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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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“I see more people and I feel so much better about myself!”

Val and her friend Julie

Meet Val who loves her local People’s Health Trust funded art group in Norfolk. She has been attending for over a year and has made connections in her community that she didn’t have before.

“I just love going to the Art and Wellbeing group on a Monday. You walk in and it’s warm and comfortable with a feeling of community.

“I’ve met some old faces – some of whom I’ve worked with in the past and haven’t seen for years. I’ve also made new friends and we all support each other through sad times, of which we’ve had a few recently. It’s a real support network. Now, if I bump into people at the shops, I stop and chat whereas I wouldn’t have before. I really feel like I know people now.

“I find the group helps to keep my mind active. It’s very easy as you get older to sit on your backside and do nothing but somethings you need to get out there and try things. I’d encourage others to give it a go! The group gives me a sense of belonging and helps with my confidence.

“I suffer with anxiety and going along on a Monday gives me a reason to go out and I thoroughly enjoy it. It’s not just the art, it’s the wellbeing side too. Some people come along just for that! We’ve even had sing-songs around the table.

“My favourite thing is collaging; it’s a great way to express yourself. I am a very arty crafty person; I used to help out at school. I’d spend ages doing arty things with the children and loved it so much. Now I like to see what others in the group are doing and listen to their ideas.

“I am onto my second sketchbook now and I work on them at home too. It used to be that if I couldn’t get out to work in my garden, I used to just sit there and twiddle my thumbs. Now I get on with my arts and crafts journals.

“Through the group, I see more people and I feel so much better about myself!”

The Local People project is funded by the People's Health Trust, an independent charity addressing health inequalities across Great Britain. It makes grants using money raised by 51 society lotteries through The Health Lottery. Since 2015, Royal Voluntary Service has been working on six Local People's Projects, funded through People’s Health Trust’s Local People Programme. These projects take a neighbourhood approach, engaging with local people and enabling them to address wider issues in their communities through collective action.

Posted by at 00:00 Tuesday, 11 September 2018.

“I’ve made new friends and have had lots of fun!”


Meet Margaret who is 72 and volunteers in her local community in Biddulph, Staffordshire. Margaret volunteers on her local Steering Group to voice local issues and come up with solutions. As a result, she volunteers at a social club, which she helped to set up.

“I heard about my local Steering Group after a project member visited my care home. I’d recently retired and wanted to get involved in local activities. That was two years ago now. I helped to start my local ‘Meet and Eat’ group, which I still volunteer at.

“At ‘Meet and Eat’, about twenty of us get together to enjoy food and entertainment together. I’ve met new people, made new friends and have had lots of fun!

“I’ve had so many opportunities through my volunteering. I’ve organised and led an intergenerational project where our group and a local youth group took it in turns to cook a meal for each other. I go to my local Fit For Friday, where an instructor tailors fun exercise to suit our abilities. I cannot say what I enjoyed the most; I’ve enjoyed it all!

“The People’s Project has all made a very positive difference to my life. Without it, I would be isolated at home. I hope I have inspired other to do the same; it’s great!”

Ross Podyma is Margaret’s local Royal Voluntary Service Community Engagement Worker.

“Margaret’s group has given local people a voice. For the first time, they feel less invisible. Their energy levels and appetite to involve themselves in activities or research has brought them into contact with new people and new experiences. Steering group members were being asked of their opinion, something that didn’t happen much before. This project has provided members with a feeling of self-worth and belonging with something as simple as enabling people to connect with each other. Friendships have blossomed too.”

The Local People project in Biddulph is one of six Local People Projects run by Royal Voluntary Service thanks to funding from the People's Health Trust. Find out more about how we are working with local people to help them tackle the issues facing older people in their communities.

Posted by at 00:00 Thursday, 02 August 2018.

Labels: volunteering,

“The group has made a real difference to my life”

Julie and Val

Julie likes to get creative at our art group in Thetford, Norfolk. The group is part of our Local People Project, funded by People’s Health Trust. She tells us why the group is so important to her wellbeing and why Mondays are a good day for her since she joined.

