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Royal Voluntary Service blog
Find out about the people behind Royal Voluntary Service in our series of guest stories from our volunteers, staff and partners.

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"My faith in humanity has been restored.”

Two women chatMeet Carol from South Yorkshire who receives support from her local Good Neighbours companionship service. She tells us why the Winter months can be hard and why her volunteer brightens her day.

“I have had help from Royal Voluntary Service for over a year now and it has made an immense difference to my life. I had asked for help from other organisations and was either told that the services had stopped or received no reply. For an older person who lives alone and with illness, this was really not good.


“Just by chance, I came across my local services details and left a message. Much to my surprise, I got a call back very soon after from a very special, lovely bubbly lady who took my details and explained about what the organisation did.

“The same lady became a huge support to me by visiting once a week and helping me by becoming my friend, advising me and helping me with my weekly shop. I really look forward to her visists which always brighten me up. My volunteer is very caring, understanding, chatty and fun; a lifeline to someone who does not always see a lot of other people.

“The service is excellent and I would be lost without it. It means a great deal to me and lots of others. I would definitely recommend it to others.

“In the Winter months, I get more depressed and my pain increases with the cold, wet climate, as it does for many people. I find December particularly depressing when it’s dark at 4pm. One feels more isolated and alone.

“People are busy with family plans or preparations and have less time to chat. It seems rubbish if you are on your own at Christmas; even the TV adverts have people gathered together or around a large table. People rush in from the cold so you see even less of others than normal. Getting around is also more difficult.

“I think if you’re on your own you are more vulnerable and feel less safe in a lot of situations today and even more so in Winter months when there are fewer people about. The evenings and nights seem darker somehow.

“The best thing about my volunteer and local service is that you have that friendship, support and kindness. It makes you feel more included in society. My faith in humanity has been restored.”

Royal Voluntary Service is part of the Met Office’s Get ready for Winter campaign. Read volunteer David's blog about what we can do to make winter a less lonely time for older people. Our network of volunteers help vulnerable older people like Carol to stay independent and connected throughout the year.

Posted by Carol at 00:00 Monday, 19 December 2016.

Labels: Royal Voluntary Service, Volunteering,

“Joe spent Christmas with us; he’s like one of the family now”

Joe with Volunteer, IanAfter recovering from a heart attack, Ian was ready to go home but his wife doesn’t drive and he wasn’t well enough to use public transport. He arranged a lift with the Royal Voluntary Service and got chatting to the volunteer driver from our transport scheme in Fife, one of many services across Great Britain which has benefitted from funds raised by players of People’s Postcode Lottery.

“I remember talking to the driver and thinking it must be nice to volunteer if you have time. I thought about it a bit more and then gave my local office a ring. I went down and had a chat; I went through all of the checks and then I started volunteering as part of the transport service. I signed up to be a driver. I’ve been a volunteer at Central and West Fife Transport Service for nearly three years now.”

The number of hours Ian spends volunteering vary from week to week, he often drives people to the shops, to hospital appointments or sometimes just to help them get out and above.

“The people I drive know me; I’ve built a relationship with them and sometimes they can be reluctant about meeting new people. I recently went to visit my Mum in Worcestershire for a week and the office had to arrange cover for me. I felt bad that I was letting people down and missing my regular shifts.”

One of Ian’s regulars is Joe Reid, a 73-year-old who started using the transport service nearly a year ago. Ian spends a couple of hours every week with Joe and the schedule rarely varies.

“Ian picks me up at 1pm on a Wednesday afternoon. We do my errands and then we go to the supermarket to do my weekly shop. My mobility isn’t good and Ian gets the electric trolley for me and helps me put all the shopping in. He knows what I want and always asks me for a list but I never bother. He keeps me right.”

Ian and Joe have become firm friends over the past year, and knowing that Joe would be on his own over Christmas, Ian invited him to sample some of his cooking.

“I really enjoy Joe’s company. He came and spent Christmas with us; he’s like one of the family now. He had a snooze in the armchair!”

Volunteering has made a big difference to Ian’s life.

“I have a deeper appreciation of older people and their problems now. It’s difficult for people to get from A to B, especially if they’re like Joe and have mobility problems or they live in a rural area. It’s really important to offer a service like the transport service.

“Volunteering has definitely made my life more interesting too I feel quite privileged that I am trusted to help, I think the Royal Voluntary Service badge shows that I’m trusted and respected and I get a lot of satisfaction from that.”

