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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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"They're friends to me"

Katie and Pam with penguin soft toysMeet Katie who visits Pamela, 84, who likes budgies and penguins - so much so that Katie rang up British Gas and persuaded them to send her a big cuddly penguin, like the one on their adverts. Mrs Vickers named him Maurice.

"It’s fantastic having the Royal Voluntary Service. They’re all marvellous; they’re friends to me now. Katie always helps and cheers me up.”

Pamela, 84
“I see Pam every Thursday after I’ve dropped my daughter to school. We have a chat and maybe watch some TV together. Pam loves her penguin, and he now sits with her watching the TV. I like to take her chocolates and bottles of wine at Christmas. I like to make her smile.

Find out more about volunteering

“I post Pam’s letters and take her some shopping but she doesn’t need me to do that much for her. She’s a very clever lady, she does the Sunday Express crossword every week and says: ‘I know I’ll win one day.’

“I get a sense of achievement from volunteering, I know I make a difference to her life and she makes a difference to mine too, we’re good friends.”

Pam lives on her own and has no relatives in the UK; she has mobility difficulties and recently hurt her back so has to use a stick in the house. Her neighbours help her by doing her shopping, and Bridget from the Bromley Transport Service takes her out to the hospital or wherever she needs to go. She started using the Royal Voluntary Service shortly before her husband died to visit him at the home where he lived and she has been using the service ever since.

“Ian went into hospital on my 80th birthday and never came out again. He was diagnosed with dementia and he went into a Home; he died two years ago this April and I’ve been on my own since then. Cheryl and Bridget from Royal Voluntary Service came to Ian’s memorial service with me just to lend their support and give me a hand to hold."

Huge thanks to players of People’s Postcode Lottery who are helping to fund our Good Neighbours schemes and social activities where older people can get together across Great Britain

Have a look at some of the other blogs and find out more about our inspiring volunteers:

Find out more about volunteering or get support near you.

Posted by Katie, Volunteer at 00:00 Friday, 29 July 2016.

Labels: Volunteering, befriending, older people, Royal Voluntary Service

Healthy choices for hospital staff and visitors

Kate BullKate Bull, Executive Director of Retail for Royal Voluntary Service talks about Healthy Choices, a national programme to support NHS workforce health.

Hospitals aren’t always great places to be healthy, with a lack of nutritious food and drink choices for NHS staff and visitors. We asked 250 doctors and nurses about their eating habits on duty. Many turn to quick snacks and sugar fixes to see them through long shifts.

  • Most skip meals (80%) and snack (76%), eating just 1 or 2 meals a day.
  • Over 1 in 5 (22%) said their diet has worsened in the last year, blaming a lack of healthy options (52%).
  • Over ¾ (78%) want healthier options in hospitals.
  • 62% believe these would have a positive effect on their overall diet.

You might be surprised to know that we’re Britain’s biggest hospital retailer, running 440 cafés, shops and trolley services in the country. Our proceeds support our work helping older people in the community, with £45 million raised in 2013-14.

Find out about our hospital shops and cafés

As a key NHS partner, we’re taking an early lead on Sir Bruce Keogh’s agenda for NHS workers to lead by example with healthy eating by transforming our hospital shops and cafés. We’ll have a new menu with healthy fruit and nut snacks, soups, freshly prepared salads, sandwiches and stews. You’ll see fewer crisps, confectionery and sugary drinks too.

Hospital staff and visitors will have their pick of delicious, freshly prepared, healthy and nutritious meals and snacks when they need them. So whether you’re dropping in for a smoothie or picking up essentials, you can enjoy feel-good food that supports older people in your local community.

Our first new-look café at Royal Bournemouth Hospital has been very popular and our first new-look store opens at Western General Hospital, Edinburgh soon. Keep an eye out in hospitals near you as we roll out our new menu and look across the country.

We rely on 13,000 trained, caring volunteers and staff to run our retail sites. They not only prepare and serve food and drinks, but provide support and advice to patients and visitors about services available to older people. Healthy food campaigner Jamie Oliver has already shown his support too as well as Simon Stevens, NHS England Chief Executive and Maureen Watt, Scotland’s Public Health Minister.

