arrowbookcheckclosecommentfacebookfavouritegooglehomeibapdfsearchsharetwitterwelsh-government
  • Description
  • Comments (0)
Oral history interview with Robert Davies at Glamorgan Archives on 1 March 2017. Robert Davies is the founder and honorary president of VCS Cymru.

--------------------------

The Chronicle Project is a community heritage project supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund and run by VCS Cymru with the aims to document the history of volunteering in Cardiff, from 1914 to 2014.

Visit our website at: http://chronicle.vcscymru.org.uk/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/chronicleVCS/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/vcs_chronicle

--------------------------

[Audio Header]
MH=Mike Hawkins, RD=Robert Davies
We will now begin recording the interview with Robert Davies.
The recording takes place on 1st March, St David’s Day, 2017 at Glamorgan Archives.
The volunteers present are Mike Hawkins and Lara Taffer.
And this recording is being collected as an oral history and will be part of the Chronicle Project, a project led by VCS Cymru and funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

MH: Robert, how did you get involved in volunteering?

RD: Well, I suppose I had a conventional Christian background, although I wasn't in the sort of church that was in the least bit dogmatic in that way, but there was a Sunday school and that I suppose, I should acknowledge that the morality and grounding there of looking outwards from myself, ourselves, to be helpful to other people, was the essence of my outlook and the way that my parents would have brought me up. But I think in a way, a very strange way, it began at a period of military service, conscription, when I was 18 of course, which was the time when you were obliged to go into the military. But my father hadn't told me much about the First World War but he had told me about places round the world that he had visited and it seemed that if I had to do military service of any kind, I should make the most of it. Now most people went into the Army at that period, but I thought to get into the Royal Navy would be the thing and I recall having books, and it all seemed very romantic and so on, and I sat a special examination. Because instead of the two years conscription, you had to sign on for an extra year if you went into the Senior Service, so-called. So I passed the exam and I was full of it, going to the medical. There were many lads who didn't want to do military service. I mean, I got to the point where I thought, well, yes, let's make the most of it, as I say. And they would perhaps eat soap [smiles] or do anything to try to make themselves ill enough at the medical to fail. But I was keen. But I was honest, and I referred in what documentation or enquiries there were, about my childhood history of asthma, and I still suffered a little from it at that time, very rarely; not…well severely at one point in my childhood. So, and but I felt very fit and I made a great point of being fit. And they thought I was perhaps cheating in some way. And the doctors went into a huddle, and then one of them said, “Ah”, and he said, “Fold your arms, bend forward, take a deep breath.” And he had the stethoscope on my back. “Ah!” he said, “there it is. Out!” Gosh, was I crestfallen? You know, I had geared myself up to this and I came away from that place and, I forget exactly where the centre was but I do remember getting on a bus and helping an elderly man to get on in front of me. And there was just that feeling, “Oh! I must do some community service,” that feeling of duty in the community which was inculcated into me at that time I suppose. So really that was a strange kind of start to it.

[UNA (United Nations Association) workcamps]
But of course it was many years later and my going to a United Nations Association meeting. Now that mustn't be confused with the UN, I'll say that straight away so people understand. This was a supporters club, so to speak, for the ideals of the UN. And they were based at the Temple of Peace and Health in Cathays Park. But since the war the great bronze doors had always been closed and the students of which I was a part-time student at that time, they were going to and fro in front of it, used to say, “Oh but there’s nothing but a big black hole inside!” [Laughs] But one day the doors opened and I looked at the notice-board and I went to this first meeting of the branch in 1958. And there was a woman who had had some experience at a workcamp in Austria, helping refugees left over from the First World War [corrected later to Second World War]. And she talked about their limited facilities and the lack of money and having to eat horse meat, and this rather appealed to me [laughs] strangely enough so I, um, I wrote to the London office which was organising workcamps in the UK and abroad at that time, the London office of UNA, and volunteered for my holiday period the next summer. And that really was the grounding to it. Now that led to VCS. Do you want me to go on from there? Because it seems such an involved story really.

But it led to VCS because, I went on European work camps then in Austria helping build houses for refugees mainly, and I thought I was the right lad for the job and I had grand ideas, because I was then in an architect's office and I thought, “Ah, I know a thing or two [laughs] about building.” But I do well remember having to straighten bent nails, you know. But I did learn a lot of practical things and when I came back to the drawing board, that drawing process, it was totally different. I could see through the lines on paper and the practicality and difficulties of working on a building site. It…that altered my attitude to help people in their working conditions, and it probably affected my subsequent designs.

[The Rainbow Club workcamp]
Then several years following I did that during my holiday period and, um, we had the very first workcamp then organised in Cardiff which was the first for UNA International Service, the very first in Wales, at a beautifully named place in Cardiff’s Dockland, the Rainbow Club, perhaps made famous by Shirley Bassey whom most people know. And these were children of all nationalities and colours, and we organised a workcamp there. Now, to find a… I was involved with UNA, sort of a international service representative because of the experience I had had at workcamps up to that point. And I had to find a leader for this camp because I was going to be off myself halfway through it, to a camp abroad. And at that time there was a very admirable organisation in the University called CUSS, C. U. S. S., Cardiff University Social Service, it eventually became CUSSO (Organisation). And its chairperson was one Laurence Thatcher who then became, a little later, the first chairperson of Voluntary Community Service. So I discovered where Laurence was this one weekend, in a house in Green Street decorating for an elderly person who was due to come out of hospital, to try to improve their home before they moved back in. And he was very much taken aback at first, but I came back later in the day and managed to persuade him to lead this first workcamp in the summer of 1964. We had just formed a UNA youth group in Cardiff. It was as a result of quite a new establishment at the time, Atlantic College at Llantwit Major, and we had a rally there, a South Wales youth rally, to encourage people and out of it we formed a Cardiff youth group. And they in fact were some of the first volunteers at this Rainbow Club workcamp, together with overseas volunteers. And I do recall, and this is an interesting historic point, not many people are aware that the inventor of the breathalyser, Dr Tom Jones then working in the University, had a great deal of international interest, he raised funds for international causes too, and he helped us with this first workcamp, helped me considerably. And we were there waiting for the first international volunteers. I have written something about this which people can read about of course. Well, I helped to work there, it was my holiday period; no, my holiday period was the subsequent work camp but I had started then a period of full-time study so I had a longer time to spend abroad than my matter of a couple of weeks which I had when I was employed at that time by Glamorgan County Council. Well, I spent the first week helping them there and Laurence was a very competent camp leader. And we did some decorating jobs and these mainly young girls of the uni youth group had a whale of a time with the mainly young men of the international volunteer team [laughs]. So they did very well. And I do recall, and it's something I wrote at the time because I kept a fairly detailed diary then, that I went abroad, I left them very confident that they would continue to do a good job, and so they did.

[VCS (Voluntary Community Service)]
That…Laurence then and I later in the autumn went to a reunion in London of international volunteers from overseas and throughout the UK at Hoxton Hall, a Quaker settlement in the East End. And what was very important in the whole story of volunteering, in Britain I think, there was one Alec Dickson who defined himself as an educationist, but he was a retired man and he founded VSO (Voluntary Service Overseas). He became a little disaffected with that and felt there were jungles in Britain too, in the big cities of Britain. And he set up CSV (Community Service Volunteers). We heard a most inspiring address from him at this conference and… where we were urged as individuals to act either voluntary, volunteer full-time as volunteers with his organisation or be involved locally. But the involvement locally was important because, wonderful as it may seem now, we were just about clearing all the refugee workcamps for those left over from the First World War [corrected later to Second World War] and there weren't the same sort of practical opportunities to send our volunteers from Britain to work on the continent, and in particular at that time in Austria. So we were urged to create social and community opportunities in our own towns when we went back that weekend. And we talked about this on the train back to Cardiff and we concocted this idea of setting up some kind of coordinating organisation which would have the prime purpose of preparing a workcamp for the next summer. Well, we gradually became more ambitious because we discovered that there was a lot of support for this, not only amongst young people but other forward looking people in Cardiff, notably Ivor Cassam, the Reverend Ivor Cassam, although he never used his religious designation. And he was director of what then was the Council of Social Service for Wales and Mon Inc. (Incorporated), now the Wales Council for Voluntary Action. They were in a big house on the corner of Cathedral Road, number two. We saw their youth and community officer Ivan Hopwood, and he gave us a table, and we worked from a corner of a table just like this in the little attic office. And we had a filing cabinet which was in the meeting room and every time they had a meeting we had to put our filing cabinet on wheels and wheel it out. So that was really the very simple beginnings of VCS.

I think I should pause there.