Joe adds:

“Knowing that Ian is coming over puts my mind at ease. I know that he’ll help me and make sure I do everything I need to do. Before when I used to ask a neighbour, I was always wondering if they’d have time but I know now that Ian will keep me right.”

Find out more about volunteering in your area or make a donation to beat loneliness in older people.

Posted by Ian at 00:00 Tuesday, 06 December 2016.

Labels: Royal Voluntary Service, Volunteering

"There is no downside to volunteering"

Becky BlackMeet Becky, who volunteers in our Good Neighbours scheme in Huddersfield. She’s been a player of the People’s Postcode Lottery for around 18 months.

Find out more about People’s Postcode Lottery

Becky Black visits Ralph every Friday and they go out for coffee or go for a short stroll in the local park.

“I’m volunteer for the Good Neighbours service in Huddersfield. I see Ralph, who’s 93, for about an hour and a half every Friday. If he’s feeling reasonably fit, we go for a walk in a local park or go to a café for a coffee. There is a reservoir near him which is very pretty so sometimes we go and sit and look at the view.

“After retiring, I decided that I had more time and as I don’t have any family nearby, I could spare some time for others. I’d like to think that someone would volunteer with my mum, who lives in Scotland, if she wanted someone to pop over for a chat.

“I don’t see my seeing Ralph as volunteering; he’s my friend and I enjoy spending time with him. He’s a really nice guy. It feels more like going for coffee with my friend every Friday.

Ralph and Becky

“I love to hear his stories and I always tell him what I’ve been up to. It’s good to have to a face to face proper relationship and Ralph has become a good friend. He came over my house not long ago and met the whole family - my husband, three children and grandchild. It was lovely.

“There is no downside to volunteering. If Royal Voluntary Service are short of volunteers then I help with hospital visits or take people shopping. In the summer, my family spend a lot of time in France because we have a house over there, but I think Ralph understands. It’s always nice to go and see him when I get back.

“I’ve been playing the People’s Postcode Lottery for around 18 months now; I like to play because they support a good range of charities including the Royal Voluntary Service!”

Funds raised by players of People’s Postcode Lottery are supporting our services for older people across Great Britain.

Posted by Becky at 00:00 Thursday, 17 November 2016.

Labels: Royal Voluntary Service, volunteering, Good Neighbours,

We remember them

WVS member serves soldiersJennifer Hunt, Deputy Archivist at the Royal Voluntary Service Archive, tells us about her thoughts ahead of Remembrance Day.

At this time of year, we take time to remember the fallen during all conflicts. It’s a thought-provoking time to focus on resolution and be thankful for peace when it touches our lives.

My thoughts turn immediately to service men and women whose lives were so greatly affected in their dedication to protecting our country. I also think of the civilians and service people on home ground that gave their lives; many were sadly killed during wartime, including some 245 Women’s Voluntary Services (WVS) ladies who were on duty.

These inspiring women volunteered their services and were essential in keeping the home fires burning. They helped during the Blitz, oversaw the evacuation of children from cities, and ran British Restaurants and mobile canteens to feed the needy as well as many other Services between 1938 and 1945.

WVS members serve food to soldiers

Members lost their lives during the War, most of whom were on duty, are remembered in the Roll of Honour which is on display in Westminster Abbey. We remember all those who died, including:

  • Kathleen Pinder of the Housewives Service was killed on 13th December 1940 while on her Housewives duty in Sheffield by a heavy explosive attack on the house next door.
  • Winifred Alliker who was Leader of a Sewing Party in Thurrock, Essex. She remained sewing instead of taking shelter as the work in hand was urgently needed in hospital. Her whole family was killed at the same time on 9th April 1941.
  • Margaret Jackson, Catherine Little, Ada Morris, Elizabeth Gertrude Sherwood, Agnes Cooper Vernon and Jeanie Wright were all on duty as Rest Centre Workers at St Andrews Rest Centre in Bootle, Liverpool when it received a direct hit on 3rd May 1941.
  • Ethel and Winifred Hayward; sisters who were killed by a direct hit on the Clothing Depot in Crayford, Dartford on 13th July 1944 while issuing clothing to Evacuees. Fortunately most of the people were waiting outside as, of those inside, only two were alive when dug out.
  • Dorothy Cook, a Mobile Canteen Driver, was driving a YMCA Canteen van in the Bristol Docks area during the blackout on 9th December 1940. The vehicle fell into the water and Mrs Cook was trapped in her van and drowned. She had been driving continuously for a week through the Blitz.
  • Isabella Muirhead Hunter, a First Aid Post Worker in Paisley Large Burgh, was on duty when the post was destroyed by a Parachute Mine, on 6th May 1941.
  • Rose Bonsall, a Rest Centre Worker ARP Warden, died from injuries received from the explosion of a time bomb while on her way to a Rest Centre, Wrexham on 31st August 1940.