Royal Voluntary Service hospital retail services have always been important places for comfort, support and advice for older people and their carers. Healthy Choices continues that tradition while helping NHS workers eat better.

Find out about how to join our team of volunteers and how to get help in your local area.

Posted by Kate Bull, Executive Director of Retail at 00:00 Tuesday, 12 July 2016.

Labels: Royal Voluntary Service, Shops, Cafés, Hospital

A tribute to Jo Cox

Paul Taylor leads Jo Cox tributeToday, Paul Taylor tells us about the tributes to Jo Cox in Batley, her constituency in Yorkshire.

Yesterday was an incredibly emotional – and uplifting – day. I was honoured to be asked to host the #MoreInCommon event in Batley, Yorkshire where we celebrated what would have been Jo Cox’s 42nd birthday, her life, her work and her legacy. We joined up with events in London and many other venues around the world.

Support the Jo Cox Fund

Events in London, including yet another brave and humbling testament from Jo’s husband Brendan, were beamed back to us in West Yorkshire and then Jo’s inspirational sister Kim sent more words of love and hope from Batley to the rest of the world. Although the day was hard at times, it was ultimately about the love that has flowed from the tragic events of last Thursday.

In front of a packed Market Square, I was privileged to introduce two choirs, religious leaders from the area and the Head Teacher of a local school along with two of her pupils who gave heartfelt testimony to the time Jo had spent with them and what a difference she made. Finally we were all given pledge cards so that we can all go on-line to show how we will #LoveLikeJo.

I then had the opportunity to speak to BBC’s Look North and was very happy to explain once again the work Royal Voluntary Service does with lonely and isolated older people locally and nationally as well as why Jo Cox saw us as a natural partner to work with.

Before going on air, I was standing by a row of taxis and one of the drivers wound down his window and told me “I was there today and it was brilliant; she was so highly thought of”.

Jo’s death has devastated a whole community, but it has made them stronger, more resilient and ready to help build her legacy. And with the help of the Memorial Fund, Royal Voluntary Service will be right there beside them to help build and sustain that legacy.

Read Paul’s previous blog Jo Cox – A Fitting Legacy. Find out how to volunteer or get help near you.

Posted by Paul Taylor at 00:00 Thursday, 23 June 2016.

Labels: Royal Voluntary Service, RVS, Jo Cox MP

Jo Cox - a fitting legacy

Jo Cox MPPaul Taylor, Head of Development & Support for East England, met Jo Cox MP and worked with staff and volunteers to help make Jo’s vision of ending isolation and loneliness a reality.

Support the Jo Cox Fund

It is an honour and a privilege that Royal Voluntary Service has been chosen as one of the charities to take forward the excellent work Jo Cox was doing before her tragic death. It has been a very hard weekend; it is one thing to see a place like the Market Square on television but quite another to find yourself there as I did on Saturday afternoon, surrounded by the grief of a community who loved and valued Jo so deeply. However, I was also struck by was the resilience and cohesion of that community and a sense of wanting something positive to come out of such a profound tragedy.

When I first met Jo around six months ago, she invited us into her new constituency office in Batley. Having only recently moved in, “spartan” is probably the word that best described the office but Jo sat us down, made sure we all had a hot drink and a biscuit and then told us that the main thing she wanted to do was listen. Once she had listened, she offered ideas on how she could help, including heading up a re-launch of one of our key Home from Hospital services. Jo worked so closely with us; spending freely given time with staff and volunteers, learning about their work and issues.

Jo also gave us the chance to work with her at the strategic level; representatives from Royal Voluntary Service and other partners were working with Jo on engendering a Parliamentary Commission on Loneliness. I know that all partners remain committed to this Commission still happening despite last week’s tragic events.

Her memorial fund reached over £1million in less than four days - a fantastic achievement but no real surprise given the massive regard Jo was held in both locally and nationally. Clearly we would all rather that things were otherwise and that we still had Jo’s energy and belief powering our work along but we will work with her family to ensure that a fitting legacy will survive her. We all offer massive condolences and heartfelt sympathy to Brendan and the family and applaud their fantastic work to channel their grief into sustaining Jo’s legacy.