[First break in recording]
RD: My own experience of community work I suppose was really stimulated by that international activity and, ah… I still think it's the most important thing that people can orientate themselves with in the modern world. You know, first and foremost, if we don't have peace in the world we have nothing whatsoever. Years and years of charity fundraising to build a hospital in some deprived country can be literally battered away in seconds. So peace is paramount, and although I am so emotionally involved with, on the ground, in my own community, with things like Voluntary Community Service, I see the priority as being a world citizen. And that period of 1960s when many organisations were founded, not just VCS, there were so many young people who felt this way in the wider world and the wider community and felt they could change the world for the better. Now... having lived these years since, perhaps there are older people like myself who might be very depressed and despondent about the way the world has gone. I mean there is a song of the period, Joan Baez, ‘When will they ever learn’, and a lot of peace movement activity at that time, peace marches and so on, things like CND being founded, and that badge has become worn now without the realisation that it's the semaphore for ND for nuclear disarmament. So that was the background to things like VCS and we still saw, I certainly still saw, it was important to continue with this workcamp activity and expand it as much as possible.

[The origin of workcamps and Service Civil International]
Perhaps I should give credit at this stage to how workcamps came about. The very first workcamp in Wales indeed was in 1931 in Brynmawr at the height of the depression, where volunteers from overseas and Britain helped to build a park and a small swimming pool which might have been thought very strange when there were so many unemployed people. But they worked together and it created a great spirit. So that was in fact Service Civil International, the founder of that being Pierre Ceresole who was a pacifist in the First World War. (Incidentally, I should have been referring more clearly to my experience of refugees in the Second World War, I’ll just correct that.) And Pierre Ceresole was Secretary of something called the Fellowship of Reconciliation. And one of their first conferences at the end of the 1918 war, was he and others felt that we can't just talk in conferences, we must do something. And as a piece of practical reconciliation they got a team of international volunteers, including at that time representatives of the war, the Great War’s belligerents, Germans and French, to work in Ypres, in a village in Ypres, to help to rebuild. That was indeed very controversial and had a lot of opposition. But they persisted. And that project led to the foundation of Service Civil International and they continued from there.

[Britain. UNA International Service and VCS]
In Britain I think it should be acknowledged that the British branch of SCI is IVS (International Voluntary Service) and they certainly predated the work that we did in UNA International Service. UNA International Service came into being with the floods in 1953 in Holland, in the Netherlands more properly, and Dutch volunteers came…we sent volunteers from London to help the clear-up there, and Dutch volunteers in turn the following year came to Britain to help on some community projects here. This kind of community voluntary work with the workcamps helping with the Second World War refugees continued to be organised from London up until about 1973 when we organised it from Wales. They found then that there was far more work to do with long-term service, especially trained volunteers and people who perhaps had some qualifications like in medicine and so forth, working in poor countries. So they ceased the workcamp activities and we took it on in Wales for the first time in 1973, coincidentally, which was helpful, with the founding of the Welsh Centre for International Affairs. UNA, UNA Wales as a council still existed and we continued with workcamps in Cardiff for several years, and they were coordinated and supported in all sorts of useful ways, practical ways with equipment and so on, by Voluntary Community Service. And this continued for several years to a point where the Coordinating Committee for Voluntary Service of UNESCO (United Nations Education and Scientific and Cultural Organisation), that committee awarded VCS a special recognition for their community work. So that was most unusual, we had it hanging on the wall in VCS for many years and we still have a record of that somewhere. So that was a very proud connection, I think, that VCS had with its international roots.

MH: Could you describe your involvement with VCS and what VCS did?

RD: Yes, we come to the point now, through the workcamp we had our first public meeting. So quite appropriately the UNA youth group acted as hosts in what was their regular meeting place, the Temple of Peace. And we had a public meeting there, we were quite surprised at the response but most important there was a lady named Mrs Webb, can’t remember the full name, but she in fact was the full-time organiser for assistance to the elderly, as part of the National Council for Social Service, WCVA now. And she offered facilities in their office and she would help us to establish a steering committee and so on. There was also a very fine man from TOC H, the regional organiser whose name escapes me just now, and he was very keen on helping us too. So there were people like that, and other voluntary organisations, which helped us with our steering committee, but in fact that first committee was formed of many of those young people from the UNA youth group. We ultimately…gradually developed very ambitious ideas, like a Council of Voluntary Service, but realised quite soon that being close to the community and really relating ourselves in a focused way to Cardiff, rather than being over ambitious in a kind of world-wide workcamp sense, being close to the community was what we could most effectively achieve in our activities. And we held a meeting, and the public speaker Alec Dickson, the one that we’d heard at this reunion conference in London and of course a more inspiring a man you could never imagine hearing; he inspired a lot of people and he certainly inspired us. And from that point we went from strength to strength. We continued from this little table in the attic of number two Cathedral Road. But that first summer we had to move our filing, not our filing cabinet so much but certainly the filing cards and so on, to the side of a stage in Splott, this was the Swansea Street Methodist Community Centre. And they allowed us to use this for the period of the workcamp helping elderly and handicapped, mainly with decorating and gardening in the Splott area. And we had a bunch of overseas volunteers and those UNA youth volunteers as well, there for about a fortnight. But the VCS office as I say, we used the dressing rooms either side of the stage, for boys and girls respectively, they were quite coy in those days. But it was being totally run voluntarily then and Jeff Coleman was the secretary for coordinating the VCS activities, matching jobs with volunteers and he had his box of, his card index on a little card table at the side of the stage.

MH: Can you describe some of the work that they were doing in Grangetown and Splott?
RD: Well yes. It was very much a pioneering spirit and one of the projects, I can’t recall precisely which year, but a few years later was the very first world camp, workcamp I beg your pardon, the very first adventure playground, [laughs] there is a sort of a link between workcamps and adventure playgrounds, you know it's something which is very difficult to do with our great concern for health and safety now. But we had the first adventure playground in what was Ely Hospital School. This was a school for mentally handicapped, associated within the mental hospital in Ely. And George Thomas the Secretary of State for Wales, he had already at an earlier workcamp conference we had, become president of VCS because he took the trouble to turn up at one of our annual meetings. And he opened this playground and it was a grand event with a big marquee and so on, great interest with the press. But most particularly, socially speaking or from the point of view of the community, it introduced people to what was happening in that hospital. And some of the care was not as sensitive and as humane as it might have been. And it led to a national scandal, the place was eventually closed, I think there’s a supermarket on a site now. But the playground was adjoining the present fire station. And we built this playground, we even brought a lifeboat up from the docks, I can't remember how we managed it. But we built this playground which was the very first adventure playground in Wales. But that was, one might say, a private playground in the sense that it was part of the school. Very shortly after that the very first public adventure playground was at Grangetown in the Marl. And that was at a time when our current chairman…chairperson Mary Newman became involved as a community worker. And I think a picture of children swinging on a suspended sofa decorates some of our documentation.

LT: Could you describe exactly, for the record, what is an adventure playground?

RD: Yes, probably nowadays adventure playgrounds are much too structured because of this worry about safety. But at that time quite young children playing with saws and hammers and nails, there was a degree of supervision naturally, but it was bringing out the creativity in children, which was important. And I think we have lost some of that. You know there is so much technology now, admittedly we can do lots of clever things with laptops and whatever, but children still need to experiment and learn to use their hands and their imagination. And maybe we're a little bit too rigid and worried about children climbing trees even. So an adventure playground was certainly very adventurous for children. I'm not so sure that it’s quite so adventurous now.

LT: So adventure playgrounds were made up of old furniture…

RD: Oh yes, any kind of junk you could get, I mean any bits of wood of any description, you know, and anything children could work with, put together; it was really quite amazing. But I was surprised to learn at the discussion yesterday [on Cardiff Radio] that eventually there were seven adventure playgrounds in Cardiff. Of course some of them had become a bit formalised and with trained people you know, maybe they are a lot safer. But there was a bit of pioneering there.

MH: How did your role in VCS develop then?

RD: Well, um, I think I have always realised in most organisations that the key person isn't necessarily high office like being chairperson and so on, but it's the secretary, honorary secretary you know, totally voluntary of course, and from the very start everything was voluntary. But we realised after about a year that we couldn't maintain the complexity of what we were doing in any safe way by relying on voluntary effort. I mean I as secretary was up all hours trying to deal with the documentation and letter writing and so on. But I can remember the spot in St Mary Street where Jeff Coleman who was then coordinating these card indexes, it came to us suddenly ‘What about a CSV, a Community Service Volunteer?’ And we got in touch with Alec Dickson, and we had offers for a community service volunteer earlier that year, it was a graduate in maths of all things, perhaps inappropriate, but he was a brilliant fellow, Michael Lazelle, and he set things going in a much more professional way. But it still took a long time for us to be recognised as a serious organisation, as young people with serious intent who were doing things very carefully. And I say it now because enough time has passed to be critical but then the Education Committee, they didn't even acknowledge our letters for 12 months. But having said that there were very good people in the youth exchange, at the Youth Employment Exchange in Westgate Street, and they were extremely helpful and… Anyway this is recorded elsewhere, those people who were involved. There were so many names I'm afraid.

