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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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"Every week you chat with somebody that seems very grateful"

We had a chat with the lovely Penny Gillett about her almost 30 years of volunteering at the Tea&Co café in Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridgeshire. We talked about rescuing an unfortunate fellow volunteer, the new Tea&Co café brand and the joys of volunteering.


Penny has volunteered for 30 years at Royal Voluntary Service

What motivated you to begin?

“My children were all off-hand, and I had worked in charity shops as well but that was not for me, so somebody suggested the canteen at the hospital and that’s where I went! Combined with the charity shops I’ve actually been volunteering for more than 30 years.”

What’s your strongest memory from volunteering?
“Well, that’s a bit hard to say. I suppose the best thing is that we meet so many nice people, the ladies I have worked with, the people that run the kitchen and mostly there is the customers. Every week you chat with somebody that seem very grateful for what you are doing. It’s just what keeps you coming back.”

That sounds great. Has anything dramatic ever happened?

Oh yes, I do remember this story strongly. One of our ladies was taken very ill and no doctors were able or nearby to see her immediately in the café. Really, nobody was around. It turned out she was having a heart attack in the kitchen, so I quickly found a wheelchair, put the poor lady in it and then I ran! I ran to A&E with her in the wheelchair and I went to the back entrance because I knew where it was. This was urgent, but the doctors and nurses were ready and the lady was taken away from me immediately as I arrived. They helped her and she was all okay in the end.”

Wow, it’s good that everything turned out well.
“Luckily most days are much more peaceful.”

The café has just been refurbished under the new Tea&Co concept. Can you tell me more about it?

“It looks far, far better than the old shop. I mean, it looks very professional and it’s good to have some healthier food options, that’s a brilliant idea. As long as we still have a few comfort foods too, because some people are ill and want something comforting to eat. But I think the focus on healthier options is a great idea.”

What are the options like now?
“There are a lot more healthy options and then there are still stands with cakes and so on. It looks lovely and people can still get things like sausage rolls but I they are based on healthier recipes now. On the whole I think it’s all good with the new menus.”

Do you think it’ll be easier to cater for diets like gluten-free, lactose-free etc.?
“I have noticed that there are more gluten-free items and I’m very aware of it, because I have two people in my family that can only eat gluten-free food. I’m very much aware of it and I think the range is very good.”

Thank you. Can I ask what you have gained from being a volunteer?

“Oh dear, it’s hard to put into words… I have really enjoyed the ladies I have worked with. You get quite a strong bond with people because you volunteer there every week with the same people. It is meeting people every week and doing something that is of a tiny bit of help. I think that’s all you can do in life, really. I do enjoy it.”

“You’re helping someone else. By the end of every shift, you realise how lucky you are, because there are other people coming in that are ill. You see people with quite bad illnesses and people who are caring for other people. You know, I’m very lucky that I’m able to stand here and volunteer”.

Can you recommend volunteering?
“I absolutely thoroughly do! I always recommend it to people. Normally, anybody that starts really likes it. I really hope this café will have volunteers far into the future.”
You can meet Penny and the other RVS volunteers at the Tea&Co café in Addenbrooke’s Hospital.

Find out how you can volunteer to make life better in your local area.

Posted by at 00:00 Friday, 25 August 2017.

Labels: volunteer

“Without her, I’d be lonely”

VeraMeet Vera and Louise who have been brought together by volunteering. Vera, 89, has been a widow for a long time but after her husband died, her son stayed with her during the week, commuting back to his family Devon at the weekends. Sadly, he died very suddenly two years ago and Vera was on her own. The rest of her family live in Plymouth and although they keep in touch by phone, they live too far away to see her that often. Vera’s mobility is restricted so she moved into a residential home.


Louise, a former social worker, visits Vera in the home and Vera says they get on very well together:

“Louise is so happy, she comes in, pulls up her chair and we talk about anything and everything and put the world to rights. She’s so bright and breezy, I never see her looking miserable! It means I’ve got something to look forward to on a Friday afternoon, otherwise I’d be by myself. I don’t need a carer, I have someone to do the housework and all my meals are provided. Louise is company - I miss people and without her, I’d be lonely.”

Louise has noticed a big change in Vera in the last few months:

“Vera was very quiet when I started visiting her. She was a bit depressed and felt isolated. I come and have a chat and keep her company. It’s more than a social occasion - you build up a relationship with the people you visit”

Vera and Louise

Louise has volunteered for several organisations but, as a trained social worker, wanted to be able to use her skills with people on an individual basis so she got in touch with Royal Voluntary Service.

“I do it because I love it. I get satisfaction from knowing that I’ve made someone happy. I see it as a two-way thing – I give Vera a bit of company and myself something to do too. It keeps us both happy!”