Posted by Paul Taylor at 00:00 Tuesday, 21 June 2016.

Labels: Royal Voluntary Service, Jo Cox MP, West Yorkshire,

Musical ‘Happy Hour’ brings back memories

Ruth Hannah, Muscial MemoriesRuth Hannah from Musical Memories tells us about her singing ‘Happy Hour’ sessions in Pickering and the positive effect it has on the older people who attend.

I started Musical Memories, which is a social enterprise, to give older people the opportunity to sing together and enjoy each other’s company. It helps to combat loneliness and isolation and improves health and well-being.We sing songs of yesteryear because they are familiar to many older people; they help to stimulate the memory and encourage reminiscence. Studies have shown that singing together can boost levels of immunity, reduce stress and improve mood, having a positive impact on overall health and well-being.

Find out more about Sing Your Heart Out

Our Musical Memories ‘Happy Hour’ is a fun, social singing session for older people. Singing many of the best known songs of the 20th century and accompanied by piano and guitar, it is the perfect opportunity get together in a social setting, have a cuppa, reminisce, make new friends and sing!

Ruth and the Musical Memories group in Pickering

Since we started in October, the number of people attending our ‘Happy Hour’ has grown and grown. We warmly welcome everyone with a cup of tea and a biscuit and then we get down to the real fun – singing and remembering.Everyone is provided with a songbook in large type face for easy reading, I play the stage piano and my husband, Neil, plays the electric guitar to lead the singing with the group.

Each month has a focus or a theme: we had a wonderful time at Christmas playing sleigh bells and swannee whistles; for February we sung from specially collated ‘Love Song’ booklets and in March we focused on songs with girls’ names in them for International Women’s Day. This month, our theme has been British songs from the Eurovision Song Contest so we’ve been singing classics like ‘Puppet on a String’.

Some of the older people come to the sessions by themselves while others are accompanied by neighbours or relatives who also stay to enjoy the singing. One neighbour picks up three ladies and brings them to the session each week. Many stay on for the lunch club which is held afterwards for a meal and the opportunity for even more socialising.

It is lovely to see how the sessions affect the older people that attend. One gentleman attends with his daughter, who also stays to sing. He particularly likes the songs from the musicals. He recently told his doctor ‘This is my medicine’ as it made him feel so much better.

Another lady initially appeared quite shy and reticent but over the weeks has become quite playful. She was recently seen leaving one session confidently singing ‘Kiss me honey, honey kiss me’ – a real favourite of the group. After singing ‘Slow Boat to China’, another gentleman recalled, in conversation with Neil, his father’s wartime experiences in China.

Ruth runs sessions for the Royal Voluntary Service Pickering. Find out more about volunteering or support services in your area.

Posted by Ruth Hannah at 00:00 Tuesday, 14 June 2016.

Labels: Royal Voluntary Service, music, memory

"I'm a proud volunteer"

Bev, Royal Voluntary Service VolunteerAs part of our Volunteers’ Week blog series, we’re taking you around the country to meet our volunteers.

We’d like to introduce you to Bev, 29, who volunteers at our North Somerset service. She is a Good Neighbours volunteer who visits an older lady in her local area once a week.

“I’ve been volunteering for Royal Voluntary Service for six months. I've been volunteering on and off since I was 14 but really wanted to get involved in something more regular and long term within the local community. Once I'd read the Royal Voluntary service mission statement and found out they needed volunteers locally, I was committed and am now a proud Good Neighbour.

"I am passionate about volunteering as I've always believed in giving what you can spare if it could benefit someone.

“Just an hour of my time each week provides a regular visitor and a familiar face to an older lady living alone, who often goes days without seeing anyone. It gives her something to look forward to and both of us the opportunity to engage with someone of a different generation.

“Every Monday, we chat over tea and cake, share baking tips, listen to records and generally enjoy each other’s company. It’s wonderful knowing that such a simple act provides much needed companionship and I'm proud to be able to do it.

“One of the best things about volunteering is knowing that you can make a difference and bring a smile to someone just by offering your company. In a time where interactions are often hurried and replaced by texts and emails, engaging in good old fashion conversation is a wonderful way to spend an hour.