LT: Why do you think it took so long for your organisation to be recognised?

RD: Well I think it could be a message for today. I think this is a point to say that looking back, it's not wallowing in nostalgia and reminiscing and all of that, but it can be seen difficulties like the one I've just quoted, but encourage people who are having these setbacks that they can overcome them. And all along our history of something over 50 years now, we've had ups and downs. But this kind of spirit has been there, knowing that we can continue to move forward and overcome these problems and so that's important. Did that answer your question? [Laughs]

MH: Could you describe what VCS actually did?

RD: Yes well of course, I think there was an element of what TOC H was doing in some of it because, in a personal capacity VCS was not involved, but I volunteered with the Barnardo’s, Dr Barnardo’s children's home at the Ever Open Door in Canton as it was called. And I remember seeing a plaque on the playroom door: ‘This room was decorated by the Roath branch of TOC H’. And that kind of approach I think was something we realised we could do. But not necessarily for children's homes, but for elderly people who were in difficult circumstances, decorating one room mainly. And this led to other interesting things like the dear old lady in Splott who we discovered was suffering terrible chest illnesses because of this fireplace in this living room in Splott, and the landlord was most incompetent and wouldn't do a thing about it. And that was her only means of cooking. And she was… because she had to move out while we were decorating, she became reunited with her friend across the street, on the corner, and that was a wonderful human thing. She became reconciled with her friend with whom she had fallen out. And now that little thing…but there was still insensitivity. And I went back a year so later and the bedroom window was open on this terraced street and I could see things were being thrown out of the window into a skip outside, these were all her precious belongings, she had died with no relatives and things which must have been so precious to her, it was very sad to see that. But she had a happier last year, I think, and a fireplace that worked and a lovely friend across the street. So these are the human things.
And I remember somebody coining the phrase ‘We were social workers in disguise’, maybe that was a bit highfalutin’, but really these practical... Elderly people who might otherwise have been suspicious of youngsters, realised, “Oh these are the ‘STOO-dents’”, and doing a bit of decorating and a bit of gardening was acceptable, but the most important thing was a cup of tea. I've said or written somewhere on one of the YouTube addresses about Jeff Coleman. How I was so concerned, as the organiser at that time, about statistics. There was something about this in the discussion we had yesterday. Councillors and other politicians are only interested in statistics, not the human stories. So I was concerned getting statistics, and I thought, “Well, an economy in what we are doing, white paint and plain wallpaper, no matching involved, no waste”, you know. But there was Jeff sitting down with this dear lady with a book of patterns and a colour swatch, patiently going through, and that transformed my attitude. I suddenly put the brake on, you know. This is what it is all about, the richness of human relationships, not statistics, or trying to get money. That was real richness.

MH: Are there any more incidents that come to mind?

RD: Well, there probably will as we go on discussing this [laughs]. There were one or two which really do grab me, you know, I still feel very emotional sometimes about VCS and the great work it's doing with people, with people you know, not with things but with people.

MH: Would you like to talk about them?

RD: The things we are doing now with people…

MH: The things that affect you emotionally?

RD: Ah yes, well I suppose it was in fact being involved in these activities at weekends and seeing the difficult circumstances that people were in. I mean I thought we were living in poor circumstances but I had excellent parents who were very careful and I had a clean home. Ah, very fortunately by that period we had managed to get a council flat, but we lived for 16 years in rooms in Port Talbot and Cardiff. So I was living in wonderful circumstances with a bathroom and so on, and that contrast with seeing some of these houses in Splott and Grangetown which had not been refurbished in any way, you know, and in very poor circumstances, folk living, I mean I still feel a bit sick about it, but that we weren't concerned soon enough to do something about that. But there was a period, and I think there’s a follow on from that, of something called enveloping in communities where they refurbished, realising that 33% at that time in the ‘70s of British homes were in fact terraced homes without indoor toilets or bathrooms. So we had to examine these houses, and the whole street would be dealt with in that way, subject to cooperation with landlords and so on. So we’ve come a long way in a material sense, but there are still people who, you know, I hear, are not realised that they're in some difficulty until the milkman sees the milk hasn't been taken in. (I believe milk is still delivered in most places.) And of course there is no personal contact, people haven’t been seen for a few days and there have been incidents in Britain where people have been lying dead for not a matter of days but weeks. So this is terrible in a so-called civilised society that we don't care enough about each other, not in an intrusive way. But this is I think where various community activities can do such a lot of good, bringing people together and being aware of people who are perhaps missing in that particular bingo session or whatever and finding out about them, you know. So there are many approaches and I think this is the spirit of voluntary community service in its broad dictionary definition as opposed to the title of an organisation. It’s so important.

MH: Would you like to say some more about VCS and how it developed later on?

RD: Well of course it continued for many years in that nature, and we had these workcamps and again, no need for statistics, but we realised that although we were having workcamp technique at a weekend with local volunteers around the year, the number of rooms that we could decorate or gardens dug was enormous. At one period... day after day of a workcamp of two or three weeks, a great deal could be achieved statistically [laughs] in that way. But I think that VCS has moved on from that because it was pioneering but there are many organisations now, like Age Concern Wales, who have something called HandyVan, where they have paid people who in fact can actually help with practical things like putting up curtains or a bit of decorating or whatever. So it's moved on to a much more organised and effective manner. So although we pioneered things purely as volunteers, there is a very professional approach to some of that kind of help now. Indeed we have moved on from that and it's interesting that currently we are tackling things which I would have even now feel very nervous about, but things such as a very serious emotional relationships, mental breakdown and so on and maybe ex-offenders. But as an organisation, and with the kind of help and support that volunteers are having and the careful selection, I think we are capable of doing the most serious activity of that kind now. So I think the organisation certainly matured greatly in that respect, doing the most serious things.

MH: Can you tell me a bit about the Mardi Gras?

RD: Ah, yes. Another pioneering activity, it had its roots in people who were involved with VCS including one of our first treasurers Laurence Kahn, but it was an independent venture with an independent organising committee, and wasn't the responsibility of VCS. But the 1967 carnival as it was first called, was the very first of its kind in Britain, outside of the famous Notting Hill Carnival. Now I knew I couldn't cope with this, I had no experience of the world of entertainment whatsoever, but my own school classroom friend John Crosby was writing comedy scripts for BBC Wales. I tracked him down. I said, “Could you help me with this?” “Ah, well… I'd like to help you,” was his response, you know “but I don't…but I do know somebody who might be able to give you a hand”. And he took me along to the TOC H Centre, a little office in the middle of St Mary Street, and invite me... Invited me, sorry, and introduced me to one Don Collier-Roberts. Now there was a practical man. His background had been helping with leprosy relief in India but he was now the regional organiser for TOC H and he’d had quite a bit of experience of the entertainment world in one way and another. So he was the organiser. And with his enthusiasm, I mean he was great for me, he encouraged me no end because I was very nervous about the whole thing. And he set it up with a steering committee. But I think it’s, you know, with all the goodwill in the world, I mean there is a current, valid criticism of how the media often respond to negative things, and bad news. We couldn't get any interest at all. And of course we couldn't pay for publicity. But we did have a steering committee and we did have a little public meeting in what was then the very first community centre, some wartime barrack, concrete huts, off Bute Street, called the Goodwill Centre. And we had this public meeting, coinciding with that we had published a very colourful brochure, literally colourful for the programme for the week of various forms of entertainment, besides the carnival, culminating with the carnival on the Saturday. But he had invited John Jones, ‘River out of Eden’ fame, a very famous Welsh historian to write an introduction. And of course he wrote the history, the background of Butetown and referred to Tiger Bay. And there were some in the audience who took umbrage at this, they thought it was very disparaging and cast a slur on the local people. That wasn't the case at all, it was written from an historical viewpoint. So it got very aereated, this public meeting, and there was one fellow standing up, being very nasty and Don said, “Well look, we'll sort this out. I'll take my teeth out and we’ll go out the back and sort it out.” [Laughs] He had tipped off the press that there might be some disturbance, riots in Butetown. Headlines in the Echo the next day, we got…everybody knew there was something happening then you know, and so we got the publicity. But you know in that round about... it was quite deliberate on his part, he manipulated the press. But luckily these evening events throughout the week, these various theatrical performances and so on, made a bit of money because it was almost a disaster, the entertainment on the Saturday. It was a terrible thunderstorm we had that summer, the road leading down to Butetown was cut off, with floodwater. People did get there. There was so much rain in fact that the big marquee that we had was so wet and the electrical lead that we had going into it was sparking away. Nobody had noticed it, but I was going around checking things. It's lucky I did. Because there were flames coming out of it [laughs] lapping onto the tent. So we had an exciting time. But I mentioned Laurence and his friend Mickey Graaf, from the Jewish community incidentally, and they had deliberately done this for good community relations, bringing Jewish young people involved… He, Mickey and I and Don, we slept in a caravan on the newly developed parkland in Bute town at that time, which was the old Glamorganshire Canal, we slept in a caravan at the whole week to make sure that nothing would get damaged or stolen. Those were exciting times! [Laughs]

MH: OK, so we talked about VCS, we talked about the Butetown carnival.

