From air raids to meals on wheels: 75 years of Royal Voluntary Service in Worthing

For 75 years, older people’s charity Royal Voluntary Service and its army of volunteers have provided vital services for the community in Worthing.

WVS members at a harvest festival in 1969
WVS members at a harvest festival in 1969

As part of its anniversary celebrations, the charity has unwrapped 75 years of history, launching an online catalogue of images depicting the work of Royal Voluntary Service in Worthing throughout the decades.

The Women’s Voluntary Services (WVS), as the charity was then known, provided services on the home front throughout the Second World War.

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An extract, taken from a narrative report from 1941, documented by volunteers from Worthing records: “We have been doing weekly teas for the RAF Cricket teams with the permission of the local food controller.

WVS members tie up a bundle of clothing

“On August 13th we received a canteen trailer from Head Quarters, the gift of the British American comforts League of South State, Mass, USA.

“Unfortunately it is too heavy for any of our cars. Two different garages said that no car of less than 16 horsepower should draw it. I am still trying to find a car.”

After the end of the war, there was much to be celebrated.

One of the most important occasions was the Queen’s Jubilee, where WVS volunteers put on a display of their services, as the following extract from the 1950 report notes: “Thanks to the grand effort by our comforts section, our lorry in the Cavalcade was a real success.

A WVS team organiser with children at a playgroup

“We obtained the co-operation of the Senior Secondary School Davison, by using some of their young people to take part in the tableaux.

“Sections illustrated were Meals on Wheels, Darby and Joan, clothing, mags for forces and Salvage and Garden gifts.

“Each section organiser was made responsible for their own exhibit. Overalls and berets were loaned to the young people and with the many willing hands, our lorry became an excellent advert for our local activities.”

In the years following the war, WVS continued to provide much-needed services throughout Worthing; one photo shows two WVS members tying up a bundle of clothing for refugees in Worthing.

Standing on the left, behind a table, a WVS member leans on a bundle of clothing on the table in front of her with a length of twine held in her hands.

To her left, the second WVS member holds a length of twine in her hands that is wrapped around the bundle of clothing, about to tie it off.

The work of WVS was varied during the decades after the war, with children being supported by volunteers through playgroups and school activities as demonstrated in picture two and three.

In the main photo, two primary schoolchildren present two WVS members with bread and a basket of vegetables for the harvest festival in their school hall, in Worthing, taken in 1969.

In another photo, a WVS team organiser sits with two young children colouring in, and a young woman, at a WVS playgroup in Worthing, taken between 1960 and 1969.

The charity also supported the emergency services and would often take part in planned exercises, as the following extract from 1980 notes: “Twenty ladies have been trained since March and another six week session has started again this month.

“A mock ‘rest centre’ exercise was held in April when 17 ladies trained the centre and the other trained members acted as the ‘awkward public’, thinking up the most difficult situations for their opposite numbers to resolve. Much experience was gained during this exercise.

“A few weeks ago, a ‘get together’ was arranged for 54 of our trained members which proved to be a very popular event.

“The police called out our emergency team at 5am one very wet morning, and five members took food, blankets and clothing to Ferring where 25 people, whose homes had been flooded, were assembled in the local youth centre.

“They were very grateful for the warm and dry clothing, and for the breakfast and lunch supplied by our team.

“Two members are attending a series of lectures given by the West Sussex Emergency team in conjunction with the Worthing Voluntary Civil Aid Society, dealing with nuclear disasters, etc.”

WVS was granted the privilege of adding ‘Royal’ to its name by the charity’s Patron, Her Majesty The Queen, becoming Women’s Royal Voluntary Service in 1966.

For its 75th anniversary, the charity became Royal Voluntary Service, to help older men and women who needed support to stay in their own homes.

Throughout the decades, Royal Voluntary Service became renowned for its Meals on Wheels service, delivering meals to the elderly and the socially isolated.

Royal Voluntary Service is dedicated to providing services to enable older people to live happy and independent lives.

The charity is currently calling for more volunteers for their Meals on Wheels scheme in Worthing, to provide older and housebound residents with much more than a hot meal; the service is a source of vital social contact for people who might not otherwise see anyone else from one week to the next.

Royal Voluntary Service volunteers also perform ‘safe and well’ checks to make sure the older people who use the service have everything they need to stay safe, healthy and independent in their own homes.

For more information on volunteer opportunities and services available in Worthing, contact Royal Voluntary Service on 0845 608 0122 or visit