“Whether you can commit to a regular phone call, an hour a week or an hour a day, there is always something you can offer to help make a difference to someone else's life. I'd recommend it to everyone, be part of something wonderful and get involved.

“I'm so glad I signed up to volunteer, I only wish I had more time to offer!”

Have a look at some of the other blogs in our Volunteers’ Week series:

Find out more about volunteering

Find support near you

Posted by Bev, RVS Volunteer at 00:00 Friday, 10 June 2016.

Labels: Volunteering, older people, Royal Voluntary Service, Volunteers' Week

Volunteers - a lifeline for my Dad

older man with younger volunteerIn the next installment of our Volunteers’ Week series, we hear from a family whose father has been supported and enriched by Royal Voluntary Service volunteers.

“My father was widowed in 2009. He and my late mother were rarely apart during their 50 year marriage, so the loneliness my Dad felt was profound. For a year or so, Dad struggled to re-build his life and maintain his independence. But, as he began to lose physical and mental capacity, this became increasingly difficult.

Find our about volunteering

Get support in your area 

“In 2012, Dad was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and the following year, it was confirmed he was also suffering from Parkinson’s. These illnesses significantly impaired Dad’s ability to get out and meet people and increased his sense of isolation and loneliness. He had carers calling in throughout the day but their fleeting and functional visits didn’t amount to meaningful company. The Royal Voluntary Service Good Neighbours service has been such an enormous benefit for Dad.

“Linda began visiting Dad in 2013. Dad is an accomplished writer, who has had plays broadcast on BBC Radio 4 and overseas and has also featured in the Guardian’s Country Diary. He has a vast collection of unpublished prose and poetry including numerous funny poems written for his 7 grandchildren over the years. Dad was keen to get all the pieces properly typed up and edited and he wanted to regain confidence using his computer so he could start writing again.

“For an hour each week, Linda patiently worked through his literary archive and helped him with his keyboard skills. They quickly developed a great rapport and Dad really looked forward to her visits. The company was great for him and he was boosted by the help that Linda gave him.

“When Linda stopped volunteering to look after her grandchild, our local service arranged for Fran to visit Dad and continue to help with his writing archive and his computer skills. They spent a lot of time talking and Dad particularly liked to discuss Fran’s progress with her university studies. This gave him the opportunity to slip back into his former professional role as a teacher and university lecturer. He particularly enjoyed offering Fran advice on her assignments and giving her encouragement. Whilst his Alzheimer’s progressed during the two years Fran visited Dad, he had sufficient capacity to feel he was doing something useful and this gave him a great sense of satisfaction.

“I don’t think elderly people in Dad’s position ever really get over the loss of a long term partner and rebuilding their lives after bereavement is hugely challenging. This is why the regular contact and company provided by Royal Voluntary Service volunteers through Good Neighbours scheme is so important. For people like my Dad, it has provided a lifeline; helping to him to combat his loneliness and maintain his independence.”

Read our previous blog in our Volunteers' Week series Meet our volunteers during Volunteers' Week 2016.

Posted by at 00:00 Tuesday, 07 June 2016.

Labels: Volunteering, Volunteers Week

Meet our volunteers during Volunteers' Week 2016

Sylvia with volunteer DaveTo mark the start of Volunteers’ Week, we’re introducing you to some of inspirational volunteers from around the country. This year, Volunteers’ Week has been bigger than ever and will be running from 1 – 12 June as part of the celebrations of our patron Her Majesty the Queen’s birthday and in recognition of her lifetime of service to Royal Voluntary Service and over 600 other charities.

Today, meet Dave, 76, is a volunteer in our Good Neighbours scheme in Oxfordshire. He provides lifts to older people in the area so that they can get out and about and visit our social centre. Dave says that he gets a lot out of volunteering.

"I enjoy helping people, I think it’s important. Everybody needs a friend in this world or someone to talk to."

Dave, Royal Voluntary Service Volunteer
One of the people that Dave helps each week is Sylvia, 91.

"Dave is always looking out for me, he picks me up and takes me to the "Friday Club" at the Royal Voluntary Service Centre in Banbury. I really enjoy it because there’s good company and things to do. We play games, have some lunch and there’s always tea and coffee. I think all the volunteers are nice, helpful and courteous, we’re very lucky to have them all. There is about 20 of us who come to the Friday Club, and we couldn’t be together or have as much fun if it wasn’t for the volunteers like Dave."