RD: Yes

MH: Is there anything else you would like to talk about, any other area?


RD: Well, that carnival was certainly a pioneering activity. And the local people took it up themselves afterwards for several years, and it exists again since. So I think that's very important. You have to start somewhere. Um. Well, as I remarked there are new things now. I'm not exactly out of touch but, although I am an officer of the association and very proud to be, I am not on the committee any longer. And it is so involved, some of the current activities.

MH: Were you involved with Intervol at all?

RD: Yes, you will need to prompt me, thank you for that. Intervol came into being, and it sounded like Interpol so people were often confused as to what it might be. [Laughs] But it was the inter-relation of community service in the wider area of Glamorgan. And they had engaged a full-time community officer who was the former Civil Defence Officer. Civil defence then had ceased. I mean it would never have been much good with a four-minute warning anyway but... I tracked him down in a place in Newport Road, one of the clubs, the trade union clubs in Newport Road I think it was. And he actually set up this organisation, Intervol, some years later than VCS was founded, but there was great cooperation. Round about 1986 when I became redundant, I had the time to be more involved and in fact I was vice-chairman, in fact, you know, acting on day-to-day work; the chairwoman was a former county planner Ewart Parkinson, who the City Hall owe a great deal to, I think. But, so I was very practically involved with Intervol. And they had a series of specialist subcommittees. And I had been involved with the, what was originally the Cardiff and District Association for Mental Health. But they had had a one-year campaign to enlighten the public, and they dubbed it MIND, but of course it's continued with that name since. And I was on this Intervol subcommittee and it related to the work that VCS was doing, of course. And, um, oh yes, John Holmwood was the organiser’s name. He died a couple of years ago. But I'm glad to say... and Ewart Parkinson has passed on, but I am glad to say that I met them both over a dinner not long before. Um.

LT: You mentioned that you worked as an architect, is that correct?

RD: Well, I suppose that chimes in with my interest in the community. I started as an office boy, um, and I realise now I was quite badly treated, totally underpaid. But I didn't mind because at that time you could get a day or two half days off a week to study. And my father was in a not... relatively poorly paid job. But more particularly his health was uncertain, so he couldn't send me to full-time education. And although fees were paid at that time; still it would have been very difficult. So I studied part time for about ten years [smiles] until I, as a mature student, I could get a major award. So I studied full-time. And that was how I was able to spend two months in workcamps on the Albanian border. And where I met Inge. [Laughs] Yeah.

LT: I just wondered if ever, you mentioned that you designed schools…

RD: Yes I’m sorry I do digress, you'll have to try to keep me to the point. Yeah well I, after four years in this exploitative private office, I felt, “Well perhaps I could serve the community”. Because a former office boy there encouraged me to apply for a job in the then Glamorgan County Council, in Cathays Park, and I got it right away. And I remember the Chief Clerk asking me later, “How much were they paying you?” And he was aghast because at that time I was going up, I went up from about £2.50 a week to about £600, because I had the qualifications. I was qualified at the intermediate stage of the Royal Institute of British Architects, and they just weren't paying me. But [laughs] there you are. So…

LT: So your work and your voluntary work, did they ever overlap?

RD: No, I must say, in some ways I felt embarrassed about some of the things I was involved with, and I kept them very secret. I mean I had this circle of friends and activities, with VCS and so on, but the people at work didn't know anything about my private life in that way. You know I told them enough to satisfy them perhaps, but... So I kept these worlds totally apart.

LT: Do you think that was a good thing?

RD: Well, I don't know. Well, good or bad I don't know. But I just didn't want to complicate my life in any way. It was possible to leave work at five, as I always did. I remember saying to the department once, not quite truthfully, “Look”, he would always call a meeting in the office at five o'clock in our own time. And I said, “All right, come on John, there's somebody waiting on double yellow lines for me. I'll give you five minutes.” Because I was very obstrepative. And I never got much promotion, but they had to credit me with the qualifications that I had. And most of the time I was designing schools, which was very satisfying. Because I used to talk to the teachers, which I wasn't supposed to do. I was only supposed to talk to the educationalists in the education department. And I talked to the teachers, to find out what they needed and so one, you know. And I was one of the rare people, perhaps the only one, who got a letter of praise from one of the teachers, [laughs] and my immediate bosses didn't like that at all. So I had a very satisfying career in that way. But, um, it came to an end at a time when I was then able to spend ten years as a full-time volunteer, which was even more satisfying in some ways.

MH: How would you summarise what you think volunteering has given you personally?

RD: Well I don't know. It's given me the greatest of friendships. And meeting people like you know it's absolutely wonderful. You see that is what is most important in life, it’s people, person-to-person, it's not things. And Inge and I have a saying, when we smash something in the kitchen, “Oh, it's only thing!” And we seem to realise that more and more, things don't matter. Things may be able to help us in some way, we mustn't underestimate the practicality of having sufficient money for example. I know many people are so poor and under-funded in so many ways, including organisations of course, but we can do things regardless of things, encouraging each other. That's really I suppose what it taught me more than anything. That's my life's message. [Laughs]

MH: What do you think volunteering has contributed to the wider society, what difference do you think it’s made?

RD: Well of course, um, I mentioned the phrase ‘social workers in disguise’. But, in some ways it was like being like a good GP, a good general practitioner who ideally I suppose would like to make the whole world well and be out of a job. And we might have considered ourselves in that way to. But perhaps that's what it's done, you see. I mean I quoted an example of how the gardening and decorating, and other practical jobs, is now being done with charitable help and with professional expertise. So I think our activities and the activities of many other voluntary organisations too, have opened the eyes of a community to needs, perhaps which might have been totally hidden, so that we can all have a community responsibility to solving those problems. That's the third aim in the constitution of VCS, that ultimately we should take this overall responsibility. The second aim, incidentally, is working with young people; the first aim, coordination. So those three stages, and we are coming towards that third stage, I think, not as VCS but as things which have moved on from VCS perhaps, which we have started but others have taken on and done better than we ever could have done.

MH: Do you think the nature of volunteering has changed over time?

RD: Well, I hope so, but, you know, I think there is still a danger of a do-goody attitude. I don't think that has changed, unfortunately. I think there's still this kind of, um, over protective attitude of people, you know, ‘us and them’. I think we’re all in it together and I have heard people say so many times volunteers get more out of it than the people who benefit from their activities. They do. And particularly young people. Sadly there are still too many young people without jobs, or having difficulty getting, moving between jobs, or whatever. And this is an activity which is very appropriate, I think, to feel themselves worthwhile and be engaged in something creative, while they are moving on, and always a marvellous thing on anybody's CV, I should think. I think there is more awareness of the fact now, than there might have been before. There was too much of an ‘us and them’ attitude originally. When VCS was founded, the do-goody organisations which, I hope it doesn't sound disparaging, were what were called the uniformed organisations. The one in the war of course, which when we were bombed out, my family were greatly indebted to for all sorts of practical help, WR…WVS, the Women's Voluntary Service, then became Women's Royal Voluntary Service and then, this is the big development of course, it's not sexist any more it’s just…

LT: RVS

RD: …RVS, that's right. So these are changes which are to be welcomed really. We are more tolerant and open-minded now than we used to be. Those uniformed organisations, which I'll refrain from mentioning, I mean they go back to Baden Powell's day, don't they. [Laughs] But they did wonderful work in their way. But it was very much an ‘us and them’. Still exists and do marvellous work of course. Yeah…

MH: We were talking about the 60s and 70s earlier…

RD: Yes

MH:… do you think the attitude now is different?

RD: Well, I think there is something a change there, um.

MH: In what way?

RD: Well, as I say, in this attitude of more general involvement, rather than being so specific. I mean there are specific organisations still doing very focused activities, of course. But I think, I think we have a wider view of community needs than we used to have.

LT: What is your definition of volunteering, when you were setting VCS up, differ from the definition you might give it today?

