Joan Watson: Driving force at Norfolk’s WRVS

A determination to help young people and the elderly was a driving force of a former county organiser of the Women's Royal Voluntary Service in Norfolk, Joan Watson, who has died aged 85.

After she heard a Woman's Hour programme in the early 1960s about voluntary work, the mother of three decided to get involved. Within three years, she was responsible for 1,500 volunteers across Norfolk.

As county organiser from 1965 at the WRVS office in Tombland, Norwich, she introduced initiatives including a mobile library service, Books on Wheels, and also Laundry on Wheels. Later, she was instrumental in starting the WRVS hospital shops at the Norfolk & Norwich in 1975 and also at the James Paget at Gorleston.

She expanded the reach of Meals of Wheels, which by October 1973 was delivering 10,000 meals by private cars to more than 85 areas, later 100 areas, across the county.

And when petrol shortages after the Arab-Israeli War threatened, she quietly secured supplies.

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'All the good ladies will get a petrol allocation because it is such a vital service,' she told the EDP in a rare interview.

In those days, meals were cooked twice a week in school canteens across the county, and during the holidays a 90pc service was provided as volunteers cooked in their homes. In Norwich, meals were cooked in a central kitchen and delivered in a fleet of vans five days a week.

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Always retiring and unwilling to court personal publicity, she travelled the county in a Morris Minor Traveller to appeal for helpers for the WRVS.

She supported a holiday scheme, which brought children from London over many years. When she realised that some Norfolk children were equally disadvantaged, she made sure that they could enjoy holidays too – in the countryside or at the seaside, staying with host families after she had 'vetted' them.

Born in Edinburgh, she lived at Pakefield, near Lowestoft, before moving to Norwich in about 1963. She started in the WRVS clothing store, where the unpaid team insisted on strict standards for donations: The unofficial staff motto was: 'Not on myself, not on my shelf.' After a spell with meals-on-wheels, she became county transport officer at headquarters.

She was responsible for the offices at King's Lynn, Diss, Yarmouth and Thetford and in 1973, she still had no salaried staff. Volunteers also ran old peoples' clubs, mother and baby clubs, and drove handicapped children to school, playgrounds and clinics. A rural car service took people to the nearest surgery or even shopping.

She enjoyed organising the cr�che for lost children at the Royal Norfolk Show and a highlight was being presented to the Queen, when she visited Queen Elizabeth Close in Norwich.

She retired after the 40th anniversary year of the WRVS in 1978 and became involved with other groups including the Great Hospital and helped one day a week at the Octagon, St Peter Mancroft, for many years.

She leaves two daughters and a son, six grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

A service of thanksgiving will be held at St Andrew's Church, Framingham Pigot, on Thursday, December 22 at 4pm.

Michael Pollitt

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