Celebrating 70 years of volunteering in the NHS

Thursday, 05 July 2018
NHS at 70
As the NHS marks its 70th anniversary, Royal Voluntary Service is highlighting the vital role its volunteers have played in supporting the service over the last seven decades.

Recently celebrating a milestone 80th anniversary itself, Royal Voluntary Service is one of the largest volunteering organisations in British history. It has inspired and enabled more than three million men and women to give the gift of voluntary service to meet the needs of the day.

Originally founded in 1938 by Stella Reading as the Women’s Voluntary Services, the organisation was formed to recruit women into the Air Raid Precautions movement, assisting civilians during and after air raids and helping to evacuate children. It began working in hospitals in 1938 to assist with preparations for war, where volunteers would be needed to fill staff shortages in non-medical jobs, help with emergencies and recruit people to fulfil specific jobs such as ward maids or ambulance drivers.

Post-war, volunteers continued to provide their services and the organisation’s focus was on how it could assist with the aims of the NHS. The WVS trolley shops and shopping services were introduced from 1946-48 and over the years became a familiar and welcome sight in wards across Britain. Royal Voluntary Service was also asked to help with a number of health campaigns including staffing clinics providing immunizations for illnesses such as polio and increasing blood donors.

Today, Royal Voluntary Service’s has 20,000 dedicated volunteers, and has a particular focus on helping older people live healthy and happy lives and still continues to support the NHS. Thousands of its volunteers provide support in to the NHS– from helping older people just home from hospital and providing on ward support to running community transport schemes and serving patients, visitors and NHS staff in its 230 hospital shops, cafés and trolleys.


"Happy 70th birthday to the National Health Service from all at Royal Voluntary Service. We have been working with the NHS since its inception and our volunteers have a long history of supporting the NHS - doing simple things which make a big difference. The NHS is an incredible institution that sits right at the heart of Civic Society and we are proud to be a part of its daily life. In our 80th year we continue to prioritise our support of the NHS and I can see huge opportunities for us and others to do more through voluntary service, to support patients and staff alike. The gift of voluntary service is an amazing way we can all give something back and thank our wonderful NHS and all those who work within it."

Catherine Johnstone CBE, Chief Executive of Royal Voluntary Service
Read more about our history of volunteering in the NHS in Catherine Johnstone's blog 

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For further information

Royal Voluntary Service is one of the largest voluntary service organisations in Britain. We inspire and enable 20,000 volunteers to help people in need in hospitals, at home and in the community.

Our volunteers improve patient experience in hospital, aid recovery after a stay on ward, help older people support themselves at home, stay fit and active and build meaningful social connections.

Royal Voluntary Service supports volunteers to run services in the community such as lunch and dining clubs, physical activity classes, craft, gardening and other hobby groups. We work collaboratively with other charities, social care providers and the NHS to help create a society where everyone feels valued and involved.

The charity is one of the UK’s largest hospital retailers with 230 volunteer-run shops, cafés and trolley services providing tea and company to patients, hospital staff and visitors.

To become a local volunteer search for volunteering opportunities in your area. Or help make a difference by making a secure online donation.

If you are a member of the press and have a media enquiry please contact the Media Team. For all other enquiries, contact us.



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