RD: Well, I can only say that that spirit embodied in that kind of constitution, those three basic aims, still has come through. And I, one might choose different wording, I [laughs], I come from an older generation. I remember how my father, from Victorian times, used to write in what might be regarded as a very pompous manner, and I think I might have tended to do the same thing when I drew up those earlier documents. I can recall at a youth council meeting in the City Hall, reading out that second aim, and to ‘engender’ I used in a phrase, and I couldn't, he couldn't pronounce it when he was reading it out, so we changed it to encourage [laughs], you know, and I think people have observed in things I've written recently that I do have an old-fashioned way of expressing things. When I look at my diaries from those times in the workcamp, ”We retired’; we went to bed, for goodness sake! And I don't know whether I can update myself totally in that way, but you know, one is made up of all those influences in one's background and you can't shrug it off completely.

LT: How would you define volunteering?

RD: Today?

LT: Yes, today. What is your view after all these years of being involved in volunteering?

RD: Well, as I say I don't think the spirit has changed very much. And when I was listening to people in this, this little session we had yesterday with people who were talking from their point of view, their experience, it still came across that they themselves... Mary Newman says for one thing, one of the greatest things that happened in her life, you know, bless her, it changed her whole outlook, from working on that first adventure playground and as a community worker in Grangetown. But, and I think this has done this for many people, and then they've moved on, and they've moved on to great things. I think we were all so honoured when we had the former Welsh Ombudsman, and at that time come over from Ireland as the Irish Ombudsman, to attend the 50th anniversary celebration in the Cardiff Story museum, Peter Tyndall, he was a member of VCS staff ... I mean I don't know all the stories but I just come across incidental things like that, how it had influenced people's lives. And it still does. And I think I am more aware of that now, and that's the message for anybody volunteering now, or contemplating it, don't be too nervous. The people involved are wonderful, human, warm characters.

LT: Could you finish the sentence; volunteering is...?

RD: Ah, [laughs] volunteering can be one of the most creative and satisfying things in one's life.

MH: OK

LT: Anything else you would like to add? We can take a quick break if you want, otherwise we can…

RD: I don't know, perhaps we can have that cup of coffee now? A little break…

[Second break in recording]


MH: Could you tell me about the garden at the Temple of Peace, please?

RD: It was founded in 1988, which was a contribution by young people to mark that particular series of celebrations which were associated with the 50th anniversary of the Temple itself, built in 1938, with the dark award clouds gathering, but really as a building which was in commemoration of the great sacrifice of the Great War, the war to end all wars. And the Garden of Peace, at that point, was in fact the Garden of Remembrance, the Welsh National Garden of Remembrance. But it was a plain, grass lawn; it just got mowed now and again, nothing at all inspiring about it. And we conceived this idea of planting it out in some way, and designed what was a simplified version of the UN symbol in the middle, with a very tall flagpole which from time to time flies the UN flag, and then either side the Welsh dragon and the union flag. And so that was the basis of the garden. A lot of work was involved in excavating and laying paving and so on, but also a bit of planting. The most difficult thing was making an opening into the garden. There was some wonderful granite that had been used, and we couldn't break up the granite kerbs, until I spotted some workmen with a pneumatic drill on the corner of the park. And they were moving their stuff. I said, “Could you help us here?” because we had volunteers chipping away for days trying to make a dent in this so that we could get a wheelchair through onto the garden. And brrr, brrr, brrr, it was done in no time you know [laughs] so that was fortuitous. So we had a good time.

But on the day we decided to have a very big marquee, because it was still raining, and I remember looking over the Director's shoulder in the office and we had Edward Davies, son of the founder Lord Edward Davies, to…as an opening ceremony. And I was looking over his shoulder at the rain and there was Cedric, a dear friend of mine, a volunteer, going around wiping the plastic chairs with a towel [laughs] but it was still drizzling. Anyway, the garden ceremony preceded, and the sun burst out, you know it was so dramatic, and we had the most wonderful weather, it was late summer, it was the end of August. The opening date was the day, the same date, 3rd September, as the outset of the second world war. We had wonderful weather then. And volunteers have helped to maintain it ever since. And I think it's important to try to keep a community involvement, and there is now a Welsh Centre of International Affairs project (Wales Peace Project) which is trying to involve community, it’s in some difficulty accessing funds at the moment, would you believe it, to develop that. But I think that is progressing. It needs a bit of tidying up now but involving local volunteers... And in subsequent years, since that first workcamp, we did have other workcamps to maintain it and improve it. And in fact UNA exchange, which is the coordinating organisation in Wales for workcamps, has used it for training purposes from time to time at weekends.

MH: When you were making the garden, who was working on it and what was the weather like?

RD: Well I did mention that it rained every day [laughs]; that was very discouraging really, when we were in a bit of a mess. But we had a very good treasurer in the branch then, Clive Withey, who was just retired engineer. This is an interesting volunteer story. It's the only time I ever received a letter from somebody saying, “I've just retired, I want to volunteer to do something worthwhile.” And Clive Withey came in and we got him as treasurer of the branch to start with, but being an engineer he was so practical, I mean getting that flagpole up and doing the other concrete work and so on, he was so very good. But sadly he's passed on now. But you know people like that would be so interested to see how it develops. Anybody who hears these remarks, they ought to go and see it and try to get involved with it. I know VCS has helped from time to time with activities, and other voluntary organisations too. What you need actually is a volunteer gardener, so there is an appeal that can go out for a retired volunteer gardener who will look after it.

MH: You've written a not-published piece called ‘Shrapnel and Blueberries’. How did it get that title?

RD: Ah, well it spans my life. My first early experiences of the war, and the bombing raids on Cardiff, when I then lived in Zinc Street very near the docks, the steel works rather. And, as lads, we used to go around and pick up as souvenirs suitable bits of shrapnel. And so that was an early experience in my life. The blueberries, indeed, are what I now pick in Sweden, helping Inge my wife in the woods, the peaceful woods of southern Sweden, unlike wartime Britain. So that's the span of a lifetime which that title is intended to represent.

LT: And finally, to conclude, to kind of wrap everything up, you had mentioned that at the beginning, actually you were told that you wouldn't be able to join the Navy, you still thought you had a sense of duty and there was a similar thread that you carried throughout; in establishing VCS you said one of the aims is to help give people volunteering the ability to create a sense of individual responsibility.

RD: Yes

LT: Do you still think that that is important?

RD: Absolutely, in the end that's what... It's down to each one of us, it's not all ‘why don't they do something about it’, it's ‘we've got to do something about it’. And that individual responsibility and that last clause of the constitution is vital, I think. Umm.

LT: So thank you for your time.