A huge thank you to players of People’s Postcode Lottery who support our Good Neighbours schemes across the country. Volunteer to help isolated older people near you or get support in your local area.

Posted by Louise at 00:00 Monday, 12 June 2017.

Labels: Royal Voluntary Service, Volunteering

“Volunteering has given me a purpose”

Ann and SheilaIn the second in our Volunteers Week blog series, we’ve travelled to Port Talbot to introduce you to Sheila and Ann. They volunteer at Neath Port Talbot Hospital; you’ll see them in the Royal Voluntary Service shops and on the trolley round.

Find volunteering opportunities


“I’ve been volunteering for two years and it’s given me lots of confidence as I get to meet a lot of new people.

“I help people to selects gifts in the shop as well as making sure we have enough stock on the shelves and assisting with paperwork in the office. I also help with the trolley round that visits the wards.

“I volunteer three days a week and like to get out and about to sell drinks and sweets to staff and patients. I really like to talk to patients as they might not have any visitors.

“Volunteering has definitely helped to grow my confidence; I feel needed. There is a social side too; volunteers and staff go out together at Christmas and have a good time. I’d recommend it to others.

“My Service Manager, who runs three shops, says that we are priceless. Volunteering has given me a purpose.”


“I’ve been volunteering with Royal Voluntary Service for 5 years. I work in the shop and run a trolley service around the wards of the hospital. I help customers with presents and sell lottery tickets, drinks and refreshments across three shops in the hospital.

“I was inspired to volunteers when my husband passed away. As a widow, life was lonely. I had previously worked in the public sector and I missed communicating with people. Volunteering has helped me to feel less isolated.

“I volunteer three days a week and take the trolley shop to the wards so that staff and patients can stock up on their favourite drinks and snacks. It’s nice to go to them as many patients don’t have regular visitors. I like working with volunteers from all walks of life and meeting new people.

“Volunteering enriches life and helps others who are less fortunate than me. I hope that when I volunteer, it makes an impression on people and inspires them to volunteer too.”

Royal Voluntary Service has over 440 hospital shops and cafés all over Great Britain which serve patients, visitors and staff with a smile. Any profit goes back into providing services to older people in the community. Find out more about volunteering or support for older people near you.

Posted by at 00:00 Monday, 05 June 2017.

Labels: Volunteers week

"I'd recommend volunteering"

Heather's story As part of our series of blogs celebrating Volunteers Week, meet Heather who works as a hospital shop volunteer and Volunteer Manager at Seacroft Hospital, Wharfedale Hospital and St James Hospital in Leeds.

“I’ve been volunteering in the shop for about a year and have been running the shop sites for three hospitals in Leeds for two years. I recruit, train and manage volunteers for all of the shops and make sure that great service is delivered every time.

“I was inspired to start volunteering after using the Royal Voluntary Service café at Seacroft Hospital as a patient for some time. I always got great service; the volunteers were really friendly and looked like they were having fun whilst doing it.

“I love the variety that comes with working in three different hospitals. I love recruiting and training new volunteers and seeing them enjoy their volunteering like I do. I also enjoy serving my customers in the shop, café or on the trolley on the wards. I work with some fantastic people and we make a difference to the people in the hospitals at difficult times.

“I’d recommend volunteering in a Royal Voluntary Service hospital shop or café to others because it’s a way of offering a fantastic service and experience to patients, visitors and staff. People tell me that it’s great to have somewhere friendly and comfortable to go while waiting for appointments which makes the job worthwhile.

“I enjoy serving my customers in the shop, café or on the trolley on the wards. I work with some fantastic people and we make a difference to the people in the hospitals at difficult times. Next week I am going to a Garden Party with Queen in my role as a volunteer. I am so excited!”

Royal Voluntary Service runs a host of shops and cafés in hospitals as well as community projects all over Great Britain. Find out about volunteering opportunities in your area or get support for a loved one.

Posted by at 00:00 Friday, 02 June 2017.

Labels: Volunteers Week

Thank you!

David McCullough, chief executive of Royal Voluntary ServiceVolunteering. It’s in our name and has been part of the organisation since its conception nearly 80 years ago. Today, at the start of Volunteers Week, Royal Voluntary Service has around 35,000 volunteers who support older people around Great Britain. I want to say a personal thank you to each and every one of you.

I see the incredible impact that you make on your communities and the country as a whole. You work tirelessly to make a difference to those around you and you make a difference to thousands of lives every day. I’m heartened to hear the sentiments of those who are supported by you and the thanks passed on from family members who care so deeply and hugely appreciate the time you spend with their loved ones.

I want to take this opportunity to express my thanks to all of our volunteers. Some have provided support for decades while others have been welcomed into our ranks in recent weeks. Whether you’re just starting out on your volunteering journey or you have many years of service to look back on, we appreciate your support.