“I’ve been coming to the Arts and Wellbeing Group for around a year now. We meet every Monday and I really look forward to it! The group is so friendly. Every week you are greeted by smiling faces and are made to feel so welcome.

“It’s so much more than an art group; we natter, laugh and chat about anything and everything. You name it, we’ve done it! From collage to colouring, glass painting to Christmas decoration making. I have taken some of my projects home with me and I get a real sense of pride and ownership from the work I’m doing.

“I am thrilled that my son has seen some of my work. He knows how much I am loving my crafting. He has even asked me to design and make cards for his wedding!

“I am currently enjoying working on my journal, which is all about my life. I am finding it really interesting to research where I was born and the area I came from. Others in the group have inspired me to delve into my roots; this is something I’d never considered doing before but I find truly fascinating. It keeps my mind active and awakens memories that have been asleep for years.

“The group has made a real difference to my life. Some weekends, I don’t get to see anybody at all and it does get very lonely. But then I remember I have arts group on Monday morning and I get so excited and pack my bag to get ready. I really look forward to seeing everyone. I’ve made new friends and connections through the group. I am quite a reserved person but within the group, I can feel my confidence building. I can speak up and make suggestions that others will listen to and value.

“I also find myself thinking of others in the group and ways to help them. I save magazine cuttings and photos that I find for my classmates, knowing that they will appreciate and use them. I feel that they have been pleased with my thoughtfulness and that makes me happy.”

Thanks to funding from People's Health Trust, Royal Voluntary Service is supporting Local People Projects in six communities in England and Scotland. Residents in these communities are working together to set up activities, organise events and influence what goes on locally to make life better for older people.

Posted by at 00:00 Thursday, 19 July 2018.

Labels: volunteering,

70 years of supporting the NHS

Catherine Johnstone CBE"As relevant today as it ever has been - Royal Voluntary Service looks back at 70 years of volunteering in the NHS." Catherine Johnstone CBE, Chief Executive Royal Voluntary Service

Happy 70th Birthday to the National Health Service from all at Royal Voluntary Service.

Royal Voluntary Service, or Women’s Voluntary Service as we were then known, was already 10 years old when Bevan’s National Health Service was born in 1948. By that time our volunteers had already become a familiar and vital presence in hospitals - assisting with preparations for war, filling staff shortages for non-medical jobs and helping during emergencies.

In the post war era, despite staff returning to their posts, our army of dedicated volunteers still found their services in high demand. Our focus shifted to assisting with the aims of the NHS and enabling it to run services it would not be able to without voluntary support. Members took on roles including reception work; canteens; trolley shops; and special campaigns.

In 1946-48, the now iconic, WVS trolley shops and shopping services landed on wards and quickly became a familiar and welcome sight in hospitals across Britain. Volunteers would do rounds twice weekly, selling popular items including biscuits, tobacco and cigarettes, sweets and fruit. We also established a number of hospital canteens to provide refreshments, a place for people to take a break and bring comfort to those waiting for appointments.

All of the profits enabled Royal Voluntary Service to support older people in their local community or were gifted back to the hospital to spend on equipment or services.

Royal Voluntary Service volunteers were also regularly called upon to help with national health campaigns. For instance, our volunteers would organise blood donation sessions and provide tea and biscuits to donors. They were also involved in running handicraft workshops; writing letters; entertaining; escorting on journeys and Darby and Joan Clubs for long-stay patients.

In 2018, we are extremely proud to still be part of daily life in the NHS. It is an incredible institution that sits right at the heart of Civic Society and the continued presence of thousands of our volunteers is as critical and relevant as it ever has been.

We have more than 230 volunteer-run shops, cafés and trolley services that provide tea and company to patients, hospital staff and visitors and today we are leading the charge on healthy eating and drinking in hospitals.

