Trish Reeves, 50, is the Royal Voluntary Service’s locality manager for Swindon and Gloucestershire. The charity helps older people and recently launched its Swindon Community Transport service. Trish lives in Trowbridge with partner Les, a mechanical engineer, and has two grown-up children.
“IT’S about helping people to live their lives,” said Trish Reeves of the RVS.
“Really it’s as simple as that. They are able to live their lives to the fullest they can and the fullest they want to.
“Although we’re aimed at older people and a lot of our volunteers are older people, we have volunteers across the board – older and younger. We have people from 14-year-olds and people doing something in their holidays right across the board to 90 years old.
“You see people like that and you think, ‘I’m never going to stop – I’m going to keep going because that will make me as wonderful at 90 years old as you are.’”
At school, Trish battled to become the first girl to learn metalwork, and an early ambition to become a mechanic was thwarted only by blanket gender stereotyping.
She relishes a challenge.
In the years between school and her current role she worked as a nursing sister, helped people with learning difficulties, aided in the running of pre-schools and creches in two countries and managed the office of an international engineering firm.
Since joining the Royal Voluntary Service last year, she’s been locality manager for a team of 350 staff and volunteers.
The organisation’s motto is Together for Older People. In Swindon, its work includes the daily Great Western Hospital trolley service selling items such as snacks and newspapers, and a ‘meet and greet’ service for patients attending hospital appointments.
“The volunteers meet them, talk to them and reassure them,” said Trish.
“There’s no age limit on that – people of all ages might need reassurance when they’re in hospital.”
The RVS also runs a service in tandem with 11 Swindon libraries, taking books to housebound people, returning them and even helping with their choices.
And of course, there is also the Swindon Community Transport Service, which takes elderly people where they want to go. It’s a simple remit that can make all the difference to a person unable to use public transport or call on friends or family.
“We have a car and we also have volunteers who use their own cars. We collect the people and if they want to go shopping, we take them shopping. If they have a dental appointment we’ll sit with them while they’re waiting because a lot of people, no matter how young or how old, are frightened of the dentist.
“Sometimes it’s taking someone to see their son or daughter.”
Trish is originally from Dewsbury in Yorkshire, and is the youngest of four children born to a mother who had a variety of jobs and a journeyman brickmaker father who served in the Royal Navy in World War Two.
Her earliest ambition was to be a mechanic, which ended up leading to a confrontation with authority.
“I decided I wanted to do metalwork. Girls did not do metalwork. I went to the headmaster and pleaded, and I was the first girl in the school to do metalwork.”
Her desire to be a mechanic was ultimately thwarted by the sexism of the day, but Trish found another vocation as a nurse, and rose from trainee to acting sister in a few years.
“I thoroughly enjoyed it. I worked with people with learning difficulties right across the spectrum. I learned a great deal, and a great deal about myself, including how much I like to work in a caring role.
“I learned a lot about psychology, which I really enjoyed. It’s about the mechanics of the mind, almost. I was one of the youngest sisters, and I was being fast tracked.”
Then came her marriage to a soldier and the next chapters in her life, which saw her work in various British and German locations as everything from a cleaner to a pre-school volunteer. Later, Trish went to college in Andover to study subjects including business, sociology and psychology. She and her husband eventually split. Following a stint as a work experience co-ordinator at the college where she studied, Trish worked as an office manager for an engineering company until it relocated its research and development to Germany. She applied for the RVS job after seeing it advertised online, and has never looked back.
The RVS used to be the Women’s Royal Voluntary Service and is celebrating its 75th year. The name was changed earlier this year. Trish said: “We have a huge amount of male participation in our volunteering, but we also had a lot of gentlemen who thought it was just for women. We didn’t want people to think we were being exclusive of male volunteers – we’re not and we never will be.”
Demand for its services, like the need for volunteers, is unceasing, and Trish believes there are several reasons for this.
“It’s partly changes in society, changes in family life, changes in funding. It’s the way we live so fast. We also have a changing demographic. There are a lot more older people.”
More volunteers are always welcome. As Trish put it: “The more we have, the more we can give, and the more we can help.”
Potential volunteers are invited to call 0845 601 0071 or visit www.royalvoluntaryservice.org