object

      Heritage Plus: Portslade portraits thumbnail image

      Heritage Plus: Portslade portraits

      The WRVS Heritage Plus project ran in Sussex from 2007 to 2010, funded with £775,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund. The project celebrated people's memories and community heritage through creative workshops, the recording of oral histories, outings to heritage sites, celebratory events and exhibitions, and cross cultural and intergenerational sessions. These activities produced many books, pamphlets, short films and other material charting the history of Sussex and the people who live there.

      One such piece was Portslade Portraits, a book created from ten weeks of creative writing sessions for people over the age of 55 at the WRVS community centre in Portslade. The stories it contains are heart-warming, melancholy, humorous, and everything in between.

      View larger image
    7. January 2008

      People

      Joan Griggs thumbnail image

      Joan Griggs

      In 2008 Joan was awarded her 15 year medal with three clasps for her incredible 68 years volunteering with Royal Voluntary Service. Sadly, just a few years later she had to retire from her work with Royal Voluntary Service on the grounds of ill health.

      View larger image
    8. January 2008

      Photograph

      First information centre and café launched thumbnail image

      First information centre and café launched

      The year 2010 saw an exciting new development with the launch of the first WRVS information centre and café in Paisley, Renfrewshire. It was an instant hit, with 2,330 people visiting in the first month, and 15 people actively seeking confidential advice from volunteers in two information booths. Since then our information centres and cafés have become an integral part of the Royal Voluntary Service community. They provide a warm and welcoming environment where older people, their families and carers can find out information on services in their local area.

      View larger image
    9. December 2009

      Video

      Give us a Lift campaign thumbnail image

      Give us a Lift campaign

      Lack of transport is a major issue for older people; in 2009, WRVS conducted a survey which found that for 44 per cent of older people, this issue was the most important influence on their quality of life. At that time, WRVS was already providing 60,000 lifts to over 7,000 people each year, but decided that more needed to be done. The Give us a Lift campaign was launched to great fanfare that year, with a microsite and substantial press publicity. It also included a viral video, which depicted older people attempting to hitchhike to places such as the leisure centre, pub and even a hoedown! The campaign played an important role in raising awareness of the problem, recruiting volunteer drivers and encouraging donations.

      Watch video
  9. Royal Voluntary Service in 2010s

    In 2013 WRVS became Royal Voluntary service to better reflect the work we do. With a growing older population with very different expectations from previous generations, Royal Voluntary Service’s new approach is to provide services tailored to individual need. However, with a national economic crisis that has seen funding for services cut, Royal Voluntary Services once again faces these challenges head on.

    1. July 2010

      Object

      WRVS Narrative Reports UNESCO UK Memory of the World Trophy thumbnail image

      WRVS Narrative Reports UNESCO UK Memory of the World Trophy

      The history of WRVS is inextricably linked to 20th century British history; running through the nation's fabric like a coloured thread.

      In 2010, the WRVS Narrative Reports were awarded UNESCO UK Memory of the World status, putting them in good company alongside other nation-defining documents such as the Domesday Book.

      The archive wasn't awarded Memory of the World status simply because of the sheer number of reports - about 450,000 in total – or because they cover every part of Great Britain for 50 years. It was because of the stories they tell of the contributions of over one million ordinary men and women, and how their brilliance shaped the society we live in today. This simple trophy is a testament to their brilliance.

      View larger image
    2. April 2013

      Photograph

      Royal Voluntary Service 'hubs' launched across the country thumbnail image

      Royal Voluntary Service 'hubs' launched across the country

      Royal Voluntary Service's 75th anniversary year started with a bang in January when it was announced that a new 'hub' model was to be rolled out across 67 locations in England, Scotland and Wales. Each hub provides a core set of services including transport, companionship and social activities, allowing older people to receive 'mix-and-match' assistance that is suited to their needs. The new hubs followed in the footsteps of seven 'beacon hubs', which are situated in Berkshire, Essex, Pembrokeshire, Tayside, South Yorkshire, Northumberland and Staffordshire. The benefits these hubs could provide had been demonstrated by an independent report in 2010, which found that nine-tenths of their customers felt their lives were being made 'a lot better' as a result of the services offered. Indeed, the positive impact these hubs have on older people's lives are still felt each and every day around the country

      View larger image
    3. May 2013

      Object

      75th Anniversary Brochure thumbnail image

      75th Anniversary Brochure

      WRVS celebrated its 75th anniversary on 22 May, 2013, with a thanksgiving service at St Paul's Cathedral. On that same day the organisation changed its name, and Royal Voluntary Service was officially born.

      The new changes have seen a return to the organisation's roots – such as the reintroduction of the green and burgundy colour scheme. This anniversary brochure captures the history, the ethos and the spirit of Royal Voluntary Service; both its past and its hopes for the future. As Patricia Routledge expressed in her closing address at the anniversary service: "May the Royal Voluntary Service go from strength to strength."

      View larger image