Royal Voluntary Service in Kirklees
For this Volunteering Spotlight, we spoke to Kerry Evans, Community Development and Engagement Worker for the Royal Voluntary Service in Kirklees.
The Women’s Voluntary Services for Air Raid Precautions was founded by Lady Stella Reading in 1938 and assisted civilians during and after air raids. It quickly became the largest volunteering organisation in British History, with over 1 million women volunteering by the end of the Second World War.
It’s since evolved into the Royal Voluntary Service, and today provides various activities and services for people over 50, aiming to alleviate loneliness and isolation. They’re often known for shops in hospitals and have recently been involved with the NHS Responder Programme throughout the pandemic.
As Kerry puts it, the Royal Voluntary Service has always been in Kirklees “in various guises, but the funding after Jo’s sad death was something we were able to then just push on and really develop our offering.”
Batley & Spen currently has a range of groups where older people can “participate in food-related and chair-based activities, or just a general coffee and a chat”.
All the groups are volunteer-led, with volunteers making the decisions. It’s an ethos Kerry holds in high regard, “it’s better when local, and local people then know what each area needs.”
In her words, Kerry provides guidance and assistance to support volunteers through a “minefield of compliance”, dealing with volunteer recruitment, promotion of groups, and looking for funding pots. It lets volunteers “run a group rather than worry about a DBS renewal,” making the experience for them more enjoyable. After all, “they’re giving their time, free of charge and they’ve got to be able to enjoy the time that they are giving and have fun.”
But that’s not all the Royal Voluntary Service and their 80 Kirklees volunteers do. For people who can’t get out of their homes, there’s a befriender service, which stretches across Kirklees. It’s how Kerry got her start in the service as a volunteer, where she had an eye-opening experience:
“I thought they’d recruit me and then try and find me somebody. That was not the case at all. We had an extensive waitlist throughout the whole of Kirklees…there were 60 or 70 people waiting for somebody to go and visit them and that shook me to my core. I could not believe we had that number of older people who were so lonely.”
It’s one of the reasons Kerry recommends volunteering to others, “I got as much from it as the member did…If you’re thinking about it, give it a go. There’s an awful lot of wonderful organisations out there looking for help…Out of all our lives, can we not find an hour to go and just cheer up an older person?”
And you’ll be well supported. Volunteers can sometimes get lost in an organisation as big as the Royal Voluntary Service, but here the journey is as supportive and engaging as possible. It includes regular bulletins, quick calls to check how a volunteer is getting along, and training modules to support them. It can be an incredibly rewarding experience and vital to providing a spark to people within your community.
One such occasion was when two volunteers of the Batley Lunch Club went “above and beyond” during the lockdowns after their activities were cancelled. They didn’t want the members to lose the social connections they had formed or feel isolated without their regular meetups. So, the two volunteers made weekly calls to the members of the Lunch Group:
“What they did is that they split the list and swapped it around each week, so at least the member was hearing a different voice every week. But they did that week in, week out. [They] did not miss throughout the whole of the COVID lockdown, through Christmas, new year, other holidays”.
The two volunteers even did shopping support and took gifts for every single Lunch Group member at Christmas and easter. As Kerry says:
“It was amazing to see what they did to keep that group together. And as soon as the restrictions were eased and we could get back, they were the first group back.”
Whether you want to join a session or volunteer, the Royal Voluntary Service has posters up in local places with a list of activities, but you can also follow them via Facebook and Twitter. You can contact Kerry at 01924 446100 or email [email protected].
“If there’s ever anybody who has a particular idea of a group they might be interested in, whether it’s crafts or whatever, let’s see what we can do to develop that together.”