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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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A day in the life of an archivist

Jennifer HuntMeet Jennifer Hunt, Deputy Archivist, as she goes about her day at the Royal Voluntary Service archives.

I usually start work at 8am and, like many people, my first job is to check my emails, then it’s on with the day. Here at the Archives, no day is ever the same as an archivist is a jack of all trades and master of some.

Let’s take a typical Tuesday. This is usually the day of the week I spend answering enquiries sent by people from inside the organisation as well as from the public. This involves: searching the catalogues and box lists, going into the storerooms, research to (hopefully) find the answers, and replying.

When I am asked what I enjoy the most about being an archivist my answer is always cataloguing. Some may think I am mad but it is true; there is something strangely therapeutic about it. You get to look at a range of different material from: photographs, reports, ephemera, publications and newspaper articles to knitted dolls, tea-towels and spoons so it is a varied job.

Archive material then has to be sorted into a hierarchical structure which informs us where it can be found. We also create a description of the material to help people find the information they need when researching our history and this is where cataloguing comes in.

Catalogue descriptions usually contains key pieces of information including a reference number, dates and a detailed outline of the item/file. This helps to preserve and make accessible an important part of British History and illustrates an important reason for becoming an archivist.

I decided I wanted to be an archivist in my second year of university when I was looking at jobs relating to a history degree. I decided to gain some work experience; my first placement was at the Cheshire and Chester Archives for two weeks and included working in the search room, answering enquiries and conservation. I was hooked and soon on the hunt for more placements.

A placement at Halle Concert Orchestra Archives in Manchester followed and by this time, I was certain that archiving was for me. I completed a qualification in Archive Management began at Royal Voluntary Service. I recently completed the Voices of Volunteering Project and have recently been working on Hidden Histories of A Million Wartime Women Kickstarter project.

To be an archivist I think you have to have a passion, a drive; it is more like a vocation than a job. My top tip for those considering it as a career would be there is no substitute for good work experience. This will give you a real sense if it is for you or not. If you live near Devizes, why not come and volunteer at our archive to give it a go.

Find out more about the Archive & Heritage collection and support the Hidden Histories of A Million Wartime Women by pledging to the Kickstarter project or joining our Thunderclap.

Posted by Jennifer Hunt at 00:00 Wednesday, 25 May 2016.

Labels: Archive

Bingo and tea cakes - my marathon motivation

Jess Chiu runs for Royal Voluntary ServiceMeet Jess Chiu who ran the Brighton Marathon to raise money for Royal Voluntary Service and how bingo and tea cakes gave her motivation to run.

I first heard about the wonderful work of the Royal Voluntary Service through my Mum, who volunteered at a tea bar. During university, I volunteered at a Sunday Lunch Club and saw for myself how older people genuinely looked forward to socialising with others. The dedication of the volunteers was fantastic and it was lovely to see people having such a good time (especially when they won the bingo!).

When I graduated, I started working in a hospital where there was a Royal Voluntary Service café – renown in my department for serving great teacakes and toast. When I decided to do the marathon, I instantly thought of raising money to help Royal Voluntary Service; it would be such a shame to deny older people access to wonderful projects and the hospitals of yummy toasted teacakes!

I have to be honest: I don’t actually like running very much. After a mixed first half marathon experience, I didn’t run more than once a month. Last year, I started running once a fortnight with my friend, which was more fun – it’s great to run with someone else but it still wasn’t my favourite form of exercise, especially past the 10k mark.

The training involved in running a marathon was the hardest part – I’ve never run so much in my life! We followed a 16 week training plan and I joined a running club, which was really motivating. We also signed up for a half marathon as a goal during training for the real thing. It was difficult to persuade myself to go for a run when it was cold or dark, but I’d always feel better after!

I was a bag of nerves at the race start and didn’t realise how many people would be taking part. I ran with my friend for the first six miles until we were split up by crowds but this wasn’t a big problem as I was never really alone. The crowds who came out to spectate were amazing; they really got me through it. I had my name on my running top so the crowd were shouting my name the whole way – it was like being a celebrity! The marathon was much easier and went much quicker than any long training run, the first 17 miles just flew by! It got difficult between 20-22 miles as there were fewer crowds but even that was a lot easier than some of my training runs.