Volunteers Week runs 1 – 7 June that celebrates the difference that volunteers make every day. Find out how to join our Royal Voluntary Service volunteers or see how to get support near you.

Posted by David McCullough, Chief Executive, Royal Voluntary Service at 09:00 Thursday, 01 June 2017.

Labels: Volunteers Week, Volunteering

"Volunteering - I see the benefits and enjoy it immensely."

AvrilIt’s Volunteers Week and we’re celebrating with tea parties and events all over the country. To kick start the week, meet Avril who lives in Haddington and volunteers for the Good Neighbours service in East Lothian, Scotland.

“I’ve been volunteering with Royal Voluntary Service for two years and am a companion for two older ladies who live near me as well as helping out with transport to help get people out and about.

“I visit both ladies every week for a chat; we get on so well. One lady is virtually housebound so my visits are particularly important for her. I go out with the other lady, who is more mobile, and we go to the shops together occasionally.

“Volunteering as a befriender makes a big difference to the local community as it helps to reduce isolation and gives people something to look forward to; I see the benefits of my visits and enjoy it immensely.

“Helping others with transport means that they can attend doctors’ appointments and take part in social activities, which they might not be able to access on their own.

“I benefit greatly from volunteering; I feel that I add something to the community and help those who are not as able as myself. It gives me a lovely sense of fulfilment.

One of the ladies that Avril visits said “Befriending alleviates loneliness; I’m grateful for the visits. They allow me to share my points of view with Avril, which is very stimulating.

“Before Avril’s visits, I was in complete isolation for over ten months – a very long time. Although I have a lady who helps with cleaning and my son who does my weekly shopping, they don’t have time to spend chatting.

“Avril’s visits gives me companionship after being so isolated. It’s such a good service.”

Volunteers Week is an annual event which celebrates the difference volunteers make to every community across the country. Royal Voluntary Service provides support to older people across Great Britain through a network of volunteers like Avril. Find out how to volunteer near you or get local support for an older person.

Posted by Avril at 00:00 Thursday, 01 June 2017.

Labels: Royal Voluntary Service, volunteering,

"Royal Voluntary Service has provided me with a social life"

Tom works on a projectTom is 98 and has been a regular at the workshop ever since it started. Tom used to work on a farm and as a gardener and driver. He retired at the age of 85, after many fruitful years of work. Tom says the workshop has been a central part of his life.

Find a service near you

“I’m the last person remaining from my generation so I don’t have many friends left. Royal Voluntary Service’s Social Centre has provided me with a social life since it began, and now the workshop has given me more friends.”

Tom likes getting involved with woodwork and he’s made bird tables, bird boxes and planters. Sometimes the men make craft items so he’s done some painting too.

“I like doing things, I’m very handy so the workshop keeps me active and using my skills. I also get to meet friends and have some company as I don’t get much at home.”

“You can’t go wrong; everyone is happy. I tell everyone about the workshop, and I get people to buy our items too.”

Thanks to funds raised by players of People’s Postcode Lottery are helping us to provide places where older people can get together across Great Britain. Sheds are a brilliant way to bring people together and reduce social isolation; they were founded by men and some sheds welcome all members of the community, regardless of gender. Find local services near you or volunteer to support older people in your area.

Posted by Tom at 00:00 Monday, 15 May 2017.

Labels: Royal Voluntary Service, Volunteering

“We enjoy each other’s company.”

Gordon and ElaineMeet Elaine who regularly visits four older people as part of the Royal Voluntary Service East Cheshire Service. One of the people she supports is Gordon, who is 94 and lives in the countryside.


Gordon says: “It’s quite rural where I live and, because I don’t have a car and can’t walk very far, it can be quite lonely. Elaine comes to see me every week and we usually go to a luncheon club in Handforth Dean or sometimes we stay more local. It depends on how the mood takes us. I seldom chat to people so it’s great to see Elaine and the others at the club.”

Gordon has a daughter who does his shopping and visits him but he doesn’t really see anyone else. He spends his time relaxing and watching TV. Before retiring, Gordon was an Electronics Engineer on ships and spent a lot of his time travelling the world, leading a team of twenty men. He and Elaine like to chat about his work and they like getting out and about as well as meeting the other regular diners at the luncheon club.

Gordon and Elaine

Elaine adds: “I really look forward to spending time with Gordon. We enjoy each other’s company.

“I do a lot of volunteering; I love it. I think it is very important to give something back. Time is one thing that can’t be bought; giving time is important, especially if you can help someone who is housebound and lonely.”