Thanks to the support of donors, we are currently digitising the reports of over a million wartime women so that all can appreciate them and find out more about this key time in history. Until our Million Women project is complete, you can find out more about our archive and you can view the full Roll of Honour online.

Posted by Jennifer Hunt at 00:00 Thursday, 10 November 2016.

Labels: Royal Voluntary Service, WVS, Archive, WWII,

“I don’t know what I’d do without him”

Betty and TonyMeet Betty, 86, who relies on Tony from our Cumbria Transport Service to help her get out and about and alleviate her isolation.

“I don’t know what I’d do without Tony. I wouldn’t be able to get out of the house. He’s absolutely wonderful; he’s always reliable and I think the service is marvellous.

“My pleasures were taken away from me when I reached old age. I used to do a lot of walking around the lakes, mountain climbing and ballroom dancing. I can’t do any of that now. I rely on Tony to get me out of the house.

“He takes me to my luncheon clubs, the community centre and to do my weekly shop. He’s available at short notice and is so reliable. Before Tony, it was terrible for me - not to be able to get out.”

Betty and Tony

At least three times a week, Tony, 60, a Royal Voluntary Service volunteer, drives to Betty’s house and takes her to where she needs to go. If it’s a hospital or doctor’s appointment, Tony waits with her before taking her home again.

"I know all the shortest routes for my ‘customers’ and always make sure I’m on time. There’s nothing hard about volunteering; I have my regular bookings and I do the one off appointments. I enjoy it. It brings me a sense of purpose."

Tony, Royal Voluntary Service Volunteer
Thanks to funds raised by players of People’s Postcode Lottery Royal Voluntary Service volunteers are able to help more people like Betty across Great Britain.

Posted by Betty at 00:00 Wednesday, 26 October 2016.

Labels: Royal Voluntary Service, volunteering

Age Is Just A Number

Older people paintOn Older People’s Day, we want to champion achievement as we age. Many assume that our greatest success happens in our youth but these incredible accomplishments prove that age is just a number.

Publishing novels

J. R. R. Tolkien published the first volume of his famous epic fantasy series, “The Lord of the Rings” when he was 62-years-old. The book is thought to be one of the best-selling novels of all time, with over 150 million copies sold worldwide. The oldest recorded author was Louise Delany who published The Delany Sister’s Book of Everyday Wishom when she was 105-years-old in October 1994.

Winning medals

Oscar Swahn, oldest Olympic medalistYouth may be associated with sport but this bucks the trend. Oscar Swahn won Silver at the Antwerp Olympics in 1920 aged 72 for shooting. He won his first gold medal at the 1908 Olympic Games in London and collected three gold, one silver and two bronze medals in his career.

Performing gymnastics

At 86, Johanna Quaas from Germany was a regular competitor in amateur gymnastics competitions in Germany when her World Record as oldest gymnast was certified in 2012.

Graduating from university

Shigemi Hirata graduated from Kyoto University of Art and Design in Japan aged 96. He received a Bachelor of Arts degree in March 2016.

Lucky in love

Age is nothing when it comes to love! The oldest recorded bride, Minnie Munro, married Dudley Reid, 83, at the age of 102-years-old at Point Clare in Australia in 1991 while Harry Stevens is recorded as the oldest bridegroom when he married Thelma Lucas, 84, when he was aged 103 in Wisconsin, USA.

Posted by Sarah Key at 00:00 Saturday, 01 October 2016.

Labels: Royal Voluntary Service

"I Like to Put a Smile on People's Faces!"

Meet Man speaks to womenRichard, who volunteers with his wife in our café in Harrogate District Hospital. He’s been a player of the People’s Postcode Lottery for two years.

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Find out more about People's Postcode Lottery

“I love volunteering! I love being able to help people; everyone is an individual and they each have their own story. The hospital staff are like family to us now and we have regular customers come in who come to see us for a chat.

“It’s never nice being in a hospital; it’s an anxious environment. People have concerns about themselves and their relations so I like to help people by chatting to them and trying to put a smile on their face.

“If I see someone sat in the corner of the café looking sad, I will quite often approach and see if I can have a chat with them. I ask them if they’re ok or if I can get them another cup of tea. Sometimes people just want to be left alone but sometimes chatting makes all the difference. There’s nothing like face to face communication.