Sylvia, 91
Funds raised by players of People’s Postcode Lottery are helping to fund our Good Neighbours schemes and social activities where older people can get together across Great Britain.

Find out more about volunteering

Get help in your area 

Posted by Dave at 00:00 Thursday, 02 June 2016.

Labels: Volunteering, Volunteers' Week 2016

What did wartime women do for us?

WVS volunteersMany don’t realise that during World War Two, over one million women volunteered their time through the Women’s Voluntary Service (WVS). Women played a fundamental role in factories and on farms but also provided social welfare to families, service men and women and helped to promote the war effort.

WVS volunteers strived to ensure that there was a functioning country for the armed forces to return to in peacetime. Their efforts show that a war can be won by the strength of its home front.

"None of this work would be possible without the goodwill of thousands upon thousands of ordinary British women, who realize that the best contribution they can make towards winning the war is to carry on with their own home life… and help to build up a comfortable and happy home life for the stranger."

Lady Reading, Founder of WVS, October 1939
These brave wartime women cared for evacuees, worked in knitting parties to make essential items for the forces and salvaged metal to build tanks and weapons. In larger towns and cities where bombing was a threat, they ran mobile canteens to feed the hungry and rest centres during major incidents.

While much WVS work passed without incident in small towns and villages around the country, those in towns and cities were coping with the destruction wrought by luftwaffe bombing raids. In 1941 alone, 25 WVS centres were destroyed and by the end of the war, 243 WVS members had lost their lives as a result of enemy action. Amongst all of this destruction there was much scope for heroism with five George Medals were awarded to WVS members during the war as well as hosts of other honours.

Of course, volunteers were not always willing. Instances of dissatisfaction were certainly common but they were usually resolved happily. Reports show that a woman refused to knit gloves as she hadn’t done it before and nothing could persuade her otherwise. The following day, however, she returned with a change of heart which she explained: “This morning a squadron of Spitfires flew over my house, and if those boys can do that for me, I can knit gloves for them!”

We want to keep these contributions alive but they face an uncertain future. Make history and support our Hidden Histories of A Million Wartime Women project on Kickstarter from as little as £2.

Posted by Matthew McMurray at 00:00 Wednesday, 01 June 2016.

Labels: Royal Voluntary Service, WVS, Archive, WWII

Going for the chop

Phil Marron, Service AssistantCutting off all of your hair is a bold move, especially when your locks are as long as Phil, a Service Assistant at our Middlesbrough service. In the first of a series of blogs about his fundraising journey, he tells us why he has decided to go under the clippers to raise money for Royal Voluntary Service.

“Years ago, I knew an older gentleman who I knew, and still remember as, my grandfather. He was fiercely independent and lived in the same house in which he'd brought his children up. Despite having several children, in his later life he had few visitors. He lived alone and was often victimised by local children. They robbed him, invaded his home and damaged his property on a frequent basis but he was too embarrassed to tell his family.

“He had no one he could relate his worries and concerns to and I can't help but think now that if he'd had a Royal Voluntary Service volunteer, many of the problems he ran in to might have been avoided. All of this happened to a man who had little, but was one of the kindest people I ever knew. Such was his kindness and acceptance of me and my sister, we didn't even realise that he wasn't directly related to us.

“Knowing the difference that the support of one of our volunteers could’ve made to his life, along with the people I am privileged to meet every day through work, motivates me. The only funds that we have are the ones that we raise ourselves and times are hard.

“The idea of shaving my head came up when we were discussing fundraising ideas as a team and it grew from there. I'll be honest, I was a bit reluctant at first. It's been about 15 years since I've had my head completely shaved and I still vividly recall just how cold it was and how biting the wind can be on a freshly shorn head. With the hair being donated and the money we've raised so far taken in to account, any reluctance has gone.”

Donate towards Phil’s head shave on JustGiving to support the Middlesbrough service he is so passionate about.

Posted by Phil Marron at 00:00 Monday, 30 May 2016.

Labels: Fundraising