Get involved and run for Royal Voluntary Service to raise vital funds for our services for older people across Great Britain.

Posted by Jess Chiu at 00:00 Monday, 23 May 2016.

Labels: Running, marathons, fundraising

"I've learnt a lot!" - A volunteer's story

Male volunteer works at café tillVolunteering can be a great way to learn new skills and gain experience. During Learning at Work week, meet Alan who volunteers at our café in Royal Bouremouth Hospital.

What made you consider volunteering with Royal Voluntary Service?

I was job hunting. Before I did café work, I worked in an Oxfam warehouse – again on a voluntary basis – sorting books, DVDs and CDs. I joined the café because I wanted to try something new. I’d never worked in a café before, so I thought I’d have a go at it. I enjoy it a lot.

What does your work involve?

I do all sorts of things – for example, arranging stock, helping customers, cleaning tables, packing the dishwasher, collecting mugs…Sometimes I’m on the till, and I’ve used the coffee machine as well. I also sometimes deal with deliveries. I guess I do bit of everything.

I have actually been training others as well; showing them the ropes, where everything is and that kind of stuff. I’d never really done that kind of thing before. It’s a very good skill to have.

What made you decide to keep on volunteering at the café once you’d found a paid job?

What made you decide to keep on volunteering at the café once you’d found a paid job? I really enjoy doing it.

What do you like most about working in the café?

I like seeing my friends there, and all the lovely customers. They are nice to talk to and I really enjoy having conversations with them, which is cool. The manager is always so nice. We’re usually busy. My favourite thing is probably talking to the staff and customers.

What are the most valuable skills you’ve learned?

Customer service and dealing with stock. I’ve learned a lot!

Find out more about volunteering in your area.

Posted by Alan Lodge at 00:00 Friday, 20 May 2016.

Labels: volunteering, learning at work week, café

Five incredible wartime photographs that are still relevant today

Matthew McMurray takes us on a walk through the Royal Voluntary Service archives to see snapshots of history that remain pertinent in current life.

Local services

WVS volunteers in a local office
12/11/1941: Six Womens Voluntary Service (WVS) members staff their posts at a WVS Office, possibly in London.

For much of our history, we have had centres in almost every town across Great Britain, with over 2,000 at our height. Each centre was required to write a regular report, documenting their work. Reports were filed from 1938 until 1992 and vividly illustrate the everyday activities of centres and their volunteers, charting the ups and downs of both the organisation and society for 54 years. Of special importance are the month by month reports through the Second World War. These detail the wide range of essential services which the ordinary members of WVS provided the nation in this pivotal time in British history.

Today, we have thousands of services across Great Britain that continue to serve the public through the tireless work of volunteers. You can make history today by backing our Hidden Histories of A Million Wartime Women project on Kickstarter.

Tea and comfort

Two WVS volunteers serve service men
22/08/1941: Two WVS members serving a welfare services canteen

Service Welfare Canteens serving sandwiches and hot drinks were established during WW2, after the retreat from Dunkirk there were 400 canteens across Britain and a number of local centres were asked to setup clubs. They served both servicemen and women during the war, the aim was to provide an escape from service life in home-like surroundings.

Today, Royal Voluntary Service has 440 cafés, shops and trolley services in hospitals across Great Britain that provide convenient and good value refreshment for visitors, staff and patients as well as a welcoming place to take a break.

Mobile libraries

WVS volunteer provides book to service man
20/11/1941: WVS member and British army serviceman (left) with van filled with books for the services

Women from the WVS provided library services for the armed forces during the Second World War, with a service in Edinburgh sending out 16,000 books on loan in one six month period. Since then, Books on Wheels has developed into Home Library Services that are giving older people the chance to enjoy books in their own homes.

Patient transport

WVS patient transport vehicle
08/09/1941: WRS volunteer waits while two men load an injured man, possibly a seaman, into the rear seats of a WVS wartime ambulance car.

In July 1942, the Ministry for Homeland Security asked WVS to run the Volunteer Car Pool (VCP). By 1944, there were over 570 VCP schemes across Britain, involving transporting people to hospital as well as other duties. This evolved into the various services and now takes the form of Community Transport.