MH: Thank you very much.[First break in recording] My own experience of community work I suppose was really stimulated by that international activity and, ah… I still think it's the most important thing that people can orientate themselves with in the modern world. You know, first and foremost, if we don't have peace in the world we have nothing whatsoever. Years and years of charity fundraising to build a hospital in some deprived country can be literally battered away in seconds. So peace is paramount, and although I am so emotionally involved with, on the ground, in my own community, with things like Voluntary Community Service, I see the priority as being a world citizen. And that period of 1960s when many organisations were founded, not just VCS, there were so many young people who felt this way in the wider world and the wider community and felt they could change the world for the better. Now... having lived these years since, perhaps there are older people like myself who might be very depressed and despondent about the way the world has gone. I mean there is a song of the period, Joan Baez, ‘When will they ever learn’, and a lot of peace movement activity at that time, peace marches and so on, things like CND being founded, and that badge has become worn now without the realisation that it's the semaphore for ND for nuclear disarmament. So that was the background to things like VCS and we still saw, I certainly still saw, it was important to continue with this workcamp activity and expand it as much as possible. [The origin of workcamps and Service Civil International] Perhaps I should give credit at this stage to how workcamps came about. The very first workcamp in Wales indeed was in 1931 in Brynmawr at the height of the depression, where volunteers from overseas and Britain helped to build a park and a small swimming pool which might have been thought very strange when there were so many unemployed people. But they worked together and it created a great spirit. So that was in fact Service Civil International, the founder of that being Pierre Ceresole who was a pacifist in the First World War. (Incidentally, I should have been referring more clearly to my experience of refugees in the Second World War, I’ll just correct that.) And Pierre Ceresole was Secretary of something called the Fellowship of Reconciliation. And one of their first conferences at the end of the 1918 war, was he and others felt that we can't just talk in conferences, we must do something. And as a piece of practical reconciliation they got a team of international volunteers, including at that time representatives of the war, the Great War’s belligerents, Germans and French, to work in Ypres, in a village in Ypres, to help to rebuild. That was indeed very controversial and had a lot of opposition. But they persisted. And that project led to the foundation of Service Civil International and they continued from there. [Britain. UNA International Service and VCS] In Britain I think it should be acknowledged that the British branch of SCI is IVS (International Voluntary Service) and they certainly predated the work that we did in UNA International Service. UNA International Service came into being with the floods in 1953 in Holland, in the Netherlands more properly, and Dutch volunteers came…we sent volunteers from London to help the clear-up there, and Dutch volunteers in turn the following year came to Britain to help on some community projects here. This kind of community voluntary work with the workcamps helping with the Second World War refugees continued to be organised from London up until about 1973 when we organised it from Wales. They found then that there was far more work to do with long-term service, especially trained volunteers and people who perhaps had some qualifications like in medicine and so forth, working in poor countries. So they ceased the workcamp activities and we took it on in Wales for the first time in 1973, coincidentally, which was helpful, with the founding of the Welsh Centre for International Affairs. UNA, UNA Wales as a council still existed and we continued with workcamps in Cardiff for several years, and they were coordinated and supported in all sorts of useful ways, practical ways with equipment and so on, by Voluntary Community Service. And this continued for several years to a point where the Coordinating Committee for Voluntary Service of UNESCO (United Nations Education and Scientific and Cultural Organisation), that committee awarded VCS a special recognition for their community work. So that was most unusual, we had it hanging on the wall in VCS for many years and we still have a record of that somewhere. So that was a very proud connection, I think, that VCS had with its international roots.
MH: Could you describe your involvement with VCS and what VCS did?
RD: Yes, we come to the point now, through the workcamp we had our first public meeting. So quite appropriately the UNA youth group acted as hosts in what was their regular meeting place, the Temple of Peace. And we had a public meeting there, we were quite surprised at the response but most important there was a lady named Mrs Webb, can’t remember the full name, but she in fact was the full-time organiser for assistance to the elderly, as part of the National Council for Social Service, WCVA now. And she offered facilities in their office and she would help us to establish a steering committee and so on. There was also a very fine man from TOC H, the regional organiser whose name escapes me just now, and he was very keen on helping us too. So there were people like that, and other voluntary organisations, which helped us with our steering committee, but in fact that first committee was formed of many of those young people from the UNA youth group. We ultimately…gradually developed very ambitious ideas, like a Council of Voluntary Service, but realised quite soon that being close to the community and really relating ourselves in a focused way to Cardiff, rather than being over ambitious in a kind of world-wide workcamp sense, being close to the community was what we could most effectively achieve in our activities. And we held a meeting, and the public speaker Alec Dickson, the one that we’d heard at this reunion conference in London and of course a more inspiring a man you could never imagine hearing; he inspired a lot of people and he certainly inspired us. And from that point we went from strength to strength. We continued from this little table in the attic of number two Cathedral Road. But that first summer we had to move our filing, not our filing cabinet so much but certainly the filing cards and so on, to the side of a stage in Splott, this was the Swansea Street Methodist Community Centre. And they allowed us to use this for the period of the workcamp helping elderly and handicapped, mainly with decorating and gardening in the Splott area. And we had a bunch of overseas volunteers and those UNA youth volunteers as well, there for about a fortnight. But the VCS office as I say, we used the dressing rooms either side of the stage, for boys and girls respectively, they were quite coy in those days. But it was being totally run voluntarily then and Jeff Coleman was the secretary for coordinating the VCS activities, matching jobs with volunteers and he had his box of, his card index on a little card table at the side of the stage. MH: Can you describe some of the work that they were doing in Grangetown and Splott? RD: Well yes. It was very much a pioneering spirit and one of the projects, I can’t recall precisely which year, but a few years later was the very first world camp, workcamp I beg your pardon, the very first adventure playground, [laughs] there is a sort of a link between workcamps and adventure playgrounds, you know it's something which is very difficult to do with our great concern for health and safety now. But we had the first adventure playground in what was Ely Hospital School. This was a school for mentally handicapped, associated within the mental hospital in Ely. And George Thomas the Secretary of State for Wales, he had already at an earlier workcamp conference we had, become president of VCS because he took the trouble to turn up at one of our annual meetings. And he opened this playground and it was a grand event with a big marquee and so on, great interest with the press. But most particularly, socially speaking or from the point of view of the community, it introduced people to what was happening in that hospital. And some of the care was not as sensitive and as humane as it might have been. And it led to a national scandal, the place was eventually closed, I think there’s a supermarket on a site now. But the playground was adjoining the present fire station. And we built this playground, we even brought a lifeboat up from the docks, I can't remember how we managed it. But we built this playground which was the very first adventure playground in Wales. But that was, one might say, a private playground in the sense that it was part of the school. Very shortly after that the very first public adventure playground was at Grangetown in the Marl. And that was at a time when our current chairman…chairperson Mary Newman became involved as a community worker. And I think a picture of children swinging on a suspended sofa decorates some of our documentation.
LT: Could you describe exactly, for the record, what is an adventure playground?
RD: Yes, probably nowadays adventure playgrounds are much too structured because of this worry about safety. But at that time quite young children playing with saws and hammers and nails, there was a degree of supervision naturally, but it was bringing out the creativity in children, which was important. And I think we have lost some of that. You know there is so much technology now, admittedly we can do lots of clever things with laptops and whatever, but children still need to experiment and learn to use their hands and their imagination. And maybe we're a little bit too rigid and worried about children climbing trees even. So an adventure playground was certainly very adventurous for children. I'm not so sure that it’s quite so adventurous now.
LT: So adventure playgrounds were made up of old furniture…
RD: Oh yes, any kind of junk you could get, I mean any bits of wood of any description, you know, and anything children could work with, put together; it was really quite amazing. But I was surprised to learn at the discussion yesterday [on Cardiff Radio] that eventually there were seven adventure playgrounds in Cardiff. Of course some of them had become a bit formalised and with trained people you know, maybe they are a lot safer. But there was a bit of pioneering there.
MH: How did your role in VCS develop then?
RD: Well, um, I think I have always realised in most organisations that the key person isn't necessarily high office like being chairperson and so on, but it's the secretary, honorary secretary you know, totally voluntary of course, and from the very start everything was voluntary. But we realised after about a year that we couldn't maintain the complexity of what we were doing in any safe way by relying on voluntary effort. I mean I as secretary was up all hours trying to deal with the documentation and letter writing and so on. But I can remember the spot in St Mary Street where Jeff Coleman who was then coordinating these card indexes, it came to us suddenly ‘What about a CSV, a Community Service Volunteer?’ And we got in touch with Alec Dickson, and we had offers for a community service volunteer earlier that year, it was a graduate in maths of all things, perhaps inappropriate, but he was a brilliant fellow, Michael Lazelle, and he set things going in a much more professional way. But it still took a long time for us to be recognised as a serious organisation, as young people with serious intent who were doing things very carefully. And I say it now because enough time has passed to be critical but then the Education Committee, they didn't even acknowledge our letters for 12 months. But having said that there were very good people in the youth exchange, at the Youth Employment Exchange in Westgate Street, and they were extremely helpful and… Anyway this is recorded elsewhere, those people who were involved. There were so many names I'm afraid.
LT: Why do you think it took so long for your organisation to be recognised?