“My wife and I volunteer together once a week; we make a good team. We take it in turns - every other week one of us will work the counter and serve the teas, coffees and sandwiches while the other works in the kitchen doing the washing and cooking.

“I would definitely recommend volunteering; I can choose the times to suit my schedule and it’s a fantastic way to help lots of people.

“When I clear the plates away in the café, people always say thank you and say they really appreciate the work us volunteers are doing.

Richard was pleased to hear about how players like him were also giving Royal Voluntary Service a big financial boost.

“I’ve been playing about 2 years and won a few tenners here and there. I like to play because although I like to think about winning, I know that money also goes to good causes. I know that donations from players of People’s Postcode Lottery make a big difference to people’s lives.”

Funds raised by players of People’s Postcode Lottery are supporting our services for older people across Great Britain.

Posted by Richard, Volunteer at 00:00 Wednesday, 21 September 2016.

Labels: Royal Voluntary Service, Volunteering

Post Hospital Support Aids Recovery For Older Adults

older people smile at volunteerDr Allison Smith, Head of Strategy & Development for Royal Voluntary Service, reveals new evidence that shows Hospital to Home services improve older adults’ recovery after a hospital stay.

"Alone, afraid and unable to cope"

That’s how many patients are sent home from hospital, according to the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman in a recent report.

Volunteer to help

None of us relish the thought of a stay in hospital, but for older adults, the experience can be especially challenging. With social care services under pressure, many leave hospital without any support, only to be readmitted.

Hospital stays can be disorientating, and many older adults find it difficult to settle back into their home afterwards, particularly if they have no-one at home to support them. Having someone there to give a word of encouragement, ensure proper nutrition and hydration, or check on medication can make all the difference.

On average 15% of people aged 75 and over are readmitted to hospital within 28 days of discharge. That figure is far too high and represents a major challenge for older adults, their families and for the NHS. No-one should go home from hospital alone unless they choose to. With the right support - at hospital, at home and in the community, that figure could be dramatically reduced and the quality of life for older adults improved.

In Leicester, the Royal Voluntary Service provides a Hospital to Home service in nine hospitals; this is funded by Leicestershire County Council and Leicester City Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG). The service provided six weeks of support for older people returning home from hospital after illness, surgery or an accident. The service prioritises those individuals that are 75 years or older, live alone, have limited or no support locally, and are care giving or in a co-caring relationship. Our staff and volunteers give practical and emotional support to help older people get back on their feet and regain their independence. It also enables quicker discharge from hospital.

In April this year, the University of Oxford analysed the impact of the Leicester Hospital to Home service. The results were very encouraging; amongst a sample of almost 800 – 75% of which were aged 75 years and over – we found a reduction in readmission rates and significant improvements in well being from the point of discharge from hospital to 6 weeks post discharge:

  • The service achieved a readmission rate of 9.2%, compared to the national figure of 15% for those aged 75 years and over.
  • 70% of older people felt they had improved their level of social contact.
  • 52% said they had improved their confidence.
  • 47% reported an increase in their happiness levels.

To further improve the outcomes achieved in this service we will trial a one to one 6 week chair based exercise programme - in partnership with Move it or Lose it! - to help people improve their balance, strength and mobility following a stay in hospital. We hope this will further reduce readmission and admissions to hospital, and improve wellbeing.

"This analysis proves how vital that support is to the recovery of an older person who has been in hospital. No one should have to go home alone unless they choose to and it’s to no one’s benefit that they do - not the older person nor the NHS as they are more likely to be readmitted if they are not given the support they need after leaving hospital."

David McCullough, Chief Executive
We think these findings prove the need to provide these types of services to vulnerable older adults going home from hospital.

Support our Help them Home campaign and find out more about our Home from Hospital services.

Posted by Dr Allison Smith, Head of Strategy & Development at 00:00 Wednesday, 21 September 2016.

Labels: Royal Voluntary Service, Hospital Support, Volunteering,

The Standard Bearer for Healthy Choices in Hospitals

Andrew RobertsAndrew Roberts, Retail Development Manager at Royal Voluntary Service explains why we’re excited to be leading the way on healthier hospital eating.

We’re celebrating! Royal Voluntary Service is the first retailer in the UK to achieve a tough new standard for healthy eating in hospitals, set by the Scottish Government.

Two of our shops in Scotland - at West Glasgow Ambulatory Care Hospital and Western General Hospital in Edinburgh in The Anne Ferguson Building – have been awarded the Scottish Grocers Federation Healthcare Retail Standard (HRS).

