Every year The London Book Fair has supported a book-related charity. With Royal Voluntary Service named our 2021 Charity of the Year, we thought we’d speak to Anna Foley, the charity’s Regional Partnerships Manager, to give you a glimpse into this remarkable charity.
How long has Royal Voluntary Service been around, and how did it get started?
Royal Voluntary Service (originally known as Women’s Voluntary Service) has been supporting local communities since 1938. War was coming in Britain, and our Founder, Lady Reading, was tasked with recruiting volunteers to help evacuate children to the countryside. Our work didn’t stop there: volunteers up and down the country helped to support the war effort on the home front. Our work included collecting salvage to build spitfires, providing temporary accommodation to people who had lost their homes in a bombing raid and delivering books to soldiers.
Could you give us a brief description of your charity? What are your core goals and services?
Since our inception, Royal Voluntary Service has helped to meet the needs of the day through the gift of volunteering. Today, we are one of Britain’s largest volunteering charities. Our services provide a lifeline to people in NHS hospitals and local communities and to those who find themselves in a vulnerable situation and in need of support. Through the skill and compassion of our volunteers and staff, we help people build resilience, connections and well-being so they can live healthier, happier and more confident lives.
What did becoming our Charity of the Year mean to you?
Being London Book Fair’s Charity of the Year will help us to spread the word about the fantastic work our volunteers do to raise funds for our services, including our Home Library service. Many people believed home libraries were no longer active, but thanks to the dedication of our volunteers and strong partnerships with local libraries, we have been able to continue delivering books to isolated and vulnerable people in local communities around Britain. We have continued this service throughout the Covid-19 crisis and lockdowns. By the end of December 2020, we had completed 13,869 home library doorstep deliveries, providing welcome reading material to vulnerable people along with a friendly chat with a volunteer. It’s important that we highlight this service and ensure more vulnerable and older people know we are here to support them.
In your opinion, what impact has the recent changing world had on RVS, how are you coping under the current climate, and what are your plans for the future?
Our focus on supporting vulnerable and older people has not changed. We remain committed to providing vital and life-changing support during the next phase of the pandemic and beyond. In order to do so safely and in line with Government guidance, there have been two key factors. Firstly, it is important that we have been able to adapt our services to Covid safe models – for example, including the use of PPE for volunteers and staff and changing in-home visits to socially distanced garden gate visits. Secondly, we have been working very hard to raise funds in order to continue our services. The pandemic has hit the economy hard, and in doing so, has made it difficult for companies and individuals to donate. We have been incredibly grateful for the support that has been shown to us so far. However, it is becoming more challenging for us to raise vital funds.
Since the start of the pandemic, could you highlight some of the initiatives you’ve undertaken in response?
In partnership with NHS England, we delivered a mass volunteering programme: the NHS Volunteer Responders. This was the biggest volunteer mobilisation programme in peacetime, and with over 360,000 active volunteers, we have been able to provide vital support to vulnerable people in communities across England. NHS Responders have delivered over 1.3 million tasks to date, which have included companionship calls, prescription deliveries, providing essential groceries and patient transport. As we enter into the next phase of the pandemic, we are also supporting the delivery of the vaccination programme, helping to ensure that we can protect people from this deadly virus.
What are your long-term goals? Do you have a 5 or 10-year plan?
Royal Voluntary Service’s vision is that people across Britain are engaged in voluntary service – freely giving their time, talent and life experience to tackle pressing challenges in their communities. As well being a way to support vulnerable members of your community, volunteering is a great way to support your own health and wellbeing, but unfortunately, research has consistently found that the benefits of volunteering are not enjoyed equally amongst all sections of our society. Royal Voluntary Service is working for a cultural shift, we want people of all ages and backgrounds to be able to integrate volunteering into their daily lives and benefit from the experience. As a sector, we need to do more to make volunteering as accessible as possible so that it’s not a huge undertaking but a pivotal part of people’s everyday lives. Over the next five years, we want to see more people, from more diverse backgrounds, enjoying the benefits of volunteering.
What is your process for hiring volunteers? How easy is it to sign up? And what different volunteering opportunities are there?
We have a variety of volunteering opportunities available! We are recruiting for NHS Volunteer Responders as well as roles for our Royal Voluntary Service offering including, Patient Transport Volunteers. Applying is very easy and can be done so via our website. The recruitment process is different depending on the role. For example, to be an NHS Volunteer Responder the process is all completed online and supported by our Support Team. If anyone is interested or has any further questions, they are welcome to contact me at email@example.com.
We love the idea of your Home Library Service! For those who don’t know what it is, could you go into more detail about it?
Reading and listening to books is enjoyable for many people, they can help make people feel less isolated and lonely too. But for those unable to get to their local library, the pleasure of reading is easily lost. Our Home Library services work with local libraries to select reading materials for clients that, for whatever reason, can’t get to their local library. Based on clients’ tastes and preferences, books, audio books, and sometimes films and music are delivered to clients in person. Home Library Service volunteers deliver so much more than books – they are a friendly, familiar face making a regular home visit to people whose mobility and social interaction are limited. They also provide a useful check on the safety and wellbeing of people living in the community.
For more 5 Minute Interviews, click here.