RD: Well I think it could be a message for today. I think this is a point to say that looking back, it's not wallowing in nostalgia and reminiscing and all of that, but it can be seen difficulties like the one I've just quoted, but encourage people who are having these setbacks that they can overcome them. And all along our history of something over 50 years now, we've had ups and downs. But this kind of spirit has been there, knowing that we can continue to move forward and overcome these problems and so that's important. Did that answer your question? [Laughs]
MH: Could you describe what VCS actually did?
RD: Yes well of course, I think there was an element of what TOC H was doing in some of it because, in a personal capacity VCS was not involved, but I volunteered with the Barnardo’s, Dr Barnardo’s children's home at the Ever Open Door in Canton as it was called. And I remember seeing a plaque on the playroom door: ‘This room was decorated by the Roath branch of TOC H’. And that kind of approach I think was something we realised we could do. But not necessarily for children's homes, but for elderly people who were in difficult circumstances, decorating one room mainly. And this led to other interesting things like the dear old lady in Splott who we discovered was suffering terrible chest illnesses because of this fireplace in this living room in Splott, and the landlord was most incompetent and wouldn't do a thing about it. And that was her only means of cooking. And she was… because she had to move out while we were decorating, she became reunited with her friend across the street, on the corner, and that was a wonderful human thing. She became reconciled with her friend with whom she had fallen out. And now that little thing…but there was still insensitivity. And I went back a year so later and the bedroom window was open on this terraced street and I could see things were being thrown out of the window into a skip outside, these were all her precious belongings, she had died with no relatives and things which must have been so precious to her, it was very sad to see that. But she had a happier last year, I think, and a fireplace that worked and a lovely friend across the street. So these are the human things. And I remember somebody coining the phrase ‘We were social workers in disguise’, maybe that was a bit highfalutin’, but really these practical... Elderly people who might otherwise have been suspicious of youngsters, realised, “Oh these are the ‘STOO-dents’”, and doing a bit of decorating and a bit of gardening was acceptable, but the most important thing was a cup of tea. I've said or written somewhere on one of the YouTube addresses about Jeff Coleman. How I was so concerned, as the organiser at that time, about statistics. There was something about this in the discussion we had yesterday. Councillors and other politicians are only interested in statistics, not the human stories. So I was concerned getting statistics, and I thought, “Well, an economy in what we are doing, white paint and plain wallpaper, no matching involved, no waste”, you know. But there was Jeff sitting down with this dear lady with a book of patterns and a colour swatch, patiently going through, and that transformed my attitude. I suddenly put the brake on, you know. This is what it is all about, the richness of human relationships, not statistics, or trying to get money. That was real richness.
MH: Are there any more incidents that come to mind?
RD: Well, there probably will as we go on discussing this [laughs]. There were one or two which really do grab me, you know, I still feel very emotional sometimes about VCS and the great work it's doing with people, with people you know, not with things but with people.
MH: Would you like to talk about them?
RD: The things we are doing now with people…
MH: The things that affect you emotionally?
RD: Ah yes, well I suppose it was in fact being involved in these activities at weekends and seeing the difficult circumstances that people were in. I mean I thought we were living in poor circumstances but I had excellent parents who were very careful and I had a clean home. Ah, very fortunately by that period we had managed to get a council flat, but we lived for 16 years in rooms in Port Talbot and Cardiff. So I was living in wonderful circumstances with a bathroom and so on, and that contrast with seeing some of these houses in Splott and Grangetown which had not been refurbished in any way, you know, and in very poor circumstances, folk living, I mean I still feel a bit sick about it, but that we weren't concerned soon enough to do something about that. But there was a period, and I think there’s a follow on from that, of something called enveloping in communities where they refurbished, realising that 33% at that time in the ‘70s of British homes were in fact terraced homes without indoor toilets or bathrooms. So we had to examine these houses, and the whole street would be dealt with in that way, subject to cooperation with landlords and so on. So we’ve come a long way in a material sense, but there are still people who, you know, I hear, are not realised that they're in some difficulty until the milkman sees the milk hasn't been taken in. (I believe milk is still delivered in most places.) And of course there is no personal contact, people haven’t been seen for a few days and there have been incidents in Britain where people have been lying dead for not a matter of days but weeks. So this is terrible in a so-called civilised society that we don't care enough about each other, not in an intrusive way. But this is I think where various community activities can do such a lot of good, bringing people together and being aware of people who are perhaps missing in that particular bingo session or whatever and finding out about them, you know. So there are many approaches and I think this is the spirit of voluntary community service in its broad dictionary definition as opposed to the title of an organisation. It’s so important.
MH: Would you like to say some more about VCS and how it developed later on?
RD: Well of course it continued for many years in that nature, and we had these workcamps and again, no need for statistics, but we realised that although we were having workcamp technique at a weekend with local volunteers around the year, the number of rooms that we could decorate or gardens dug was enormous. At one period... day after day of a workcamp of two or three weeks, a great deal could be achieved statistically [laughs] in that way. But I think that VCS has moved on from that because it was pioneering but there are many organisations now, like Age Concern Wales, who have something called HandyVan, where they have paid people who in fact can actually help with practical things like putting up curtains or a bit of decorating or whatever. So it's moved on to a much more organised and effective manner. So although we pioneered things purely as volunteers, there is a very professional approach to some of that kind of help now. Indeed we have moved on from that and it's interesting that currently we are tackling things which I would have even now feel very nervous about, but things such as a very serious emotional relationships, mental breakdown and so on and maybe ex-offenders. But as an organisation, and with the kind of help and support that volunteers are having and the careful selection, I think we are capable of doing the most serious activity of that kind now. So I think the organisation certainly matured greatly in that respect, doing the most serious things.
MH: Can you tell me a bit about the Mardi Gras?
RD: Ah, yes. Another pioneering activity, it had its roots in people who were involved with VCS including one of our first treasurers Laurence Kahn, but it was an independent venture with an independent organising committee, and wasn't the responsibility of VCS. But the 1967 carnival as it was first called, was the very first of its kind in Britain, outside of the famous Notting Hill Carnival. Now I knew I couldn't cope with this, I had no experience of the world of entertainment whatsoever, but my own school classroom friend John Crosby was writing comedy scripts for BBC Wales. I tracked him down. I said, “Could you help me with this?” “Ah, well… I'd like to help you,” was his response, you know “but I don't…but I do know somebody who might be able to give you a hand”. And he took me along to the TOC H Centre, a little office in the middle of St Mary Street, and invite me... Invited me, sorry, and introduced me to one Don Collier-Roberts. Now there was a practical man. His background had been helping with leprosy relief in India but he was now the regional organiser for TOC H and he’d had quite a bit of experience of the entertainment world in one way and another. So he was the organiser. And with his enthusiasm, I mean he was great for me, he encouraged me no end because I was very nervous about the whole thing. And he set it up with a steering committee. But I think it’s, you know, with all the goodwill in the world, I mean there is a current, valid criticism of how the media often respond to negative things, and bad news. We couldn't get any interest at all. And of course we couldn't pay for publicity. But we did have a steering committee and we did have a little public meeting in what was then the very first community centre, some wartime barrack, concrete huts, off Bute Street, called the Goodwill Centre. And we had this public meeting, coinciding with that we had published a very colourful brochure, literally colourful for the programme for the week of various forms of entertainment, besides the carnival, culminating with the carnival on the Saturday. But he had invited John Jones, ‘River out of Eden’ fame, a very famous Welsh historian to write an introduction. And of course he wrote the history, the background of Butetown and referred to Tiger Bay. And there were some in the audience who took umbrage at this, they thought it was very disparaging and cast a slur on the local people. That wasn't the case at all, it was written from an historical viewpoint. So it got very aereated, this public meeting, and there was one fellow standing up, being very nasty and Don said, “Well look, we'll sort this out. I'll take my teeth out and we’ll go out the back and sort it out.” [Laughs] He had tipped off the press that there might be some disturbance, riots in Butetown. Headlines in the Echo the next day, we got…everybody knew there was something happening then you know, and so we got the publicity. But you know in that round about... it was quite deliberate on his part, he manipulated the press. But luckily these evening events throughout the week, these various theatrical performances and so on, made a bit of money because it was almost a disaster, the entertainment on the Saturday. It was a terrible thunderstorm we had that summer, the road leading down to Butetown was cut off, with floodwater. People did get there. There was so much rain in fact that the big marquee that we had was so wet and the electrical lead that we had going into it was sparking away. Nobody had noticed it, but I was going around checking things. It's lucky I did. Because there were flames coming out of it [laughs] lapping onto the tent. So we had an exciting time. But I mentioned Laurence and his friend Mickey Graaf, from the Jewish community incidentally, and they had deliberately done this for good community relations, bringing Jewish young people involved… He, Mickey and I and Don, we slept in a caravan on the newly developed parkland in Bute town at that time, which was the old Glamorganshire Canal, we slept in a caravan at the whole week to make sure that nothing would get damaged or stolen. Those were exciting times! [Laughs] MH: OK, so we talked about VCS, we talked about the Butetown carnival. RD: Yes MH: Is there anything else you would like to talk about, any other area? RD: Well, that carnival was certainly a pioneering activity. And the local people took it up themselves afterwards for several years, and it exists again since. So I think that's very important. You have to start somewhere. Um. Well, as I remarked there are new things now. I'm not exactly out of touch but, although I am an officer of the association and very proud to be, I am not on the committee any longer. And it is so involved, some of the current activities.