Our NHS volunteers are also playing a vital role in reducing readmissions and improving patient experience. Volunteers provide on ward support to help older patients regain their cognitive and physical strength, and through our Home from Hospital service, we support people to recover and build confidence after being discharged from hospital.

In our 80th year, Royal Voluntary Service is continuing to prioritise support for the NHS and via a new strategic partnership with Helpforce, we will be aiming to scale up voluntary service in the NHS over the next 5 years. Combining HelpForce’s innovation with our experience, means we can explore and identify new ways volunteers can ease some of the pressures faced by our health care system.

It is an absolute honour to have been supporting the NHS from its origins and as we wish it a very happy birthday, we also want to thank all our wonderful volunteers past and present. These ordinary men and women give freely of their time to do the simple things that make a big difference.

The gift of voluntary service is an amazing way we can all give something back and thank the NHS and all those who work within it. Find out more about local volunteering opportunities in the NHS, or to make a donation to support our work.

Posted by Catherine Johnstone CBE, CEO Royal Voluntary Service at 09:00 Thursday, 05 July 2018.

Our biggest commitment yet to supporting those living with dementia

Dr Allison Smith Dementia is becoming increasingly prevalent in our society, with more and more people affected each year. As an organisation that supports older people to stay healthy and happy, and which helps the NHS, Royal Voluntary Service has a duty to provide the best possible support to enable all older adults to live well whatever their condition.

That’s why this year - our 80th anniversary year - we are making our biggest commitment yet to supporting those living with dementia. We’re doing this by launching a series of new dementia training videos for our staff and 20,000 volunteers who deliver a range of services and social activities in hospital, at home and in the community.

Royal Voluntary Service staff and volunteers already receive thorough and rigorous training, but to deepen our knowledge and critical understanding of dementia, we’ve joined forces with an award-winning and truly inspirational charity, Dementia Adventure. Dementia Adventure is a forward-thinking, innovative organisation that helps people live well with dementia by thinking differently about the condition and connecting them to the outdoors and their community.

Thanks to support from players of People’s Postcode Lottery, we’ve worked together to develop a set of inspirational video tutorials that will equip our staff and volunteers with practical, specialist skills to help those with dementia to live well and get the most out of our services and activities. The videos uniquely include the voices and experiences of those living with dementia.

We know that anxiety and fear of stigma mean that people with dementia sometimes disengage from social activities and their local community. By equipping our staff and volunteers with rich knowledge about ‘what dementia is’, ‘what it is like to live with dementia’ and ‘how we can better communicate with those living with dementia to improve their wellbeing’, we hope that more people with dementia will feel confident and comfortable interacting with Royal Voluntary Service – for instance, by coming along to a local social event or club or to return to an activity or hobby that they enjoyed prior to diagnosis. At the same time, commissioners of hospital, social care or community services can be assured that we have an effective combination of practical and communication skills to support those living with dementia to live well.

There are many misperceptions and myths about dementia, the greatest being that people with dementia are unable to participate fully in life, including enjoying an active social life. We don’t subscribe to that and our highly trained staff and volunteers will be working hard to break down those barriers.

Posted by Dr Allison Smith, Head of Strategy and Development at 13:00 Wednesday, 27 June 2018.

Labels: Dementia

“I make a huge difference with just 1 hour a week!”

BeckyMeet Becky who lives in London and helps local older people to become more active. She’s making friends, helping emergency services and empowering older people – all with just one hour a week!

“I began volunteering for Royal Voluntary Service after seeing an advert in the local paper. They were looking for volunteers for 1 hour a week to help the local ambulance service through the Active Ageing Programme. There were no strings attached; 1 hour of my week doing gentle exercises with older people in my area and I could help reduce the number of 999 call outs for the ambulance service.

“I hadn’t really thought about the kinds of people I would meet but I knew it would relieve the strain on the emergency services by reducing the number of calls they were receiving. The first person that I met was Anna, who was 96 and housebound. She was not what I was expecting! She is bubbly, chatty, full of knowledge and interesting stories from her past and really keen to be on the programme. She finds it difficult to get out and about because of physical ailments but was craving a social life outside of her home.