Meals on Wheels

WVS volunteer serves older woman a meal
Circa 1946 – 1949: WVS volunteer in Willesden, London serves a Meals on Wheels dinner while a lady waits in anticipation.

Meals on Wheels were established in 1943 with the number of meals delivered increasing rapidly from the 1950’s. By 1962, WVS had delivered four million meals increasing to fourteen million a year in the 1980s. Royal Voluntary Service still delivers meals today to people who have difficulty with shopping, carrying food home or cooking for themselves.

Support our Hidden Histories of A Million Wartime Women project on Kickstarter and make history from as little as £2.

Posted by Matthew McMurray at 00:00 Wednesday, 18 May 2016.

Labels: WVS, Kickstarter, WW2

A million wartime women - forgotten

WVS narrative reportYesterday, we launched our Hidden Histories of A Million Wartime Women project on Kickstarter with the ambitious aim of raising £25,000 to allow us to capture 28,000 pages of WW2 diaries, spanning 1938 - 1941.

Support the project

During these key years of conflict, one in ten women in Great Britain volunteered with Women’s Voluntary Services (WVS) and bravely fought the war in their own back yards. The jobs that they did were rarely glamorous, but the WVS succeeded by using the skills that women already had; knitting, sewing, cooking and, of course, compassion and diplomacy.

Sadly, the hard work of these women is under threat. The documents that hold their incredible stories are fragile and need to be preserved. We want to ensure their diaries live on and that anyone can access them for many years to come.

These delicate pieces of paper are important for so many reasons; the volunteers’ hand-written diaries allow them to tell us their experiences in their own words, their pioneer gender and social history and showcase the importance of women at a difficult time.

We have only a month to gather support and raise the funds we need to keep the memory of a million women alive. For as little as £2, you can make history. As well as our unreserved thanks, you will receive a range of exclusive gifts to commemorate the event.

Find out more about the Royal Voluntary Service Archive & Heritage Collection and support the Kickstarter project.

Posted by Matthew McMurray at 00:00 Monday, 09 May 2016.

Labels: WVS, Kickstarter, WW2

Highlighting the untapped potential of the charitable sector

Older man with health professionalIn October 2014, the NHS set out its vision to make our health and care system more person-centred, more embedded in our communities, and more effective at promoting health and well-being, rather than merely patching people up when things go wrong. I believe that Royal Voluntary Service, along with other leading health and care charities, has the right tools, approaches and expertise to help make it a reality in a sustainable and affordable way.

With the pressure on resources as a result of the economic climate alongside growing need, charities like us have an important role to play in assisting the NHS and supporting individuals. Provisions like our Home from Hospital services show a link between volunteer support and a decline in costly and distressing unplanned re-admissions but the impact of our work goes much further than that.

The nature of support provided by our volunteers is that they have the time to nurture different relationships with older people than hard pressed care professionals. Genuine friendships between an them and our volunteers can lift an older person out of social isolation, loneliness and despair, encouraging better local connections to keep them healthier and happier in the long term; both vital components in personal health and well-being. Many volunteers tell me that they get just as much out of the interactions as the older person does, spreading the benefits even further.

Being involved in drawing together our knowledge with other key players from the charity sector for the Untapped Potential report has reiterated to me how important it is that we work together to amplify our positive force in the community. 44% of the charity interventions featured in the report were found to both improve health and well-being and do so with limited or no effect on costs. I am certain that with greater collaboration between charities and the development of genuine partnerships between statutory health and social care rather than relationship based on commissioner and commissioned we can grow impact to much greater levels than indicated in the report helping to support the NHS and enriching the lives of older people.

Find out more about charities working with the NHS to achieve outcomes for all.

Find out more about volunteering

Posted by Karl Demian, Director of Strategy & Development at 00:00 Wednesday, 13 April 2016.

Labels: Royal Voluntary Service, NHS, older people, health care

Why I run for Royal Voluntary Service - a runner's story

Jamie VanstoneHave you ever wondered what motivates marathon runners through the months of training and the challenge itself? Meet Jamie Vanstone who is running the Virgin London Marathon to raise money for Royal Voluntary Service and the work that we do with older people across Great Britain.