MH: Were you involved with Intervol at all?
RD: Yes, you will need to prompt me, thank you for that. Intervol came into being, and it sounded like Interpol so people were often confused as to what it might be. [Laughs] But it was the inter-relation of community service in the wider area of Glamorgan. And they had engaged a full-time community officer who was the former Civil Defence Officer. Civil defence then had ceased. I mean it would never have been much good with a four-minute warning anyway but... I tracked him down in a place in Newport Road, one of the clubs, the trade union clubs in Newport Road I think it was. And he actually set up this organisation, Intervol, some years later than VCS was founded, but there was great cooperation. Round about 1986 when I became redundant, I had the time to be more involved and in fact I was vice-chairman, in fact, you know, acting on day-to-day work; the chairwoman was a former county planner Ewart Parkinson, who the City Hall owe a great deal to, I think. But, so I was very practically involved with Intervol. And they had a series of specialist subcommittees. And I had been involved with the, what was originally the Cardiff and District Association for Mental Health. But they had had a one-year campaign to enlighten the public, and they dubbed it MIND, but of course it's continued with that name since. And I was on this Intervol subcommittee and it related to the work that VCS was doing, of course. And, um, oh yes, John Holmwood was the organiser’s name. He died a couple of years ago. But I'm glad to say... and Ewart Parkinson has passed on, but I am glad to say that I met them both over a dinner not long before. Um.
LT: You mentioned that you worked as an architect, is that correct?
RD: Well, I suppose that chimes in with my interest in the community. I started as an office boy, um, and I realise now I was quite badly treated, totally underpaid. But I didn't mind because at that time you could get a day or two half days off a week to study. And my father was in a not... relatively poorly paid job. But more particularly his health was uncertain, so he couldn't send me to full-time education. And although fees were paid at that time; still it would have been very difficult. So I studied part time for about ten years [smiles] until I, as a mature student, I could get a major award. So I studied full-time. And that was how I was able to spend two months in workcamps on the Albanian border. And where I met Inge. [Laughs] Yeah.
LT: I just wondered if ever, you mentioned that you designed schools…
RD: Yes I’m sorry I do digress, you'll have to try to keep me to the point. Yeah well I, after four years in this exploitative private office, I felt, “Well perhaps I could serve the community”. Because a former office boy there encouraged me to apply for a job in the then Glamorgan County Council, in Cathays Park, and I got it right away. And I remember the Chief Clerk asking me later, “How much were they paying you?” And he was aghast because at that time I was going up, I went up from about £2.50 a week to about £600, because I had the qualifications. I was qualified at the intermediate stage of the Royal Institute of British Architects, and they just weren't paying me. But [laughs] there you are. So…
LT: So your work and your voluntary work, did they ever overlap?
RD: No, I must say, in some ways I felt embarrassed about some of the things I was involved with, and I kept them very secret. I mean I had this circle of friends and activities, with VCS and so on, but the people at work didn't know anything about my private life in that way. You know I told them enough to satisfy them perhaps, but... So I kept these worlds totally apart.
LT: Do you think that was a good thing?
RD: Well, I don't know. Well, good or bad I don't know. But I just didn't want to complicate my life in any way. It was possible to leave work at five, as I always did. I remember saying to the department once, not quite truthfully, “Look”, he would always call a meeting in the office at five o'clock in our own time. And I said, “All right, come on John, there's somebody waiting on double yellow lines for me. I'll give you five minutes.” Because I was very obstrepative. And I never got much promotion, but they had to credit me with the qualifications that I had. And most of the time I was designing schools, which was very satisfying. Because I used to talk to the teachers, which I wasn't supposed to do. I was only supposed to talk to the educationalists in the education department. And I talked to the teachers, to find out what they needed and so one, you know. And I was one of the rare people, perhaps the only one, who got a letter of praise from one of the teachers, [laughs] and my immediate bosses didn't like that at all. So I had a very satisfying career in that way. But, um, it came to an end at a time when I was then able to spend ten years as a full-time volunteer, which was even more satisfying in some ways. MH: How would you summarise what you think volunteering has given you personally? RD: Well I don't know. It's given me the greatest of friendships. And meeting people like you know it's absolutely wonderful. You see that is what is most important in life, it’s people, person-to-person, it's not things. And Inge and I have a saying, when we smash something in the kitchen, “Oh, it's only thing!” And we seem to realise that more and more, things don't matter. Things may be able to help us in some way, we mustn't underestimate the practicality of having sufficient money for example. I know many people are so poor and under-funded in so many ways, including organisations of course, but we can do things regardless of things, encouraging each other. That's really I suppose what it taught me more than anything. That's my life's message. [Laughs]
MH: What do you think volunteering has contributed to the wider society, what difference do you think it’s made?
RD: Well of course, um, I mentioned the phrase ‘social workers in disguise’. But, in some ways it was like being like a good GP, a good general practitioner who ideally I suppose would like to make the whole world well and be out of a job. And we might have considered ourselves in that way to. But perhaps that's what it's done, you see. I mean I quoted an example of how the gardening and decorating, and other practical jobs, is now being done with charitable help and with professional expertise. So I think our activities and the activities of many other voluntary organisations too, have opened the eyes of a community to needs, perhaps which might have been totally hidden, so that we can all have a community responsibility to solving those problems. That's the third aim in the constitution of VCS, that ultimately we should take this overall responsibility. The second aim, incidentally, is working with young people; the first aim, coordination. So those three stages, and we are coming towards that third stage, I think, not as VCS but as things which have moved on from VCS perhaps, which we have started but others have taken on and done better than we ever could have done.
MH: Do you think the nature of volunteering has changed over time?
RD: Well, I hope so, but, you know, I think there is still a danger of a do-goody attitude. I don't think that has changed, unfortunately. I think there's still this kind of, um, over protective attitude of people, you know, ‘us and them’. I think we’re all in it together and I have heard people say so many times volunteers get more out of it than the people who benefit from their activities. They do. And particularly young people. Sadly there are still too many young people without jobs, or having difficulty getting, moving between jobs, or whatever. And this is an activity which is very appropriate, I think, to feel themselves worthwhile and be engaged in something creative, while they are moving on, and always a marvellous thing on anybody's CV, I should think. I think there is more awareness of the fact now, than there might have been before. There was too much of an ‘us and them’ attitude originally. When VCS was founded, the do-goody organisations which, I hope it doesn't sound disparaging, were what were called the uniformed organisations. The one in the war of course, which when we were bombed out, my family were greatly indebted to for all sorts of practical help, WR…WVS, the Women's Voluntary Service, then became Women's Royal Voluntary Service and then, this is the big development of course, it's not sexist any more it’s just…
LT: RVS
RD: …RVS, that's right. So these are changes which are to be welcomed really. We are more tolerant and open-minded now than we used to be. Those uniformed organisations, which I'll refrain from mentioning, I mean they go back to Baden Powell's day, don't they. [Laughs] But they did wonderful work in their way. But it was very much an ‘us and them’. Still exists and do marvellous work of course. Yeah…
MH: We were talking about the 60s and 70s earlier…
RD: Yes
MH:… do you think the attitude now is different?
RD: Well, I think there is something a change there, um.
MH: In what way?
RD: Well, as I say, in this attitude of more general involvement, rather than being so specific. I mean there are specific organisations still doing very focused activities, of course. But I think, I think we have a wider view of community needs than we used to have. LT: What is your definition of volunteering, when you were setting VCS up, differ from the definition you might give it today? RD: Well, I can only say that that spirit embodied in that kind of constitution, those three basic aims, still has come through. And I, one might choose different wording, I [laughs], I come from an older generation. I remember how my father, from Victorian times, used to write in what might be regarded as a very pompous manner, and I think I might have tended to do the same thing when I drew up those earlier documents. I can recall at a youth council meeting in the City Hall, reading out that second aim, and to ‘engender’ I used in a phrase, and I couldn't, he couldn't pronounce it when he was reading it out, so we changed it to encourage [laughs], you know, and I think people have observed in things I've written recently that I do have an old-fashioned way of expressing things. When I look at my diaries from those times in the workcamp, ”We retired’; we went to bed, for goodness sake! And I don't know whether I can update myself totally in that way, but you know, one is made up of all those influences in one's background and you can't shrug it off completely.
LT: How would you define volunteering?
RD: Today? LT: Yes, today. What is your view after all these years of being involved in volunteering? RD: Well, as I say I don't think the spirit has changed very much. And when I was listening to people in this, this little session we had yesterday with people who were talking from their point of view, their experience, it still came across that they themselves... Mary Newman says for one thing, one of the greatest things that happened in her life, you know, bless her, it changed her whole outlook, from working on that first adventure playground and as a community worker in Grangetown. But, and I think this has done this for many people, and then they've moved on, and they've moved on to great things. I think we were all so honoured when we had the former Welsh Ombudsman, and at that time come over from Ireland as the Irish Ombudsman, to attend the 50th anniversary celebration in the Cardiff Story museum, Peter Tyndall, he was a member of VCS staff ... I mean I don't know all the stories but I just come across incidental things like that, how it had influenced people's lives. And it still does. And I think I am more aware of that now, and that's the message for anybody volunteering now, or contemplating it, don't be too nervous. The people involved are wonderful, human, warm characters.
LT: Could you finish the sentence; volunteering is...?
RD: Ah, [laughs] volunteering can be one of the most creative and satisfying things in one's life.
MH: OK

LT: Anything else you would like to add? We can take a quick break if you want, otherwise we can…
RD: I don't know, perhaps we can have that cup of coffee now? A little break… [Second break in recording]

You must be logged in to leave a comment