October 11, 2019
Volunteers through the ages
A look back at some very special volunteers from PSS past in our centenary year
When PSS began in 1919, there was no Welfare State, there was no entitlement. The poorest people in society were forced to fend for themselves, to seek refuge in the kindness of a small group of wealthy people who felt willing enough to share some of their fortune. Imagine this inconsistency, no formal support in place during times of struggle.
The Personal Services Society (as we were then known) was established in January 1919 in order to respond to the desperate needs of the very poorest in society. It was a scramble to overcome the poverty in the City. Our birthplace- Liverpool – was particularly poor during this era. Liverpool had faced devastating damage during the war, not only to our cityscape but also to families, torn apart by war and lives shattered by such traumatic experiences.
This earliest incarnation of the PSS that we know today was significantly dependant on big-hearted people, on people willing to volunteer their time, their expertise and their resources to help people from so many different walks of life.
Today we look back at just a small subsection of stories from some of the most awesome volunteers that have graced us with their generosity across the years.
Very personal gifts
In the 1920s, when people were on their last tether, when they really needed support, there wasn’t many places that they could turn to. Aside from looking to family members for loans and assistance or praying that things would get better, there was no established support systems in place.
In the beginnings of PSS, people who had something to give back joined the society and did their bit to support individuals and families to get better. Families came to the society with their cases and these were responded to on a very individual basis. PSS had lots of donors who would offer funds to support specific cases. These were people who were willing to share their wealth to support others in need and this resulted in some life-changing offerings.
– Music lessons for a very musically gifted young girl whose mother, widowed during the war, could not afford.
– Special food for diabetic patients in hospital.
– Furniture to replace fire damage for a family.
– A wig for a girl who lost all her hair in an accident
These very personal examples reflect how being person-centred has really ran through our fibres since day one.
Services for adults with disabilites
In the early 1930s we began our first ever services to support adults with learning and physical disabilities who were often overlooked in society. Lots of volunteers were recruited to help with the task of supporting these adults into industry. This was a very forward-thinking move during this time and it was fantastic to have the support of so many open-minded people.
Volunteers supported people to create clothing using sewing machines, up-skilling them and empowering them to feel a sense of independence and achievement. Their handy-work was then displayed at Bon Marche- a prestigious department store during this era in central Liverpool. Many people involved also went on to sell their work and gain some sort of employment.
Our boots were made for walking
When PSS began, there were so much heartbreaking evidence of poverty all around.
Children would often be seen running through the city streets barefooted, their shoes so threadbare that they were unwearable, their clothes torn. PSS wanted to help give them the very basic possessions they deserved, so the Children’s Boot Club was set up.
Between 1938-1939 alone, 1,761 sets of boots (which had been given a fresh lick of paint with new soles) were passed amongst school children, in children’s homes (or orphanages as they were still known) and with those living in poverty.
Those boots were donated to us by people supporting PSS and they were delivered by other volunteers who wanted to make their stamp, helping to give just that little something to the lives of some of the most vulnerable in society.
Support for Prisoners of War
In 1961, a time when there was a big stigma around mental health and many mental illnesses were still unrecognised, there were no services around to support people with post-traumatic stress disorder. We wanted to change that and bring people who’d been through similar things together, so they didn’t feel so alone. That’s when we started the Merseyside Far Eastern Ex-Prisoners of War Association.
Men who had witnessed the atrocities of war came together and were able to share their experiences, deal with their traumas and rebuild their lives. And, in fact, lots of these men were so inspired by the support they received in this service by specialist therapists and volunteers alike that they went on to become trustees of subsequent organisations supporting many more men like them.
What they had learnt during their time getting therapy allowed them to offer their knowledge, their coping mechanisms and their advice to other people struggling with the effects of war. Merseyside was one of the first organisations of this sort to open its doors and similar associations began to spring up all over the UK with their backing and generosity.
In the mid 1970’s, Paul, who was a senior social worker at Anfield Thermere Community Centre, noticed that lots of the most vulnerable people in the community simply didn’t have support systems in place. He wanted to do more but didn’t have the resource to employ more people to help. So he decided to set-up a pilot scheme in order to get the community together and cultivate community spirit, with volunteers acting as the driving force behind this. These volunteers would become friends of those who were lonely, who would benefit from company and who deserved some compassion. Volunteers flocked to support the scheme and in no time Paul had recruited over 50 friends; many of them were unemployed and wanted to give something back. They had several activities in place, such as chess clubs, boys clubs and groups for parents with children with disabilities all based in the community centre.
One volunteer, Sarah Talbot, also co-ordinated a victim support scheme to help people who had experienced a mugging or burglary. With the help of five volunteers and the local police liaison officer, the group visited victims in their homes to offer help and support.
Paul was left feeling inspired by the big hearts of the local community:
‘I wanted to bring this neighbourhood to life. A year ago it was dying. There was a time when the whole area was under threat of rehousing and redevelopment programmes. People were worried about what would happen to their home but thanks to the volunteers the district is buzzing again.’
Supporting people at the end of their lives
In the 1980’s PSS offered palliative services to support those who were terminally ill. This involved specialist counselling and also relied on the goodwill of volunteers, willing to offer their time and a listening ear.
Don Valdez was one of these volunteers. He had previously worked was as a school caretaker but in later life decided that he really wanted to give something back. In the 1980s he volunteered his time at the Windmill Centre in Liverpool, volunteering to help people who’d learnt that they were living with cancer. This was no easy task and Don worked tirelessly to do all he could for these people.
In an interview with a local newspaper in the mid 1980s, he said:
‘Here we’ve not set ourselves up as councillors, we just listen. It’s like we’ve got 150 relations. We just try and take away the fear and stress. The centre is no mutual pain swapping shop. Some come on their own. Some bring their families with them. All I can tell you is a little bit of magic happens when they get together.’
Many people volunteered their time at the centre during the time it was open and it’s fantastic to see that we still have so many people volunteering in our day centres today, giving something back to those in need. That compassion lives on.
Nesta – with us until the end
When we celebrated our 70th Birthday back in 1999, we gave special thanks to a veteran volunteer, who’d dedicated her entire life to PSS.
Nesta began volunteering with PSS in the 1920s, getting involved with so many services across the history of PSS. In the 1990s Nesta was awarded the British Empire Medal for her charity work and continued to support the elderly even in her 90s.
Today we remember the people like Nesta, those living and those not with us today, who’ve shaped the organisation that we’ve become and continue to grow into. Without these special people, we’d never have been around for 100 years. May we continue to be supported by these wonderful people to help us stick around for generations to come.