"A year ago, the thought of running a marathon had never crossed my mind. I, like many, had only watched the London marathon on television, from the comfort of my living room. Then, last year I was hugely inspired by the number of charity runners taking part and the awareness and money that they were all raising for their chosen charities. I really wanted to be a part of that and the more I looked into it, the more inspired I got.

"My first choice charity to run for was Royal Voluntary Service. I previously spent 3 years working for the charity where I saw first-hand what amazing work the charity does for older people within our communities. The huge numbers of volunteers that they have helping older people stay active, independent and able to continue to contribute to society, is inspiring in itself. I have personally volunteered and helped out in the Royal Voluntary Service shops and at events and I know how thankful people are for your assistance.

"The work that Royal Voluntary Service does changes people’s lives on a daily basis, even if it’s just a quick chat to someone who is currently house bound. It’s the small touches like this that makes me hugely proud to be running the marathon, representing them. My goal is not just to complete the marathon, but to raise as much awareness as possible for so that the charity can go from strength to strength in the future."

Show your support and sponsor Jamie via JustGiving. Alternatively, you can donate and make a difference.

Find out more about Jamie and others running the Virgin London Marathon in aid of Royal Voluntary Service.

Posted by Jamie Vanstone at 00:00 Tuesday, 05 April 2016.

Labels: Running, Marathon, Fundraising

Books for all ages on World Book Day

Two women sharing a bookAlthough World Book Day focuses on encouraging young people to read, for some older people, particularly those who are immobile or housebound, their fondest escape from the confinement of their home is through reading.

Our Home Library Services help older people to access other worlds and keeps minds active through reading. Volunteers across the country visit people in their own homes taking with them a selection of books. Often they are the only friendly face that a person will see in their own home and their visits give older people something to look forward to.

"The added bonus of reading is that it is both a solo and communal activity. You can read alone anytime any place you want (there aren’t many activities you can do in the bath or on the toilet that you can discuss openly). There is a real joy in sharing books with others – whether it’s making and receiving suggestions for good reads, discussing characters and sharing new information gained. Chatting about what Miss Marple (or Christian Grey!) has been up to with a friend can truly lift your day."

There is a comfort that people find in revisiting a familiar world; reconnecting with their childhood through the magical worlds of Narnia and Oz can bring peace, joy and stimulation in equal measures. Reading is a great way to keep the mind active; you can learn new skills, visit historical places or solve murders alongside your favourite detective from the comfort of your armchair.

So, as children all over the country are sent to school dressed as their favourite characters, here’s our reading list of books with inspiring older characters or authors:

  • Hotel du Lac by Anita Brookner
    Follow heroine, Edith, on her travels to a hotel in Switzerland where she meets a glamourous older woman along with other guests.
  • Miss Garnet's Angel by Salley Vickers
    Meet Julia, a retired school teacher, as she visits Venice and falls in love for the first time.
  • A slight trick of the mind by Mitch Cullin
    Catch up with Sherlock Holmes in his 93rd year as he revisits a case.
  • Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont by Elizabeth Taylor
    Join Mrs Palfrey and the fellow guests of the Claremont Hotel as they fight off their twin enemies: boredom and the Grim Reaper.
  • The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood
    This story revolves around Iris, 82, as she reflects on her life.
  • Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee
    Harper Lee’s sequel to To Kill a Mockingbird, published when she was 88-years-old.
  • The Little Old Lady Who Broke All the Rules by Catharina Ingelman-Sundberg
    Join 79-year-old Martha and her four oldest friends as they rebel on the rules imposed upon them.
  • The Extra Ordinary Life of Frank Derrick, Age 81 by J. B. Morrison
    Follow Frank, 81, as he meets Home Help, Kerry, who reminds him that there is a world and adventures waiting outside his flat.
  • The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson
    Meet Allan on his one-hundredth birthday as he makes his getaway and reveals his earlier life through his escapades.

Got a book for our list? Comment below or join us on Facebook and Twitter with your suggestions.

Interested in adding to your book collection? Find out how to raise money while you shop at no additional cost to you.

Would you like to bring smiles to older people? Find out more about volunteering. Or if you know an older person who needs support, read about getting help.

