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Home Museums Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum

Community Displays

Royal Voluntary Service Exhibition

A new exhibition Compassion in Crisis, located in the community exhibition space at Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, tells the fascinating story of more than 80 years of Royal Voluntary Service in Glasgow from the Second World War to the Facebook generation.

From collecting salvage and distributing ration books during the Second World War to supporting the emergency services at the Lockerbie disaster and running lunch and social clubs, the volunteers of Royal Voluntary Service have, for over 80 years, always been there to offer comfort and compassion in crisis.

Now, the fascinating story of the volunteers of Royal Voluntary Service in Glasgow is being told at a new exhibit in the community exhibition space at Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum.

Running until 31 January 2020, Compassion in Crisis chronicles eight decades of Royal Voluntary Service in the city, from its very beginnings, when the women of Glasgow Women’s Voluntary Services (WVS) supported the Home Front to help win the war, to the vital role its volunteers play today.

Through a collection of documents, photographs, objects and film from Royal Voluntary Service’s Heritage Collection [and the modern day], Compassion in Crisis recounts how the organisation was founded to help civilians in the event of Air Raids, but ended up doing so much more.   

WVS was set up in 1938, after the Home Secretary at the time asked, Stella, Lady Reading to form a nationwide organisation to assist local authorities recruit women into the Air Raid Precautions movement and assist civilians during and after air raids.  However, realising its vast potential and capabilities, the WVS’s role was soon expanded to include just about anything.

Together with Ruth Balfour, chairman of WVS in Scotland, Lady Reading set about mobilising the women of Scotland to provide for the defence of the civilian population. During the war over four and half thousand women in Glasgow got involved in hard, practical voluntary work across the city photograph from the summer of 1940 shows the women of the WVS at Glasgow Queens Street Station in their posts as station guides. Station guides had been established in all Glasgow train stations to provide servicemen with information on train times, the location of personnel and how to get to their postings.

The work of WVS didn’t stop when the war ended. After 1945, the WVS, or WRVS as it later became known, continued to provide essential assistance and compassion at major incidents. This includes the tragedy at Lockerbie and on display is a letter of thanks from the Chairman of the Board of Pan Am for the volunteer’s provision of food and comfort at the scene.

Today, known as Royal Voluntary Service both male and female volunteers help thousands of people each month in hospitals and in communities across Glasgow.  Recognising their work, volunteers from Gartnavel General Hospital, West Glasgow Ambulatory Care Hospital and the Bellrock Close Café in Cranhill, star in the exhibit. Also on display is a specially commissioned art piece – Thinking oot tha box – created by members of one of the organisation’s volunteer-led social groups, Art Club One, which runs out of Project Ability, a community arts venue in Glasgow

A wide range of volunteering opportunities are available with Royal Voluntary Service in and around Glasgow. For more details visit royalvoluntaryservice.org.uk. Volunteers are also being encouraged to set up their own activities or groups such as lunch or dining clubs with full support and advice from Royal Voluntary Service.

Royal Voluntary Service is one of Britain’s largest volunteering charities with over 20,000 volunteers supporting thousands of people each month in hospitals and in the community.  The charity is also one of the largest retailers in the NHS, with its network of cafes and shops providing a valued haven in hospitals. This includes 10 retail outlets across Glasgow, which are supported by 300 volunteers.