“I worked with Anna for six weeks to complete set a routine of gentle exercises. Anna decided to continue to the daily exercises to strengthen her muscles. She felt they could help her to become more mobile and confident when standing and walking with a goal of getting out the house and meeting others. 

“We struck up a friendship while exercising in the hour that we spent together and chatting away throughout the sessions. It was a pleasure to be able to spend time helping someone in need to become more active. It was great to be an ear to listen and to motivate and cheer someone up.

“I am so glad I made the call to volunteer. I feel I am helping the local emergency services, helping older people to be more mobile and sociable. All of this gives me a sense of pride that I am helping my community – just by giving 1 hour of my week.”

Becky volunteers with our pilot Supporting you at Home service which currently runs in Hackney and Merton in London in partnership with the London Ambulance Service. London Ambulance Service refer those who are at risk of isolation or falls and Royal Voluntary Service pair individuals with a volunteer to provide a bespoke, six week exercise program in their homes. The service aims to improve physical wellbeing, alleviate loneliness and reduce the number of 999 calls in the area.

Posted by at 00:00 Thursday, 14 June 2018.

“Activities we’ve run have pulled people out of isolation”

Valerie, an Royal Voluntary Service volunteerMeet Valerie who is giving her time, skills and knowledge to help address issues faced by older people in her neighbourhood. She lives in Boston, Lincolnshire. Valerie got involved with the Local People Project, which has been running since 2015, after attending local IT sessions.

“I heard that a computer course would be running, and as I had got a new tablet, I wanted to attend to learn more about how to use it.

“Through the lesson, I heard about the Local People project and how it was testing out ideas from local community to tackle loneliness and isolation amongst older people. The small gathering of residents, called a steering group, were working together to use funding available through the project to develop activities and events. 

“I wanted to be part of it because I wanted to help people who had an illness, or who were lonely, to get out and about. I’ve been a steering group member for two years now and I help decide and support local activities for older people, such as events, arts projects, community transport and afternoon teas. A singing group has been set up through the project and I attend this regularly – it’s had a very positive impact on me and helps me when I’m down. 

“I’ve made new friends that I wouldn’t normally have made contact with. I feel more able to go out on my own now. I’m more confident to speak up and encourage others too. I’ve noticed an increase in confidence in people at the group; I’ve made friends and have seen others do the same. Activities we’ve run have pulled people out of isolation. Our singing group has made a difference to people’s lives and the local community transport scheme, which is supported by the steering group, helps people who would struggle to leave the house without it.

“I’d encourage others to get involved. I would say that it’s definitely worthwhile, not only to the local community but also to you as a person.”

Gemma Moore is the Royal Voluntary Service community engagement worker in Boston. She finds out the most important local issues for older people, their ideas for addressing them and how they’d like to get involved. She supports residents to take their ideas forward and connect with local groups who share similar aims. A key part of Gemma’s role is to ensure that local people have control over how the project is developed and delivered. Bringing people together is a key part of the project. 

“Projects like these are very important as you enable and support the local community to not only get involved, but to have a say in what they want to deliver. Giving the local community opportunities to get together, have fun and meet new friends can have a real impact on their health, wellbeing and confidence. Many people experience loneliness and isolation; it’s great to be able to help combat this and have a real impact on people’s lives.” 

The Local People project in Boston is funded by the People's Health Trust, an independent charity addressing health inequalities across Great Britain. It makes grants using money raised by 51 society lotteries through The Health Lottery. Since 2015, Royal Voluntary Service has been working on six Local People's Projects, funded through People’s Health Trust’s Local People Programme. These projects take a neighbourhood approach, engaging with local people and enabling them to address wider issues in their communities through collective action.

Posted by at 00:00 Thursday, 31 May 2018.

Labels: volunteer

"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