Find out about our shops and cafés

Achieving the new standard means that we meet – and in some areas, exceed – strict nutritional criteria set for the items we offer. That means:

  • More than 50% of the items we sell are from a healthier range
  • Fat, salt and sugar levels have been reduced
  • We offer more healthy choices in our meal deals, like sugar-free drinks, fresh and dried fruit
  • We only offer promotions on healthier items
  • We’ve dramatically reduced space for crisps, confectionery and sugary drinks.
Healthy mealBy spring 2017, every healthcare retailer in Scotland will have to meet the new standard. But we didn’t want to wait until then - or limit ourselves to Scotland. That’s why last year, we launched Healthy Choices - an initiative we’re rolling out across all 440 of our hospital shops, cafés and trolley services in Scotland, England and Wales introducing healthy food and drink choices.

Achieving the Healthcare Retail Standard is recognition for the impact of Healthy Choices, and West Glasgow and Western General have set the bar for our other hospital sites.

Having a healthy workforce is an important priority for the NHS. Earlier this year, we asked hundreds of hospital doctors and nurses about their eating habits when working. They told us that they regularly skip meals, snack and eat unhealthily. Many of them blamed their poor eating habits on the lack of healthy options available where they work.

We’ve been a trusted partner to the NHS for over 30 years. That’s why we’re being proactive in our efforts to help support a healthier workforce. By revitalizing our hospital retail sites through Healthy Choices, people working, visiting and staying in hospital will be able to choose from a wide range of healthy food and drink options.

Our shops and cafés all over the country are staffed by volunteers. Join our volunteer team.

Posted by Andrew Roberts, Retail Development Manager at 00:00 Wednesday, 14 September 2016.

Labels: Royal Voluntary Service, healthy choices, hospitals, shops and cafés,

Staying Active As We Age

Julie RobinsonJulie Robinson from Move It or Lose It shares her top tips on how to stay active as we get older.

Everyone has their reasons for wanting to stay active as we get older. Whether it’s to stay healthy, reduce risk of illness or shed unwanted pounds, it’s important to keep our muscles strong.

From the age of 30, the number of muscle cells in our bodies begins to decrease by 1-2% per year. We can combat this by doing activities which ensure we keep, or improve, our muscle mass. This helps with lots of things that keep us fit, healthy and living independently in our later years.

Exercise can improve balance and coordination which, in turn, can help to prevent falls. It can also prevent or slow osteoporosis and lower the risk of heart disease, stroke, dementia and other serious illness. Staying active can improve your immune system, help you to sleep better and gives you a boost of feel good chemicals too!

Guidelines say we should do 150 minutes of moderate activity a week. This can be broken down into smaller chunks. Here’s what you should keep in mind when you’re exercising:

1) Flexibility

Side lean demonstrationStretching keeps our joints supple so we can reach up into cupboards and bend down to put on shoes. Try this exercise to help with leaning down and posture:
  • Stand up tall and imagine you’re between two panes of glass so you can’t twist.
  • Tighten up your abdominal muscles and lean to one side, keeping your head in line with your spine.
  • Return so you’re sitting up straight and repeat on the other side.
  • Repeat 4 times each way.

2) Aerobics

Seated march demonstrationDo an activity to get your heart, breathing and body temperature up to feel the difference. This could a brisk walk or simply stepping up and down on your stairs. If you find walking difficult, sit on a dining chair and “march” on the spot with your arms and legs – lively music helps!

3) Balance

Heel raise demonstrationOur balance can decline without us realising it. It’s vital for all sorts of activities like getting out and about. Give this exercise a go to improve your balance:
  • Face a kitchen work surface and hold on to it for support with your feet hip-width apart.
  • Lift both heels and hold for a count of ten then lower with control.
  • Over time, work on doing this with just fingertip support and then without holding on.
  • As you get more advanced, you can try balancing on one leg but make sure there’s something to hold on to.

4) Strength

Sit to stand demonstrationAll activities are easier if we’re strong and it can help with energy levels as a strong muscle is more efficient and tires less. We use resistance bands in our classes but you can give this sit-to-stand exercise a go at home:
  • Put a strong upright chair with its back to the wall to steady it.
  • Sit up tall, towards the front of the chair with your feet lined up under your knees.
  • Lift up out of the chair and then sit down again with control.
  • Take note of how many you can do in 30 seconds and track how you improve!

Download free exercise guides from Move it or Lose it.

Posted by Julie Robinson, Move It or Lose It at 00:00 Wednesday, 07 September 2016.

Labels: Royal Voluntary Service, Move it or Lose it,