Willtshire exhibition A new exhibition highlighting the work of millions of women and men during times of national crisis had its official opening on 16 May as Dame Patricia Routledge, Royal Voluntary Service ambassador welcomed guests to the Wiltshire Museum in Devizes.

From air raids during the Second World War to floods, the threat of nuclear Armageddon and tides of refugees, the exhibition Compassion in Crisis: 80 years of volunteering explores the unsung work of the volunteers of Royal Voluntary Service over the past 80 years.

The official opening event included speeches from Royal Voluntary Service chief executive, Catherine Johnstone; Museum Director, David Dawson; Dame Patricia Routledge and Royal Voluntary Service archivist, Matthew McMurray. Guests included the Mayor of Devizes, Nigel Carter and local Royal Voluntary Service volunteers.

In 1938 Stella Reading and her million ‘women in green’ revolutionised the way the world thought about voluntary service. During the Second World War these women of the WVS volunteered to help on the Home Front providing compassion in crisis, to anyone who needed it. This exhibition is the story of how one woman and her ‘army that Hitler forgot’, quietly changed Britain forever. They pushed forward the cause of women, helped form the modern welfare state and were always on hand in times of crisis; from the threat of nuclear war, to caring for tens of thousands of refugees. Their simple acts of kindness are woven into the very fabric of the nation.

On display is a series of fascinating images, posters, uniforms and objects from Royal Voluntary Service’s archives - one of the largest charity archives in the UK and recognised by UNESCO as one of the most important collections in the UK, particularly for women’s history.

"Unbelievably, this is the first public exhibition about our history since 1959 when we celebrated our 21st Anniversary. Our collection has grown from a small nucleus of material to one of the largest and most culturally important charity archives in the country. To give you an idea of scale, all the boxes stacked on top of each other would be taller than Canary Wharf. This exhibition though is not just about celebrating 80 years of the amazing but quiet contribution of those millions of women, and latterly men, but it also asks hard questions about the nature of volunteering in modern society.

"Lady Reading saw Voluntary Service as a gift, a gift of hard work, of dedication, of duty accepted, and a recognition of our responsibility to each other. She inspired millions to follow her and accept that burden, not just in time of war, but also in building a better society in times of peace. The exhibition challenges us to stand up and take a good look at who we are and what sort of society we want to live in. It hopefully leads us to take inspiration from the service and dedication of those millions of women and men of WVS, WRVS and Royal Voluntary Service, all of whom found the burden of duty accepted a light one, and finally it challenges us to look at how we can continue to inspire the all-important gift of voluntary service."

Royal Voluntary Service archivist Matthew McMurray

"This exhibition celebrates the role Royal Voluntary Service volunteers have played tackling the social issues of the last 80 years. We’re delighted to bring just a small part of the charity’s rich but hidden history to light’."

Museum Director, David Dawson

Still committed to inspiring and enabling people to give the gift of voluntary service to meet the needs of the day, today Royal Voluntary Service is one of Britain’s largest volunteering charities with over 25,000 volunteers supporting thousands of older people each month in hospitals, in their home and in the community. The focus is on building confidence, improving well-being and keeping loneliness at bay through an array of social activities and more structured support. Working across hundreds of hospitals in the community, the charity is one of the largest retailers in the NHS, with its network of cafés, shops and trolley services providing much valued services in hospitals.

Entry to the exhibition is free (there is a charge to see the rest of the Museum collection). There will also be a lecture at 7:30pm on Wednesday 6 June and weekly group tours (booking essential, contact the Museum, or wiltshiremuseum.org.uk, for more information).

Exhibition details
Compassion in crisis: 80 years of Volunteering
This new exhibition tells the story of how Royal Voluntary Service founder, Stella Reading and her million women in green revolutionised the way the world thought about voluntary service and asks 80 years on, are we still willing to give the gift of voluntary service?

Date: Monday 7 May to Sunday 24 June 2018
Time: 10am - 5pm (Monday to Saturday), Noon - 4pm (Sunday)
Venue: Wiltshire Museum Devizes, 41 Long Street, Devizes SN10 1NS
Contact: Phone: 01380 727369, Email: hello@wiltshiremuseum.org.uk
Booking: No pre-booking required. Group tours available weekly. Booking essential – please contact the museum
Prices: Admission to the museum: Adults: £6 with Gift Aid*, £5.50 without, Concessions: £5 with Gift Aid*, £4.50 without, Children under 16: FREE (up to four children under 16 with an adult paying standard or gift aid admission). Concessions available.
More information: wiltshiremuseum.org.uk

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