Fifty Years of Innovation

HRH Duchess of Gloucester

In its first year, the (then) Volunteer Workers’ Bureau sourced volunteering opportunities for 78 people and worked with 53 charities across London. It delivered that work on an income of £232.11 – all of it from donations. There were no paid staff members, but a team of 21 volunteers (mostly working out of their own homes) helped with interviews, telephone calls and clerical work.

In the years since, the Volunteer Centre has placed countless thousands of volunteers into individual volunteering roles in hundreds of organisations. It acquired its first computer in 1987, which helped with the processing of 266 placements.  In 1999 its technology took a further leap forward when it became the first Volunteer Centre in the UK to launch its own website.  Nowadays, Volunteer Centre Kensington and Chelsea (VCKC) relies on a slightly more sophisticated system to achieve over a thousand placements a year and manage relationships with around three hundred organisations.

Since its foundation in 1969 (when it operated out of Lady Goodman’s kitchen), the Centre has moved three times and is now back at Thorpe Close – the second home we moved to. We’ve also had three names.

In addition to working with individual residents, VCKC has supported local community celebrations such as the Notting Hill Carnival, Westway presents, Vote 100, and the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, recruited huge numbers of volunteers in response to national events including the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, and mobilized volunteers to respond to tragedies including the Paddington rail crash and the Grenfell Tower fire. Its Operation Cup of Tea was a response to the 2011 London Riots, giving the local community the opportunity to have a cup of tea and a conversation with a friendly stranger.

At its 1978 AGM, it decided to adopt a role in developing and setting up new organisations whose services would rely on the involvement of volunteers. These included Hearing for the Elderly, ADKC, Dial a Ride, Talking Newspapers and Crossroads. We also hosted the first London pilot of Victim Support. In 1982 a successful application to the Manpower Services Commission resulted in the establishment of NOVA.

In 1999, HRH Duchess of Gloucester joined us to celebrate our 30th anniversary. We were delighted to have her join us again to celebrate our 50th anniversary.

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Lady Anstice Goodman

Lady Anstice Goodman

In 1969, Lady Anstice Goodman persuaded Kensington and Chelsea to set up the Voluntary Workers’ Bureau. She was delighted that in its first month the volunteers came from all walks of life – actors, home-makers, hairdressers, a mechanic and the manager of a local firm. As one of her colleagues remarked: ‘Anstice Goodman has done that rare thing: transplanted an idea into reality.’

Lady Anstice Goodman had an extraordinary life story. She was born Anstice Crawley on 7 December 1911 at Bishopthorpe Palace, the residence of the Archbishop of York; her father, Stafford Crawley, was chaplain to the archbishop.  Anstice Crawley was the fourth child of the family, with one sister and three brothers; educated at home by governesses, she was not encouraged to attend university.  Her Christian faith gave her a strong desire to help her fellow humans, and while living at Lambeth Palace as the guest of the Archbishop of Canterbury, she raised money from businesses in the East End of London to set up the Fellowship Club. This Club, based in sheds by a canal on the Isle of Dogs, allowed the unemployed to learn useful crafts.

At the beginning of the Second World War she worked as a nurse at the Cambridge Military Hospital in Aldershot, soon becoming second-in-command in the military hospital at Farnborough where – despite the wishes of the Commandant – she started a committee encouraging sufferers from scabies to seek treatment.

During this time she gained a diploma in Social Science at the London School of Economics, which led to a position as a personnel officer for female factory workers. After WW2 she was chief welfare officer for the UN Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA) and managed, against official policy, to arrange visas for hundreds of Soviet refugees in fear of persecution. When Russian officers came to the camps at Geissen and Wetzlar to seize displaced nationals they would be asked to wait while she helped the families hide or escape.

In 1948 Anstice Crawley married Victor Goodman, Clerk to the House of Lords. He was a trustee of the British Museum and they enjoyed a shared interest in history and the arts.

After Sir Victor’s death in 1967, Lady Goodman developed an interest in how to channel the skills of volunteers to where they were most needed. In 1969 – with Pam Warren, who had experience of the same ideas in Camden – she set up what, fifty years later, is known as the Volunteer Centre Kensington and Chelsea.

Lady Goodman would no doubt have been delighted that VCKC reached its fiftieth anniversary in 2019 and that it remains at the heart of the vibrant community which she served.

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