We’d like to thank players of People’s Postcode Lottery who are helping older people across Great Britain through the funds that they raise for Royal Voluntary Service. Get support for an older person through a local service or join our team of volunteers making a difference every day.

Posted by Elaine at 00:00 Monday, 10 April 2017.

Labels: Royal Voluntary Service, Volunteering

Charity running tips from a marathon finisher

Thomas SmithMeet Thomas, who’s running the London Marathon to raise money for Royal Voluntary Service in April. Find out how he motivates himself while training and on the big day itself.

Run for Royal Voluntary Service

I have been running for nearly 4 years now and during that time, I joined a local running club. I have since ran countless 5ks, 10ks and half marathons. I’ve run the London marathon twice now and 2017 will be my third time.

Royal Voluntary Service is a charity that is close to my heart with both my grandparents receiving support from them when they were living at home independently. They are an excellent charity and I want to raise their profile and help support the ever increasing work that they do to help older people.

The care and support received from volunteers is fantastic and it is comforting to know that older people are cared for when they need it. I also feel it’s important that older people are able to live independently in their homes through the good work that Royal Voluntary Service do.

I have a target of raising £1,000 for Royal Voluntary Service. I will be asking friends, family, and generous work colleagues for sponsorship. I’m also planning to do a cake sale at work and possibly a curry or quiz night to raise funds.

I’ve been training as much as I can; it can be quite hard to fit runs in during the week as I work in London. I do long runs on a Saturday morning meaning I’m gone for around three hours at a time. It is even more challenging this year as I have a little 9 month old son who keeps me very busy!

My best marathon tip is to keep up with training. Ensure you do a few 20 mile runs or running continuously for three or more hours, and that you get to your longest run before a marathon. By doing this, you will know what it takes and be mentally prepared for the marathon itself. My training sessions are fuelled by water, gels, salt and energy tablets. Plus sheer determination to succeed, of course!

I stay motivated by keeping focused on the big day. I’m looking forward to running the best marathon in the world. Having a personal goal of a finish time you want to achieve on the day can be helpful too. It’s always good knowing that you have to put the miles in to hopefully get the result you want. It’s not easy though - no pain, no gain as they say.

We’ll be cheering Thomas on as he and Team Royal Voluntary Service run the Virgin Money London Marathon on Sunday 23rd April. Find out how to raise money for Royal Voluntary Service through charity challenges. Read Jamie's story, who ran the London Marathon for Royal Voluntary Service in 2016.

Posted by Thomas Smith at 00:00 Monday, 10 April 2017.

Labels: Royal Voluntary Service, Fundraising,

“Healthier choices for food shopping in hospitals”

Paramedic looks at saladKate Bull, Executive Director of Retail, tells us about the new shop opened in Hairmyres Hospital in East Lanarkshire.

Today is a momentous day; we’re opening a hospital shop with a difference. After cutting the ribbon and opening to the public, our Shop & Co. in Hairmyres Hospital, East Kilbride will serve staff, patients and visitors with healthy groceries and refreshments. Like all of our 440 shops around Great Britain, it is managed locally and staffed by a team of friendly staff and volunteers.

Find out about our shops

Our research has found that eating healthily is one of the many struggles for NHS staff. 41 per cent of doctors and nurses in Scotland have one or no pieces of fruit and vegetables during a typical working day. We’re trying to make things as easy as possible to get hold of healthier food choices in hospitals, from today, you’ll be able to find sushi, salads, fruit, dried fruit and healthy take home products such as cauliflower rice and soups at Shop & Co.

We know the access to healthier food and drink choices through our shops and cafes will have a huge impact on the health of hospital staff, visitors and patients in Scotland. Our predictions show that our shops and cafés will provide 3.4 million people with access to healthier food and drink. A focus on healthier snacks will see 30,000 portions of fruit and vegetables consumed and fat consumption from crisps will reduce by three million grams while salt consumption will be reduced by 15,000 teaspoons.

Anything sold in Shop & Co., like all of our shops and cafés, is price matched against similar retailers so that you can be sure that you’re getting a good deal. And profits raised help to fund Royal Voluntary Service’s work supporting isolated older people like our Home from Hospital service which helps the transition when someone is discharged. It’s been proven to reduce complications when an older person goes home and reduces the likelihood of a return visit to hospital. It’s a nice feeling when your shopping gives back to those in need.

Today is the next step in our transformation of our shops and cafés all over Great Britain to provide a modern shopping experience while incorporating healthy choices for all. We hope to work with other commissioners and hospital partners to provide a healthier retail experience.

Royal Voluntary Service hospital shops and cafés provide a friendly face as well as refreshment to hospital patients, visitors and staff. Find out how to volunteer near you.

Posted by at 00:00 Monday, 20 March 2017.

Labels: Royal Voluntary Shop, shops and cafés,