Royal Voluntary Service celebrates 80 years of helping others

Wednesday, 16 May 2018 Royal Voluntary Service, originally founded in 1938 as the Women’s Voluntary Service, was formed by Stella Reading to help recruit women into the Air Raid Precautions movement and assist civilians during and after air raids and help evacuate children. Since then the charity has evolved to tackle some of the biggest social challenges of the day and has inspired more than three million ordinary men and women to give their time to help others.

In 2018 Royal Voluntary Service is as relevant as ever and continues to inspire and enable people to give the gift of voluntary service to meet the needs of the day. Today, that’s principally helping people as they age live healthier and happier lives and supporting the NHS.

And as it enters its 80th year, Royal Voluntary Service is pledging to increase voluntary support in the NHS, recognising the vital role volunteers can play in improving the patient experience and supporting healthcare professionals. Encouragingly, recent research shows a keen appetite from the public to step up, with over one fifth of British adults saying they would consider volunteering to support the NHS. (1)

Royal Voluntary Service will be marking its 80th with a number of activities locally and nationally. This includes an exhibition at The Wiltshire Museum in Devizes - Compassion in Crisis - 80 years of Volunteering (7 May to 24 June 2018) - which through a series of fascinating images, posters, uniforms and objects from the charity’s archives will tell the story of how Stella Reading and her million ‘women in green’ revolutionised the way the world thought about voluntary service. Across the country, Royal Voluntary Service’s volunteers and staff will host their own 80th birthday parties and a celebratory photography exhibition showing voluntary service in action will launch at the Oxo Tower gallery in London later this year.

Royal Voluntary Service has 25,000 dedicated volunteers, who help thousands of people each month in hospital, at home and in the community. From running dance clubs and lunch clubs to serving tea in a busy NHS hospital or popping in to see an older person just home from hospital, these volunteers do simple things which make a big difference.

"Our volunteers have been and always will be at the heart of Royal Voluntary Service. We are very proud of our rich history and as we reach this important milestone, would like to thank each and every one of our volunteers, past and present, who have given so generously of their time to help others. Their contribution, not only makes life better for the individuals they touch, but makes communities stronger and helps to relieve pressure on public services.

"We are looking forward to continuing to make a difference and a key focus for us over the five years in particular is to continue scaling up voluntary support within our much loved NHS. There is a huge opportunity for us and others to do more through the gift of voluntary service and by growing volunteer numbers we hope to relieve some of the pressure on healthcare professionals."

Catherine Johnstone CBE, Chief Executive, Royal Voluntary Service

"It’s wonderful to be an ambassador for a charity with such a rich history and one that is equally as relevant and needed today. I’m lucky enough to have seen first-hand the extraordinary effect its volunteers have on patients in hospital and on older people in the community. It’s that human contact and care that can make all of the difference, especially if you’re feeling emotionally or physically fragile. I think volunteering is going to become much more important because we are all living much longer; we need those people who are willing to reach out and help others."

Felicity Kendal CBE, Ambassador, Royal Voluntary Service

At a glance: 80 years of helping others

  • May 1938: Sir Samuel Hoare, Home Secretary, gives Lady Reading permission to start The Women’s Voluntary Services for Air Raid Precautions
  • 1939: War is declared on 3 September, WVS already has 317,415 volunteers. Over three days WVS helps evacuate 1,476,000 people from the cities to safer areas
  • 1941: WVS assists the Ministry of Food to distribute 45 million ration books in one week
  • 1943: The first Meals on Wheels delivery is made in Welwyn Garden City
  • 1945: The government decides WVS will continue to provide invaluable work after the war
  • 1946: Lady Reading opens the first residential club for older people in Ipswich
  • 1952: Queen Elizabeth II becomes patron
  • 1955: Establishment of the One in Five department which aims to train one in five women in what to do in the event of a nuclear attack
  • 1956: WVS provides support to British Council to cope with the demand of the influx of Hungarian refugees
  • 1966: Queen Elizabeth II awards WVS the honour of adding Royal’ to its title – WVS become WRVS. WRVS members respond when a landslip at the Merthyr Vale Colliery engulfs the village of Aberfan, killing 145 people
  • 1971: Lady Reading dies suddenly after a short illness
  • 1976: WRVS operates 56 rural social transport schemes, helping those cut off by reductions and withdrawal of rural buses
  • 1980: ‘Granny holidays’ for the elderly are arranged for the first time
  • 1988: In the aftermath of the Lockerbie air crash, WRVS supplies blankets and food
  • 1992: WRVS registered as a charity with the Charity Commission
  • 1997: Diana, Princess of Wales dies. WRVS is asked by Buckingham Palace to help clear 25,000 tonnes of flowers and thousands of toys left in remembrance at St. James’ and Kensington Palaces
  • 1999: The first plane of Kosovan refugees arrives at East Midlands Airport. WRVS organise rest centres, provide refreshments and sort and distribute donated clothing
  • 2002: WRVS launches its new mission “to help people maintain independence and dignity in their homes and communities particularly in later life”
  • 2005: WRVS Emergency Services set up rest centres in a number of London boroughs in the wake of the 7/7 terror attacks
  • 2009: 45 WRVS rural transport schemes give 60,000 lifts to those in need
  • 2013: WRVS celebrates its 75th Anniversary and is renamed Royal Voluntary Service. HRH The Duchess of Cornwall becomes President
  • 2014: Royal Voluntary Service opens its first Men’s Shed in Northumberland, giving older men a chance to make things and make friends
  • 2017: New healthy eating shops and cafés, ‘Tea & Co.’ and ‘Shop & Co.’ are launched within NHS sites. Stella, Lady Reading is commemorated with a Blue Plaque at the former WVS HQ in London and the Archive & Heritage Collection places over 72,000 pages of WRVS Narrative Reports online for free
  • 2018: Royal Voluntary Service celebrates its 80th anniversary.

Watch our film celebrating 80 years of voluntary service

80 years of volunteering

(1) All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 2001 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 12th - 13th April 2018. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults (aged 18+).

For further information

Royal Voluntary Service is one of Britain’s largest volunteering charities with over 25,000 volunteers supporting thousands of older people each month in hospitals and the community.

The focus is on building confidence, improving well-being and keeping loneliness at bay through an array of social activities and more structured support.

Working across hundreds of hospitals in the community, the charity is one of the largest retailers in the NHS, with its network of cafés, shops and trolley services providing much valued services in hospitals.

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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