Sharon Skinner is the Home Library Service Manager in Cornwall and would like to thank her colleagues for their inspiration for this blog.

Posted by Sharon Skinner, Home Library Service Manager at 00:00 Thursday, 03 March 2016.

Labels: Books, World Book Day, Home Library Service, Books on Wheels, Volunteering

Books battle loneliness in older people

Man holding bookAhead of National Libraries Day on Saturday 6 February, we’re celebrating the power of books and highlighting our volunteers who work in our home library services across the country.

Libraries are a vital service in our communities, providing a variety of services to the public. For older people who enjoy reading or listening to a recording but can't get out of the house, our home library services offer a vital link to the local library. These Books on Wheels services deliver 110,000 books to older people across the nation every year.

Sarah Wallis is the Service Manager for our Home Library in York, which enriches the lives of 102 older people and works with 38 volunteers.

“Last week, I spoke to Sandra who’d contacted us as she has heard we offer help accessing e-books on tablet computers. This is a new service that my volunteers are offering to older people.

“We had a lovely chat and she told me all about her dear husband who sadly passed away last year. The iPad was something that he used and she had lost a lot of confidence and was scared to use it herself. She’d attended an IT session locally but was very anxious and left early.

"I arranged to visit her and we chatted about the services we offer; how we can visit with books and also help her access e-books online. We arranged for a volunteer to visit her the following week. I also sat with her and showed her a few simple steps to turning on the iPad and searching the internet. She said she would have a go before our volunteer, Miriam, was due to visit so she felt a bit more comfortable. During our meeting, it became apparent that Sandra is disabled and struggles to get out so I gave her information on local services and some social gatherings in the Libraries."

Sarah Wallis, York Home Library Service Manager

“At the end of my visit, Sandra seemed really upbeat and had a list of things she was going to research on the internet including scouring the library online catalogue for new books. She was very much looking forward to Miriam’s visit.”

Our volunteers bring a selection of books, large print, DVDs, CDs and audio tapes to older people in their home on a regular basis. The volunteer is also a friendly face and a useful check on the safety and well-being of the older person.

If you know someone who may benefit from our home library services, have a look at our Get help pages.

Want to make a difference to the lives of older people in your area? Find out more about how to become a volunteer.

Posted by Sarah Wallis, Home Library Service Manager at 00:00 Thursday, 04 February 2016.

Labels: Books, Home Library Service, Books on Wheels,

How making health changes could help people avoid Dementia and ill health

As we grow older, many of us become concerned about developing dementia. Especially if we have cared for a parent, relative or friend with dementia, we want to feel like we have the power to change our own fate.

Recent guidance published by National Institute for Health and Care Excellence suggests that there are ways in which dementia might be prevented or delayed by choices we make in our mid-life (40-70’s).

There is no question that leading a healthy lifestyle in your mid-life will have a positive impact on your later years, but the ageing process is not fixed. Some people will experience dementia in their 50’s and others won’t be affected until their 90’s. It’s vital to maintain moderate physical activity and cognitive stimulation on a regular basis to delay frailty, whatever your age.

Volunteering is a great way of staying physically and mentally active post retirement. Many of our volunteers tell us that they have been given a new lease of life, as well as a sense of purpose at time when their social roles are changing.

Social and mental stimulation not only has positive impact on our volunteers but also for the older people they are caring for. Conversation or social stimulation for an older person, who maybe only has one visitor a week, can have a huge impact on their morale and mental wellbeing. And for those living with dementia, our volunteers can provide a break to their partner or family member so they can have some time to themselves for a short while.

As dementia remains high on the health agenda, Royal Voluntary Service is looking at ways in which we can better support those living with dementia and their carers. Alongside our work providing on-ward support for patients with dementia and home support services, we are going to be trialing a new dementia service in Oxfordshire and elsewhere which offer activities that are focused on cognitive and physical stimulation. Together we want to improve the well-being of those living with dementia and their carers.

Volunteering is a great place to start. To find out more about opportunities in your area visit our volunteering section.

Posted by Dr Allison Smith, Head of Strategy and Development, Royal Voluntary Service at 00:00 Monday, 30 November 2015.

Labels: Dementia