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Voluntary service marks 80 years of caring for others

Baroness Mervyn Pike receiving keys for a tea bar at Scarsdale Hospital, Chesterfield, watched by a large group of WRVS members
Baroness Mervyn Pike receiving keys for a tea bar at Scarsdale Hospital, Chesterfield, watched by a large group of WRVS members

One of the largest volunteering organisations in British history, the Royal Voluntary Service, has just marked its milestone 80th birthday this year with a pop-up exhibition at the National Emergency Services Museum in Sheffield.

The Compassion in Crisis exhibition was open last weekend as part of Heritage Open Days.

A WVS member greets a new arrival at the Hanford House Holiday Home for Tired Mothers, Ilkley, Yorkshire, in 1965

A WVS member greets a new arrival at the Hanford House Holiday Home for Tired Mothers, Ilkley, Yorkshire, in 1965

It documented the charity’s foundation at the start of the Second World War through to its post-war work, and highligheds its support for the emergency services.

Exhibits were on display from Royal Voluntary Service’s archive and heritage collection including historical uniforms and recruitment materials.

The Royal Voluntary Service, originally founded in 1938 as the Women’s Voluntary Services for Air Raid Precautions, was formed by Stella Reading to help recruit women to assist civilians during and after air raids and help evacuate children.

Since then, the charity has evolved to tackle some of the biggest social challenges of the day and has inspired and enabled more than three million men and women to give their time to help others.

Three WVS members load sacks of clothing and items for refugees from Hungary into a bus in Sheffield in 1956

Three WVS members load sacks of clothing and items for refugees from Hungary into a bus in Sheffield in 1956

Today, 20,000 Royal Voluntary Service volunteers support thousands of people each month in hospitals and in the community, giving NHS staff more time to care and enriching older people’s lives.

The charity’s volunteers have supported Sheffield in times of need since World War Two, from providing emergency rest centres and distributing clothes for refugees to providing practical help during accidents and emergencies.

In Sheffield today, the Royal Voluntary Service has volunteer-led cafés and shops serving patients, visitors and NHS staff in Northern General and Weston Park Hospital.

It also runs Drink Wise, Age Well, a pioneering programme helping local people make healthier choices about alcohol as they age.

Members of Hallamshire Round Table sorting donated clothing for refugees in Sheffield in 1960

Members of Hallamshire Round Table sorting donated clothing for refugees in Sheffield in 1960

All services are currently looking for more volunteers.

Natasha Mort, community development operations manager for Yorkshire, said: “This exhibition celebrates the role Royal Voluntary Service volunteers have played tackling the social issues of the last 80 years and we’re delighted to bring just a small part of the charity’s rich but hidden history to Sheffield.

“We hope it will inspire more people to give their time to become volunteers. Volunteering is hugely rewarding and we welcome anyone that can give their time, skills and experience to help others.

“We would particularly like to hear from people who recognise a need in their local community and might be interested in setting up a new lunch club, activity group or social event.

“Staying active and social as we age are vitally important to health and wellbeing.”

In 2018, the organisation is as relevant as ever and continues to inspire and enable people to give the gift of voluntary service to meet the needs of the day.

As it celebrates its 80th year, Royal Voluntary Service is pledging to increase voluntary support in the NHS, recognising the vital role volunteers can play in improving patients’ experience and supporting NHS staff.

Chief executive Catherine Johnstone said: “We are very proud of our rich history and as we reach this important milestone, would like to thank each and every one of our volunteers, past and present, who have given so generously of their time to help others.

“Their contribution not only makes life better for the individuals whose lives they touch but makes communities stronger and helps to relieve pressure on public services.”

To find out more about volunteering opportunities, call 0845 6080122 or visit www.royalvoluntaryservice.org.uk/volunteer.

To make a donation, visit www.royalvoluntaryservice.org.uk/donate